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The Perpetual Tears of Hela

Canberra’s approach to PNG seems hapless


ADELAIDE - There are two observations I wish to make about Keith Jackson’s story on Australia’s response to the Covid crisis in Papua New Guinea.

The first is that the Australian government has yet to grasp the scale of the disaster unfolding in PNG and, consequently, has yet to realise that only a truly massive intervention by Australia (perhaps with the help of New Zealand) will ensure a timely and comprehensive implementation of a national vaccination program.

Second, it remains a mystery to me that the federal Liberal and National parties seem to be infested with so many second rate people compared with their state and territory counterparts.

The latter have effectively driven the national response to the pandemic, with the former really trailing along in their wake most of the time.

The federal government's response to the pandemic has generally been effective but this seems largely due to the influence of key bureaucratic advisers and assertive state premiers more than any real insight on the part of federal politicians.

The bureaucrats and premiers have essentially forced the national politicians to remove their ideological glasses and see the world as it really is, not as they imagine it to be.

Also, as soon as the federal government resumed looking at the world through its ideological goggles, it began to immediately misread the situation and take unwise decisions.

For example, the imminent end of the Jobseeker allowance, which will affect an estimated 150,000 Australians who have never previously been unemployed.

Tomorrow they are about to endure the shock that occurs when an employment lifeline is terminated.

But back to Papua New Guinea.

Unhappily, there seem to be no senior bureaucratic advisers remaining in Canberra who are well across PNG affairs.

Many of us have suspected for some time, PNG affairs have been regarded as something of a backwater within the Department of Foreign Affairs,, at least until recently.

As a consequence, the federal government is bereft of the logical, rational and insistent advice about PNG.

In the case of Covid, this should be that only a direct and massive intervention in PNG will ensure that a national vaccination program will succeed.

This may seem to be a costly and unhelpful diversion for Australia, but the alternative is to allow the pandemic to rage unabated on our doorstep, not to mention the additional harm and grief it will cause in PNG.

Those of us who care about Papua New Guineans can only hope that the penny will drop in the halls of power, but I am not holding my breath.


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