ADELAIDE - I agree with Phil Fitzpatrick who observed yesterday that Papua New Guinea should have become a state of Australia.
If this had been done, several predictable things would have happened.
First, there would have been a steady inflow of migrants from the Australian mainland lured by PNG’s almost limitless opportunities in agriculture, mining, energy, tourism and so forth.
With this migrant flow would have come the capital required to make the large scale development of PNG a realistic proposition.
Second, there would have been an explosion in the number and level of public services demanded to meet the needs of the rapidly rising mainlander population, as well as the indigenous population.
Hospitals, schools, police stations and other services would have appeared all over the country as the Australian federal government embarked upon a long term plan to upgrade services to meet Australian standards.
Third, the flow of Papua New Guineans into Australia would have risen rapidly, firstly amongst the educated elite who would seek jobs on the mainland and later amongst less educated people who would find work in low skilled occupations disdained by many mainlanders.
Fourth, the newly installed government of the Papua New Guinea state would rapidly realise it carried huge influence in Australia owing to its ability to send a significant number of people to Canberra in national elections.
Fifth, the new state would be recognised as an emergent economic powerhouse, with the business community quickly pressing the national and state governments to create the legislative framework and public infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, etc) to enable this to happen.
The new state would rapidly have become the most dynamic and attractive in the Commonwealth.
Of course, there would have been problems over land alienation, tribal and racial tensions and law and order generally, but these could have been effectively managed by a combination of experienced former colonial officers, the emergent PNG bureaucratic and political leaders and, in particular, a much more tightly disciplined and well trained Royal PNG Constabulary.
The economic cost for mainland Australia of doing this would have been enormous but, as West Germany showed when it absorbed East Germany at the end of the cold war, this would eventually have been more than offset by the gains.
In fact, Australia would have had certain advantages over West Germany.
For example, Australian currency was already in use in PNG, there was an established Australian-run banking system, many Papua New Guineans spoke English fluently, the colonial Administration had already operated as a quasi-state government and constitutional arrangements could have easily been reconfigured to fit the Australian federation model.
In many ways, 1975 was a 'sliding door' moment for PNG and I think that both countries missed a golden opportunity to do something remarkable, to the detriment of both.
Could my fantasy become a reality yet?
It could but it would take a level of foresight and determination that is entirely absent in both countries at the moment.
History shows that leaders who can imagine the impossible and then make it happen are vanishingly rare in public life.
Charlemagne, Napoleon Bonaparte, the American founding fathers, Vladimir Illich Lenin, Helmut Kohl and a few others spring to mind.
Perhaps the moment may yet come when history brings forth a great champion of, say, a Federated Republic of Oceania?
Who knows, stranger things have happened.