Australia’s public service is not fit for purpose
Adventure amongst the eels of New Ireland

Saina, Amerika, Australia: husat i wantok laka

Dancing musicians (Dreamtime)PHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Australia’s sudden spurt of interest in Papua New Guinea has got nothing to do with concerns over corruption.

Rather, it is a reaction to the USA’s paranoia about China’s influence in the region and how that influence might impact on its desire for global economic and military superiority.

To this end, the US has convinced its little buddy, Australia, to champion its cause in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Islands nations using security concerns as the main driver.

In essence, Australia – previously a partial patsy - has now become a fully-fledged patsy in this game of which great power is best.

Thus Australia, with sweet words and promises, is trying to draw PNG into the arena in which China and the US are contestants.

The US is giving Australia a helping hand, as demonstrated in the recent visit to Port Moresby by Admiral John C Aquilino, commander of the formidable United States’ Indo-Pacific Command.

Even if the Australian government was truly concerned about corruption in PNG, its unease would be insincere.

To be quite frank, Australia is in no position to criticise Papua New Guinea about corruption.

The annual corruption perception index compiled by Transparency International shows that Australia has slipped six places, from seventh to thirteenth, over the last 10 years.

It has also become much more adept at hiding the fact.

And why should Australia want to do anything about corruption in PNG anyway?

Australian companies operating in PNG don’t mind corruption because they benefit from it.

It’s much easier to pay bribes to a corrupt Papua New Guinean politician or bureaucrat to get what you want rather than navigate through all those burdensome rules and regulations.

And what is corruption anyway?

It is arguable that in PNG corruption is merely an iteration of a social system that has existed for thousands of years.

Even before any Westerner arrived in PNG, various clan and tribal kastom or transactions gave the appearance of what today we would term ‘corrupt’.

For example, if you study the bigman and the wantok systems, you will find little difference between them and what is disparagingly called corruption today.

Many PNG Attitude writers have addressed these issues. You might find John Fowke’s essay of 2010 to be useful in this respect.

In many societies around the world, corruption has become a viable system facilitating both governance and commerce.

In India, for instance, many of the state police forces are entirely self-funded through what we would call corruption.

As for the paranoia about China and its influence, we seem to forget that their links to the region go back much further than recent upstarts like Australia and the USA.

Melanesians probably originated from deep within Asia and the sea-going Austronesians, Motu and some Pacific Islanders originally came from Southern China and Taiwan.

Chinese seafarers were pottering around the region for hundreds of years, interacting with their descendants in the region well before any Europeans set foot here.

That said, what PNG should be doing, or should continue to do, is play the USA, its little buddy Australia and China off against each other.

If that sounds corrupt, so be it.


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Lindsay F Bond

Some politicians write rules to suit their folk.
Some politicians write rules to suit themselves.
Some politicians' right to rule folk seems deplete.
Some politicians' rights are rules for their suite.
Sums politicians ripely sweet, are their buy rule.

This comment comes on the heels of other items.


See also:

'No audits'.

Michael Dom

"It is arguable that in PNG corruption is merely an iteration of a social system that has existed for thousands of years" - Phil Fitzpatrick

"Some tenet of culture will always be misconstrued as corruption because the assessment is done using totally different rules" - John Kuri

My take-aways.

Nowadays I think of 'corrupt' as being unfortunate and unhelpful. Interchangeably and all too often simultaneously even if things work for me personally.

John Kuri

Some tenet of culture will always be misconstrued as corruption because the assessment is done using totally different rules.

Nonetheless, the act of being corrupt is something that was in existence regardless of the time it happened.

In terms of the ongoing tussle for global dominance between the US and China, the outcome is inevitable.

The massive arms build-up is not for decoration. It will be used.

It is up to the leaders to decide where we fit on the chessboard.

The game is already in motion.

Chips Mackellar

With apologies to Matthew 5:5, the formula is quite simple:

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. But thrice blessed are the strong, for they shall inherit the meek."

Or as the Romans used to say, "Si vis pacem para bellum".

"If you want peace, prepare for war."

Chris Overland

One of the main lessons of human history is that the great powers of any era always, without exception, seek to either take over or dominate the lesser powers around them.

This rule applies regardless of the ethnicity, geographic location or history of any emergent great power.

Thus the PNG government needs to keep this iron law of history in the forefront of its collective mind when considering how it responds to overtures from both the USA and China.

Throughout history the most successful minor powers have been adept at managing their relationships with their great power neighbours, bending before them where this is expedient and only contradicting or opposing them when absolutely necessary.

Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong have articulated this neatly with their repeated observation that Australia will cooperate with China where it can and disagree with it where it must.

Still, this process is fraught with potential for trouble, and it takes a great deal of diplomatic finesse and manoeuvring to balance off national interests with the needs and ambitions of the great powers.

Representatives of great powers are notoriously touchy about actual or perceived slights to their usually highly inflated sense of national self-worth, entitlement and dignity.

This makes dealing with them just so much more difficult.

So, the PNG government and that of Australia and other Pacific Island nations must find a way to engage with both the USA and China in mutually beneficial ways without unduly antagonising either of them.

Paul Oates

The point you’re making Phil is perfectly valid. What is corruption and in whose eyes?

To make judgements, you first must have a benchmark or recognised standard. So what evaluation method have we been previously using?

Our legal framework and legislation are originally based on our previously held religious beliefs. Yet business often seems to work on the rule that if you can get away with it, it must be OK.

Military dictators use a similar code of ethics. If you win the war, you must have been right. A doctrine that can be shortened to ‘Might is Right’.

OK. What standard or benchmark should we use in peacetime?

Let’s look at the issue in a logical way. Why not judge the outcomes on what those who implemented the decision stated as to why they decided to do what they said?

Sorry. That doesn’t help either. The ability of political double speak or hyperbole is based on being able to say anything that any results cannot actually be proven to be wrong.

What about Bob Hawke’s statement ‘No Australian child will grow up in poverty’?

That’s about as ‘watertight’ as King Cnut’s demonstration that he couldn’t hold back the waves on the beach.

Is there any use in trying to believe anything political leaders say? What about holding them accountable for results?

Therein lies the rub. If they are the authority that is also the judge and jury, what use is there to quibble? Maybe we have come the full circle and should just give up?

Well…if our ancestors had given up, we wouldn’t be here, now, would we?

So ‘Who will watch the watchers’, as Juvenal the Roman suggested?

An ICAC of appointed judges? Will they ensure politicians are honest? Would a politically appointed head of state or a hereditary ruler with no actual power be any better?

No one has ever been able to work that conundrum out have they? Human nature hasn't been able to evolve past a certain point and we keep reinventing the proverbial wheel.

What's your answer of what alternatives there are available?

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