The next few months could be a major transformational moment for the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia. And it’s a long moment. Extending from now to next April.
It’s all about moving the PNGAA from where it is now - a benign organisation, unlikely to be sustainable without change – to a more active body with a chance of making a real difference to the Australia-PNG relationship.
Right now the PNGAA does one thing that is truly exceptional. It produces a quarterly journal, Una Voce, that is a tribute to editor Andrea Williams and the many contributors who support her.
Oh, the Association does another thing too. It keeps going. This is high praise of treasurer and membership officer Ross Johnson; although Ross would characteristically shy away from such recognition.
As I write this, the PNGAA is inviting the formation of State and Territory steering groups as it consults on its future structure. The Queensland group has already formed and Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria have indicated they also will participate.
The PNGAA will also consult individual members through a questionnaire that will appear soon on ASOPA PEOPLE, and which I encourage you to respond to. After everyone who wants to has had their say, the proposed changes will be put to a vote of members at a Special General Meeting next April.
I must admit I’m concerned about the future sustainability of the Association given its ageing membership. More than half our members are aged over 70 and 85% are aged over 60. The inescapable conclusion is that, unless action is taken to recruit younger members, the organisation will decline significantly over the next ten years.
Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Duncan Kerr, recently told me that he sees the PNGAA as a ‘valuable contributor towards maintaining the people-to-people links that are so critical to the continued dynamism of our relations with PNG’. In truth, these words are too kind a description of the PNGAA’s current contribution, but they do reflect where the organisation needs to be heading.
We need an active membership to achieve a position where the PNGAA is working more purposefully to strengthen the Australia-PNG relationship, and this should involve as many members as want to be involved.
We also need to move away from Sydney-centrism. The PNGAA national committee is entirely Sydney-based. This is both unrepresentative of the geographical distribution of members and it is not tapping the best of what members have to offer.