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03 August 2008

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I suggest the essence of the issue goes far deeper than whether PNG seasonal workers are allowed to work in Australia.

Leaving Defence and Security aspects aside, I don't ever remember reading any significant, detailed strategy being enunciated by any Australian Government on what our long term, bilateral relationship with our closest neighbour should be.

Before the debate on guest workers clouds the air, maybe a better idea would be to first work out some serious, long term planning of where our two countries want to be in the future. Once a policy is agreed, we can then concentrate on how to achieve some clearly set out benchmarks and aspirations. Intermittent and mercurial personal relations between our two countries at the highest level leave nothing but a sour note in the media and ignore the overall desires of the common people. Let's see a negotiated and agreed policy that involves a great deal more than just a constant, upward re-evaluation of Australia's overseas aid program to PNG.

After more than 30 years of demonstrably poorer and poorer results, even Blind Freddy should be able to point to a singular, large 'black hole' in our aid program with very little to show for our taxpayer dollars. Other countries are currently achieving a lot more in PNG with a lot less and we are being evaluated on our overall national 'willpower' as opposed to 'won't power'. We are in a region where 'face' is evaluated as being just as important as the level of gratuitous handouts. In fact, 'face' is far more important, as some of us know, having lived and worked outside Australia.

Clearly, in the eyes of PNG, (and the rest of the Pacific Rim), we stand at the crossroads. What relationship, we as a nation want with PNG must be settled and advertised prior to any piecemeal and ineffectual tinkering around the edges. It's entirely possible that PNG would also benefit from clarifying exactly what relationship they want with us?

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