AUSTRALIA'S CARDINAL MISTAKE in Papua New Guinea was to allow a Westminster-modelled, party-based system of political representation to arise in a profoundly tribal, profoundly egalitarian, landowning, subsistence society.
It proved to be a white elephant which would never pull a cart or lift a log.
This unguided policy-free stance, allowing party-based politics to rise, provided for the empowerment of today's selfish and cynical hegemonic elite in all its mishmash of conflict-beset coalitions.
This oversight was compounded by another factor. The great grey elephant was the lack of a well-educated, disciplined and idealistic elite of a size sufficient to have a deep impact upon the unworldly and unsophisticated emerging society.
Formal western schooling came late to PNG. As the government system of education grew from almost nothing in the late forties to the foundation of UPNG and Unitech less than two decades later, the Aussie political leadership quietly decided that "black mastas" should never arise, and so mediocrity and "lefty-luvvy-ideology" became the guiding theme in educational and social development.
To hell with an informed, ethical, history-and-economics-savvy leadership during the most important decades of PNG's hasty transformation from tribal horde to nation state. The principle of excellence was not permitted in a society traditionally free of the ills of a class-system just as the pursuit ofexcellence was anathema to all dinky-di Aussies.
As with most colonial powers, Australia exhibited a supine even welcoming attitude to the flood of lefty political correctness which swirled like an Alpine fog behind UN visiting missions in the sixties and thereafter.
Any pretence to excellence of outcome in education was sacrificed to the sibilant susurrations of fluttering left wings.
It is no accident that names like Kidu, Rarua, Taureka, Siaguru, Namaliu, Nombri, Ainui and others all bring memories of balanced, urbane, highly-educated, personable and effective professionals; people of dignity and purpose. People who served the nation with distinction and honesty.
But it was not even a generation. Because of Aussie policy it was just a flash in the pan. So what happened to replace this cadre of leaders?
The output of a largely undistinguished caste of ideology-driven foreign educationists foisted upon a naive PNG in the formative years of tertiary education was unable to provide a supply of focussed, disciplined, ethical leaders in the same model.
Within its enclosed, self-protective academic community, this pod of politically correct pedagogues live on today, largely invisible and perennially unable to put the stamp of quality upon its product.
In this way, by closing the gate to a purposely socially-engineered class of properly educated, open-minded and pragmatic non-tribal Melanesian leaders, Australia closed off the only avenue whereby young people might see and aim for ethical, socially-positive and creative careers in politics and administration.
Social engineering didn't go away. It was put into reverse. And look at the result.