THE PNG ATTITUDE ARTICLE on the big contractors to Australia’s aid agency, Boomerang all the go if you’re in good with AusAID, was very interesting.
It raised one of those issues that is out there, but very rarely discussed in Australia.
But it certainly is in Papua New Guinea, where more than a few people have watched in disbelief as Australian consultants fly in, do very little, and then leave, laden with aid-gold (which is not to say all consultants do 'very little').
And, dare I say it, academics in Australia are leading the charge.
From my experience in PNG, Australian academics act as consultants in two main capacities.
Either they work for AusAID, usually through one of the big boys such as Coffey International. The pay scales, I hear, are out of this world.
Alternatively, many academics take positions with big mining and oil.
In my experience most consultants are 'tenured' academics, to use the American term. So the payments supplement their university salary (between AUD$90,000 and $200,000), and perhaps give them a welcome chance to do some fieldwork on the side.
I have a number of concerns with this practice.
1. Does it cultivate a relationship of dependency/patronage between academics and their paymasters?
2. Are academics taking the knowledge given to them, free of charge, by the people of PNG, and then converting this into a commodity for their own benefit? And is this fair?
3. Attached to consultancies are onerous employment contracts; does this, in effect, prevent academics from voicing their concern where problematic practices are observed?
4. Should the public trust research results published by scholars in an area, where their employers (Australian government or a mining company) have vested interests?
These are tentative questions, voiced with a critical slant - but I really don't know the answer. It would be interesting to know what others think.
A disclaimer: I am an academic, but owing to the nature of my research (state crime + corporate crime), consultancies are not really a conundrum I have to deal with.