AUSTRALIA - PAPUA NEW GUINEA RELATIONS are an important historical fact and should remain as history.
But both countries should move on from this past and pave a new way in a more mutual balanced level of engagement on regional and bilateral relations.
My view is that PNG should now distance herself from this history that has little meaning to people in the current climate of change happening within the region; with shifting power balances pushed by increasing economic growth in Asia-Pacific.
Both countries should now promote a broader fair level of bilateral engagement rather than maintaining PNG as a strategic national security interest of Australia.
The current asylum seeker deal sheds light on the political and policy thinking in Australia that Australian interests can be expressed through aid to PNG.
Australia says to herself that aid to PNG has worked to improve lives and provide basic governance reforms. But on the issue of governance, Papua New Guineans are yet to see benefits.
On the eve of the 38th years of Independence from Australia, Papua New Guineans are divided in their opinion of Australia’s interest in our country.
Many people question Australia’s efforts: for example, why Australian companies like JTA, Carno Acil and others are contracted to manage Australian aid projects. Though they may provide a certain level of employment opportunities for Papua New Guineans, the majority of the aid is channelled back to Australian consultants working for these agencies.
There is a question of sustainability after funding ceases and there is the hope that the national government will take over ownership of projects initiated by Australian aid. But what often happens is a lack of commitment by the national government and the subsequent failure of such aid initiated projects.
So partnership programs initiated to try and establish institutional capacity are to some extent working but overall are not really paving a positive outcome to reach the majority of the people.
One reason that I think that Australian aid fails after programs phase out is that, since John Howard, Australian policy makers have treated PNG as a security concern.
Papua New Guinea is not war torn, nor a failed state. It has an effective judiciary and form of democracy. Its many flaws need to be ironed out by political will and commitment by the PNG government.
What PNG needs to do now is to overhaul many of its out-dated colonial inherited laws on land, mining tax, labour and others to take the country forward.
This must be initiated by the PNG parliament not external interests who fly in academics from the Australian National University to do their thesis and recommend legislation and policy direction for us.
When Papua New Guineans take control of all forms of legislative measures to benefit our country, I am sure we will come out a better people.
The initiative should now be taken by PNG to improve our own level of transparency and accountability in delivery; if you don’t agree, move on, should be the attitude.
On relations with Australia, as stated earlier they are historical and should remain historical. Times are changing and the world is moving on.
The time has come for Papua New Guinea to soar up in her own direction, not remaining as Australia’s security concern.