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04 April 2018

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Not another whiteboard

Where previous and current aid programs fail originates from a basic misunderstanding of the stated objectives.

This mostly comes about due to the double speak by politicians over what they say and what they really think and actually mean.

Much has been said about 'Boomerang Aid' and the way aid money tends to end up in the pockets of a select few rather than who it is claimed to be helping.

It's enough to make anyone cynical.

The real question is what can be done to rectify the problem?

Well the first issue is to understand the problem rather than just dismissing the results as trivial or of limited value. Only then can a more considered approach be made to fix the problem.

Recently I tried to have Minister Bishop agree to have part of the Australian Aid program devoted to PNG and named as a quarantined and guaranteed program that promoted our shared history.

This proposal was widely accepted as positive and sponsored by many friends of PNG including the then President of the PNGAA, Andrea Williams. When Ms Williams wrote to Minister Bishop she raised the fact that the proposal was inline with a similarly named AusAID program that has been set up with Indonesia.

The PNG proposal was however personally dismissed out of hand by Julie Bishop with the paltry excuse that the Indonesian precedent was a 'one off' and therefore by default, clearly was more important than our relationship with PNG.

Ministers come and go yet it always seems that Australia's relationship with PNG is reduced to that of a minor irritation. Occasionally to be scratched and then forgotten until the next time another 'bite' happens.

Is it any wonder that PNG leaders have turned their attention to other sponsors than the next door neighbour?

As to a continuum from 1880s, so 'geo-political priorities' and 'trading and military advantage'.

As to a coincidence, today PNG Attitude tweet (Paige West) links to "Pet Shenanigans Theater".

Apart from the magnificent scenery my relationship with Papua New Guinea is firmly based on the individual friendships I’ve established there.

As Paul Oates notes, we are all human beings and our commonalities far outweigh our differences.

One of the other good things about a relationship based on friendship is that it naturally leads to a sense of equality.

This means that I don’t approach any particular engagement in which I become involved in Papua New Guinea with a sense of superiority.

When we ran the Crocodile Prize, for instance, we were working with fellow writers, there was no teacher/student or other status-based element involved. This is one reason why, I think, the Crocodile Prize succeeded.

Australia purports to be a long-standing friend of Papua New Guinea but I’m not sure this is true, particularly under the watch of our current government.

I think Australia’s approach to Papua New Guinea is now more mercenary and is based on its own geo-political and economic interests more than anything else.

Anything Australia does in Papua New Guinea nowadays seems to be solely based on its own best interests, not on the best interests of Papua New Guinea and certainly not on the best interests of Papua New Guinea’s people.

This is perhaps best illustrated by the way the Manus deal has been subverted from a short term helping hand into a long term, out of sight, out of mind, disaster.

As we all know, the driving force of the great colonial era was based on trading and military advantage.

I think that in the last few years Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea has regressed to a colonial mentality.

When I see the latest outrage committed by the government of Papua New Guinea I think of the impact on my friends.

Australia, on the other hand, thinks of the impact in a political sense. It works out the impacts of either ignoring it or saying something that it hopes will pull the Papua New Guinean government back into line with its own geo-political priorities.

Papua New Guinea’s apparently blasé approach to China is one such example. Australia, under the heavy influence of the USA, is very wary of China and when Papua New Guinea courts another outrageous tied loan with China it gets worried, not for Papua New Guinea but for its own political interests.

This shouldn’t be happening. We should not be regarding Papua New Guinea solely as a business partner or pawn in the greater Asia-Pacific pond.

We should be regarding Papua New Guinea as our friend and now that the colonial era is over, our equal friend.

Richard Moore has made a wholly sensible suggestion that Australia should divide its aid budget into two components, one to deal with geo-political and economic interests and the other to deal with humanitarian issues, in short, to sensibly separate our friendships from our business and political interests.

This won’t work under our current government because they don’t seem to be able to differentiate between friends and someone you manipulate for your own advantage.

Whether our alternative government is any different will be interesting to see.

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