TUMBY BAY - There are now large numbers of Papua New Guineans living in Australia, mainly in Queensland and New South Wales but with numbers sufficient to form small communities in most capital cities.
We even have a family living here in Tumby Bay, a town of about 2,000 people on the relatively remote Eyre Peninsula of South Australia.
According to the 2016 Census, there were 28,802 people born in Papua New Guinea living in Australia (an increase of 11.5% from 2006).
That’s just an official figure. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of Papua New Guinean expatriates living in Australia is much higher, possibly up to 50,000, and is growing at a rapid rate.
So significant is this influx that people are now talking about it in terms of a diaspora.
‘Diaspora’ is a term with which I am more than familiar. My father belonged to the Irish diaspora, which involved millions of people who had migrated to every corner of the world over an extended period but most significantly between 1840 and the mid-twentieth century.
The term is used to define the dispersion of people from a country and goes back to the dispersion of the Jews after their exile in 538 BC and after the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
In the case of the Irish, the causative factors after about 1700 were extreme poverty and oppression by British invaders.
It is not wholly clear what the causative factors are in Papua New Guinea case but we can make some educated guesses.
Many Papuans took advantage of their status as Australian citizens when independence started to look likely and moved to Australia.
But the oldest cause is probably related to marriage, usually Papua New Guinean women marrying Australian men before and just after independence. From that flowed migrations to Australia of relatives.
Another cause is economic opportunity, usually triggered by the lack of employment opportunities for educated people in Papua New Guinea. That’s really Papua New Guinea’s loss and Australia’s gain.
Closely aligned to this are the perceived advantages of lifestyle, medical access and personal security that Australia offers.
On the darker side there is a small but growing cadre of politicians, ex-politicians and businessmen who ostensibly still live in Papua New Guinea but by virtue of renewable visas maintain a footprint in Australia that might include residences and businesses.
We can follow these factors to the other end of the spectrum where people from Papua New Guinea are actually escaping some form of persecution, such as sexual discrimination.
Finally, people from some areas like Western Province come to Australia to escape real poverty.
Whatever the cause, many of these people could be correctly called refugees. You might think that’s a dirty word in Australia at the moment but there are exceptions. Whether you are despised or welcomed seems to depend a lot on who you know.
As Papua New Guinea continues its downward spiral the number of people seeking refuge in Australia seems likely to increase.
Sooner or later, the alarm bells will start sounding. ‘We’re in danger of being swamped by Papua New Guineans’ will become the catchcry of some Australian politicians.
That’s when politicians will start playing games with words with PNG being characterised as moving from “failed state” to “rogue state”, just like Fiji.
And that might be the trigger for even harsher restrictions on Papua New Guineans coming to Australia.
Sounds ridiculous? Maybe, maybe not.