Manus sensitivities lie behind Oz silence on Garnaut
Readers assistance required in PNG alcohol research

Garnaut’s storm in teacup moment creates ripples


IN AN EXTRAORDINARY ESCALATION of his dispute with the Papua New Guinea government – a contretemps he says he wishes to “move on” from – businessman-academic Ross Garnaut has called on the Australian government to negotiate an agreement with PNG to “prevent the arbitrary use of its immigration powers to disrupt business between the two countries”.

Speaking to the ABC’s Jemima Garrett, Garnaut said the ban placed on his travel to PNG by the O’Neill government, which resulted in his resignation as chairman of the Ok Tedi mining company, “was a low point for Australian diplomacy generally, a low point for PNG development and a low point for Papua New Guinea democracy."

Reads like hyperbole to me.

Garnaut was supported in what could be considered an intemperate outburst by a colleague, Dr Stephen Howes from the Australian National University, who wrote in an opinion piece on the Development Policy Blog (article below) that the Australian government should have criticised the ban

"Australia should be supporting free speech in PNG and Australia should certainly be supporting the rights of its citizens to engage in lawful business activities in other countries." Howes said.

In response, PNG prime minister O’Neill has said Garnaut’s remarks were ill-informed and accused BHP Billiton of having a “colonial mentality”.

Yesterday BHP, which itself seems in need of a cold shower, amongst other things accused O’Neill of improper dealings in the granting of exploration licences.

O’Neill retaliated, saying that BHP failed to accept the enormous favour PNG did the company when it 'allowed it to relinquish its ownership of Ok Tedi without accepting financial or moral responsibility for the enormous environmental and social damage' that occurred in the Western Province.

O'Neill said BHP Billiton and Garnaut allege he wants to commandeer the funds of the PNG Sustainable Development Program which, O'Neill said, is both factually wrong and personally offensive.

PNGSDP is a $1.4 billion charitable trust set up by BHP when it handed over its shares in Ok Tedi to Papua New Guinea.

The Garnaut imbroglio poses something of a dilemma for the Australian government, which Howes believes should have issued a “public protest” when O'Neill put the travel ban in place.

There’s a plausible (and ethical) argument to be made that Australia's foreign policy approach to PNG should make it clear it does not condone bad policy, although the diplomatic nuances of such a posture are complex.

But, if Manus was the main consideration here, as Howes proposes, real politik within Australia would dictate that the government steer well clear of the tangled issue of Garnaut, PNGSDP and O’Neill’s sensitivity to what does appear to be an outbreak of neo-colonial expression.

In an election year, Julia Gillard and Bob Carr certainly wouldn’t want to do anything that might stimulate greater controversy than already exists around the Manus refugee camps (and O’Neill is already encountering resistance to the initiative from Belden Namah).

But most of all they wouldn’t want to jeopardise the newly strengthened and energised friendship with the PNG government, with O’Neill being central to this.

Papua New Guinea’s strategic importance in the China-Pacific era has dawned on our politicians and the need for a stable, friendly PNG has become a paramount goal.

Carr learned last year than intervening, even rhetorically, in PNG government affairs is a dangerous place to be.

One can perhaps criticise the PNG government over its heavy handed approach to the Garnaut issue, but it seems a pity that Garnaut - a man of great experience in such matters - didn’t handle the issue more sensitively and maturely himself.

Now he has resigned with all guns blazing – creating an impression that in transit he wishes to damage the Australia–PNG relationship. And he’s been joined in this little jaunt by BHP and an ANU academic.

Ross Garnaut and his supporters should undertake a short course on storms, teacups and the futility of immoderate behaviour.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Samuel Roth

Ross Garnaut is well-respected in both countries. He should be thankful that PNG has helped him build his profile and put him where he is now – one of Australia’s most influential individuals.

However, among the many hats that he has been wearing, Climate Change and Mining are two challenging, yet hypocritical.

Has the good prof become a sacrificial lamb for the gigantic MNC’s or has he misled himself in his career path and academic discourse mixing up his values, if he had some?

Of course, losing a chairman’s job won’t make him go starving in the new year since he is already rich given his prominence and wealth his many ‘top jobs’ may have given him over the many decades of his prolific life – yes check out Forbes!

His real loss now is the “saga” created by the O’Neill-BHP Billiton connection – let alone the Chinese connection.

O'Neill has definitely won the confidence of many citizens who want to end any form of neo-colonialist connotations in today's vocabulary.

However, any sober person (PNG citizens like myself, Australians with PNG connections and the Fly River landowners), would nod with Garnaut on his critical comments about mining taxes being misused by PNG politicians and bureaucrats.

Since when has aid money or mining revenues and taxes been sustainably managed and used in PNG?

Speaking on sustainability, is Garnaut “the person” to head a mining company when he has written immensely about Climate Change issues?

On the other hand, is O’Neill “the person” to shut-off technical people/advisors and in this case, for a very “small” but honest comment by Garnaut that many see no major fault with it?

Is O’Neill trying to do a cover up or is he doing a poilitical witch-hunt?

All we know, for sure, is that PNGSDP has not delivered to expectations and Garnaut can take the blame for that.

On the other hand, we must also know that O’Neill, as a person, cannot decide for the thousands of Fly River people nor for PNGuineans.

His job as the PM does not give him all the rights to proclaim decisions that go beyond mining and development in PNG.

However, that is how funny politicians respond in PNG politics – scolding at and rebuking critics while keep dipping their fingers into what they are seemingly there for. That is what defines their ego.

Hence, are we seeing two hypocritical figures at play here; a Garnaut whose values and qualifications imply anti-mining and promotion of environmental sustainability and an O’Neill who plans to make 2013 a year to fight corruption.

Although, Garnaut’s comments have been perceived by many as honest and somewhat “insensitive” to a government that is headed by a PM who is defensive and has taken unilateral action on someone who has been immensely attached to PNG.

It is therefore, humble for O’Neill to swallow his government’s pride, accept criticisms and bring back Prof Garnaut to continue what he is supposed to be doing – this time Garnaut should serve PNGSDP and the people of Fly River with honesty, dedication and some values of humanity.

Thus, the critics that PNGSDP has not done much for the people should be the issue to tackle, not characters!

Jamie Namorong

It’s good that Ross Garnaut resigned. He served the company interests not Western Province.

I hope Mekere Morauta addresses needs of his wantoks.

Henry Ume

I agree completely with prime minister O'Neill. Peter has taken the brave stance to shake BHP, OTML and PNGSDP and on a personal level with Ross Garnaut.

The PNG mining industry and PNG itself has been extremely good to Ross where he has curved out a bumper retirement bank account. This man is arrogant and looks down on many in front, beside and at the back of him.

BHP must relinquish its influence and foothold in any shape or form in PNG and on the same token PNG must never allow BHP and its subsidiaries back in to PNG. Period!

William Dunlop

I met "Garnaut" many years ago in the New Guinea Mining days.

Prior to Lihir he was just as up himself as he is these days.

As for BHP, well the old saying, "birds of a feather." And.
As for Ok Tedi. Who 'greased' who.

Kevin O'Regan

I do not always agree with Prime Minister O'Neill but on this one he is 100% correct.

To have let BHP exit the disaster that they alone created nine years ago was overly generous by the PNG gvernment of the time.

No country anywhere else in the world would have permitted a mining giant to set up and operate a mine like Ok Tedi with the scant regard for the down stream river communities.

Ross Garnaut has an ego problem that he is "always right" and none of us other mere mortals dare question his say so.

Good riddance and take his other armchair academics with him.

All he had to do was say "sorry", but no, he is never wrong.

Geoff Hancock

The use of hyperbole by Ross Garnaut does not surprise me.

The fact that he pronounces his surname with the 'T' silent when other family members i know in Perth do not is rather pompous in my opinion!

Shades of Bucket and Bouquet in "Keeping Up Appearances".

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)