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25 May 2018


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Attitude readers may be interested in viewing this story on NITV's Living Black, 9pm tonight : The long road to Paradise Street - 100 years on Palm Island.

One of the many privileges of the MWTE Writer's Fellowship has been the opportunity to not only to purchase and read, but also to observe and interact with authors in person.

As I've progressed through the past two months, I've focused a lot of my reading on the experiences of indigenous Australians, particularly on issues of identity and the way forward after the Turnbull government's dismissal of the Uluru Statement.

The points raised in Chris Overland's comments are encompassed not only in the texts I've read but also during the live panel discussions led and delivered by indigenous Australians.

Dr Sandra Phillips has written an excellent essay (in Griffith Review 60) about the steady progress of indigenous Australians' participation in and successful completion of tertiary education. And yet there are many areas that exist where progress is stifled.

As I begin preparing another article under the fellowship, I have re-read Stan Grant's essay (Griffith Review 60) which reflects Chris's comments about those people fixated on raking over the sins of the past rather than looking for viable solutions for the future.

Again, I'm inspired to think, reflect and convey how this applies in the context of PNG.

The debate about who is responsible for for delivering the benefits to people is absolutely crucial but, in my opinion, should not feature centrally.

The implications of mismanagement as it bears on the people should overshadow any excuses, abstract figures, numbers etc.

I think this is important for the understanding of those people (such as myself) who are far removed from the realities of what the people of Hela have endured and continue to endure.

Perhaps increased reporting from this angle would motivate and facilitate faster action from parities deemed responsible.

Certainly Jo Chandler's reporting contains a breadth of facts and first hand accounts that I would appreciate seeing in history books documenting how Hela, as a people and a society, will develop decades after LNG winds up and the Western operators have moved on.

Momentous, Michael Dom.

At a time in the future, at such erudite tok of errant leaderslip, 'penny may drop' for kina weighs.

How long till? Intelligence incurring insult yet so far without broader harsher electoral imperative.

I disagree. I think that the arguments about who is responsible for delivering the benefits to the landowners are absolutely crucial.

This is especially so when you consider that the LNG project is about to expand considerably.

My personal view is that it is the licensee that bears responsibility for identifying the landowners through the social mapping process and that the government's role is confined to distributing the benefits to them only after they have been identified. Others think the onus rests entirely with the government.

This needs to be tested in court to remove any ambiguity. In particular it needs to be established whether the licensee was remiss in steaming ahead with the development of the project before the social mapping was complete.

"We are in the business of making monkeys
We defile them and revile them
We educate them in depravity
We domesticate them in poverty

"We are in the business of making monkeys
We mislead them and maroon them
We amputate them from reason
We direct them to self-destruction

"We are in the business of making monkeys
We whore them and devour them
We defy them with our hypocrisy
We deny them true democracy"

There is a long and dreadful history of prejudice, dispossession and violence directed at Aboriginal Australians.

While overtly prejudicial behaviour is now comparatively rare and widely deplored, the events at Palm Island are symptomatic of a persistent problem within the Queensland Police which, as I understand it, determined efforts are being made to stamp out.

The Queensland Government has accepted that it must accept responsibility for the behaviour of the police force and has actively supported these efforts. As I understand it, things have improved a lot but, inevitably, cultural change takes a long time. It is a labour of decades.

As a general observation, it is clear that the situation of Aboriginal people has improved markedly since the 1967 referendum which extended to them the full rights of Australian citizenship.

Importantly, Australian governments have accepted that they have a duty of care to help overcome the problems now afflicting Aboriginal people, which arise both from what happened in the past and their constitutional and legal obligations towards all Australian citizens.

It is a very under reported fact that there is now an emergent Aboriginal "middle class" who are quite affluent and doing well in life. The number of Aboriginal people graduating from high schools and universities is steadily climbing and they are making their appearance in professions such as law and medicine.

This is not to say that all is well, merely that things are a lot better than is sometimes supposed.

The media prefer to report the very real and apparently intractable problems that still afflict far too many Aboriginal people, especially those living in remote communities like Palm Island.

Alcohol abuse, drug taking and intra community violence (especially against women) remain alarmingly prevalent in some of these communities despite the best efforts of many well intentioned people, both Aboriginal and white.

Also, there are far too many people who prefer to constantly rake over the sins of the past rather than put forward viable suggestions about how to create a better future.

There is a tendency amongst some academics and activists to constantly point to a supposedly collective white guilt for the past. This frequently causes resentment and doesn't help foster debate about how things might be improved, both faster and further.

Based upon Rashmii Bell's excellent article, there appear to be aspects of the Aboriginal experience being played out in PNG, this time perpetrated mostly by its own government.

During the colonial era Papua New Guineans were rarely subjected to the dispossession or violence experienced by Aboriginal people, although both did occur.

The extent of this behaviour in PNG can be argued about but I think that, even accepting that hitherto unreported incidents such as those documented by Mathias Kin are true, such events in PNG were on a very small scale compared to what happened in colonial Africa or South East Asia or Australia for that matter.

There are many reasons for this but, at bottom, the Australian administration always understood that it did not "own" PNG and that its peoples would, eventually, take charge of their own fate.

Now, PNG has its own government and you might imagine that it would not participate in activities that had the effect of dispossessing or doing violence towards or further impoverishing its own people.

Sadly, this seems not to be the case. The PNG government's record for actually delivering on promises made in relation to things like the LNG project suggests that its leadership is either too greedy or too incompetent or both to actually do so.

Arguments about who is notionally responsible for delivering the benefits to the land owners are, as Rashmii points out, irrelevant and futile.

To my mind, just as the Australian colonial administration had to accept responsibility for what its agents and servants did in its name, so the PNG government has to accept ultimate responsibility for ensuring that it citizens actually receive the benefits promised to them.

Arguments to the contrary are just wind: you cannot out source ultimate responsibility for governance, much as modern governments are keen to do so when things go badly.

Of course, even if the constitutional and legal situation is clear enough, this is likely to mean nothing to those in power. Inconvenient truths can be ignored because the people are essentially powerless to do anything about it.

Perhaps they should bear in mind a famous adage of Mao Zedong, the communist leader who proclaimed the Peoples Republic of China, that "political power comes from the barrel of gun."

Someone in Hela Province is bound to figure this out eventually.

Unfortunately the so called 'blame game' only leads to increased frustration since it doesn't resolve anything except define the problem. Solutions are far more difficult to determine.

Trying to advance by looking backwards only leads to disaster in the future. Learning from the past can however help reduce the chances of making the same mistakes.

Tomorrow is noted on my calendar as 'National Sorry Day'. It marks a significant event where there was recognition that what went on in the past was not right but it should also mark the start of some positive initiatives to improve the future.

Therein lies the crunch point. At that point, most seem to give up, throw their hands in the air and say it's all too hard.

Until someone starts banding together with others of like mind and start leading the group in a cohesive manner, those in power will continue to do what they know works for them.

'I will be 18 years of age in 2022 and, if I have not been educated and I am still a subsistence farmer living in relative poverty, I am going to be really angry! I may be armed and dangerous.'

Sombre, blood curling words and 2022 is four years away - and when the next national elections are due.

The PNG government must shut its mouth in the blame shifting game and pay the landowners their royalty even if it means to pay them with more dinau moni [loans] from the Export Import Bank of China.

The government must not hold hands with corporate giants and trample on a once proud people.

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