TUMBY BAY - In her simplistic way, the extreme right wing politician Pauline Hanson says that if Papua New Guinea can afford forty luxury Maserati vehicles it doesn’t need Australian aid.
It is the same sort of logic that many people use when arguing for a cut to welfare payments. The argument goes that if they just spend the money on cigarettes, booze and poker machines and refuse to get a job they don’t deserve to get it.
We all know that most people forced onto welfare struggle to make ends meet and carefully manage their money.
It is just the irresponsible minority that gives them a bad name and forces more and more strictures on everyone.
The Papua New Guinea government has now further and decisively demonstrated that it is a similar irresponsible minority.
The Maserati purchase is now a fecund symbol of the unbridled extravagance and irresponsibility of the O’Neill government.
By remaining uncritical the Australian government is complicit and its aid program suspect.
I suspect that this story is going to play out for some considerable time, both before and after APEC.
I also suspect that as the narrative evolves and the symbolism strengthens there will be a backlash.
This will be especially so if politicians are spotted driving around Moresby in the vehicles after APEC finishes. Nobody would be that stupid, or would they Mr Tkatchenko?
Aid donors, particularly Australia but perhaps even China and others, will now think twice about giving Papua New Guinea more money to splurge on questionable programs.
In political terms this might be a good thing but in practical terms for the Papua New Guinean people it will be another setback.
With a government up to its eyeballs in debt, reduced aid money will only mean that the trickle that actually gets spent in rural areas will be diminished.
Inherent in Pauline Hanson’s comment is the suspicion that Australia has been played as a mug for a long time in its relationship with Papua New Guinea.
The conservative side in Australian politics is probably already gearing up to slash more money from its aid budget.
Why should we give them more money when they just blow it on fast cars?
Cars are a bit like yachts, they are a big hole into which you just pour money. Nobody buys a new car and sells it a few weeks later for a profit. The only people who do that are shonky used car salesmen.
The assertion that the Papua New Guinean government will recover its costs from the purchase simply beggars belief.
Who would have thought that a luxury Italian motor car would become a symbol of O’Neill’s dysfunctional government?