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29 November 2018


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"Educating PNG people in Australia is all very well but what happens when they return to a totally different mindset?"

They're often seen as a threat and don't get promotions.

Sometimes educating foreign students in Australia backfires badly. This Indonesian academic now establishing himself as a voice of military/security hawks is a product of Flinders University. Here he is on Manus, obviously pitching for a job -

"Responding to the steps of Uncle Sam's country, Indonesian Military and Defense Observer Muradi reminded the Indonesian government that this was not good news. Therefore, he also said that Indonesia must respond by building similar facilities in Papua."

"It has its roots in dysfunctional politics."

Both Mr Howes and the approach he criticises are faulty. Politics is determined by the cultural values held by politicians and those who elect them. No amount of aid will change primary cultural values, at best it can help to support individuals who are critical of and want to reform secondary values.

If there's a critical mass this could be done in a generation. But successful aid begins with individuals not institutions. If governing institutions are to promote values different to those held by the community, conflict will ensue.

Police are placed in situations where they have to enforce laws not accepted by communities and corruption, where none had existed previously, is inevitable.

The approach of the Catholic missionaries, who changed secondary cultural values with a whole of family approach that was inherited by successive generations has a far better record of success than Australian aid.

But then those missionaries were willing to live and die with their project. They were and are committed in a way that secular DFAT, Australian aid, and 21st century Australians are not.

The nub of the issue is that it’s essential to decide on the objective before you start the journey. Not only does this methodology determine an objective approach, it also allows effective measurement of how far you have gone or have to go to achieve the stated objective. In other words, effective management.

Therein lies the rub of Australia’s aid program. What really is our overall objective and is it achievable?

In this I suspect I have been guilty as the next person in believing that one important aim was to achieve responsible and accountable government. Clearly, in order to receive aid money however, a recipient government merely has to give lip service to that aim in order to turn on the tap.

It’s a bit like a gap in translation or in fact a credibility gap. “Yes, yes, em gutpla tru’, the receiver can say knowing full well nothing will change. Afterall, if the donor is stupid enough to believe in an unobtainable objective, why would the recipient bother to argue?

Both can then be happy in the moment of agreement believing each understands the other.

Stephen Howes' article is a very timely reminder of the lesson that many of us, who worked at the kunai roots level, found out the hard way. What was agreed to and what happened were often two entirely different outcomes.

Educating PNG people in Australia is all very well but what happens when they return to a totally different mindset? Gross dissatisfaction is often the case since the locally accepted objective is often so different from the one that has been previously stated.

‘Strongim gavaman’ programs in PNG have floundered on the same stumbling block. The donor’s objective is different from that of the recipient.

So are aid programs not worth the effort? Wrong. The problem is in the design and implementation phases. Those who are designing the programs aren’t actually the ones responsible for their implementation. Clearly Canberra and a PNG village are poles apart.

How do you bridge that gap? Examine what has worked and what hasn’t.

The problem in that approach is that it could cause some embarrassment in high places in both the Pacific and Australia. So far, it’s just easier for Australia to boast about coughing up other people’s taxes and ignore the results or lack thereof.

It’s also far easier for the recipient to play the game and ignore the lack of results.

Hey! If it works for you, why try to fix it?

At least the Chinese are pragmatic enough to design potentially achievable aid programs.

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