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Australians in glass houses are throwing stones at PNG

Phil Fitzpatrick
Phil Fitzpatrick


TUMBY BAY - The critical analysis of the Papua New Guinea government and the nation as a whole is a regular feature of PNG Attitude.

The analysis has tended to become more negative over the years, particularly since Peter O’Neill’s Peoples National Congress came to power.

A lot of the negativity associated with his government has unfortunately rubbed off on the wider nation. The Papua New Guinean people have, in effect, been tarred with the same brush as that applied to its government.

Much of the negative criticism on PNG Attitude understandably comes from Papua New Guinean writers and commentators but there is also a significant contribution from Australians with experience in the country.

While the criticism in the latter case is generally well-intentioned it is easy to detect a certain sense of superiority running through many of the arguments.

This makes one wonder whether such a self-satisfied attitude is actually justified and whether there is not a hint of hypocrisy. Australia, after all, is not without its own problems and faults.

Take, for instance, the criticism of Papua New Guinea’s history of logging and land clearance.

There is no doubt that PNG has an appalling rate of deforestation and land clearing. Recent statistics suggest that 1.4% of its tropical forests are being lost annually.

This is mainly due to illegal logging, which contributes 70-90% of all timber exports, one of the highest rates in the world.

Papua New Guinea has lost 640,000 hectares of forest to logging in the past five years and 3% of its total tree cover since 2000.

That’s terrible and clearly unsustainable, especially given the impact on land owners, habitat and climate change, but consider the following statistics.

Australia has lost 25% of its rainforests, 45% of its open forests, 32% of its woodland forest and 30% of its Mallee forest in the 200 years since settlement. That gives Australia one of the highest rates of tree clearing of any developed country in the world

When you think of devastating deforestation and animal extinction you usually think of the Amazon, Borneo and the Congo. But eastern Australia ranks alongside these in the top 10 of the world’s major deforestation regions.

Most of the clearing is happening in Queensland, and it is accelerating. Despite having less remaining woody vegetation, Queensland clears vegetation almost twice as fast as Brazil clears the Amazon forests.

In other words, Australia and PNG are as bad as each other when it comes to land clearing and its impacts. Neither country is in a position to criticise the other. Both governments have failed their people miserably.

There are many other examples that can be pointed out. Another is the exploitation of mineral resources and the devastation that can cause, especially when the revenues are shipped overseas with the ore.

You could argue that as citizens of a developed nation Australians should be using their own failures to advise their nearest neighbour of the pitfalls of following similar paths, be it in governance, budget responsibility or resource exploitation, but the argument falls flat because what we would be warning against is still very much alive in our own patch.

The governments of Australia and PNG are on the nose, they are both accidents waiting to happen, train wrecks in the making. All caused by a lust for power and the riches it brings.

The people in both countries are bystanders with little hope of changing anything.

Australia still has many clear advantages over PNG; we have better health and education systems, our law and legal institutions are robust and our politicians and public servants are nowhere near as corrupt as those in PNG.

We are also just as good at criticising and lampooning our own leaders, this comes across strongly in the Australian comments on the blog.

Nevertheless, any advice we offer has to be measured. We have to be careful how we criticise others.

Perhaps one thing we could do is pay a bit more attention to what people in PNG are saying, not only about themselves but also about us.


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Simon Davidson

Could you email.
I want to publish some of my poems.
This is my email address:

Bernard Corden

Regulatory capture is systemic throughout federal, state and local governments and Queensland and WA are light years ahead of the remaining states.

In deep north Queensland it is reminiscent of Tammany Hall politics, which dominated the New York state political arena for over 80 years and far worse than the Mississippi Burning era of Joh Bjelke Petersen...Don't you worry about that.

I expect there will be a commemorative statue of Russ Hinze in the forecourt of the new Treasury casino when it opens, provided there is enough room. The white shoe brigade is still alive and kicking and Mineralogy allegedly reported at $1 million per day profit during the last financial year.

The Queensland industrial relations minister is the niece of Gerry and Tony Bellino. The premier's former squeeze was a lobbyist for Adani

Just a casual glance through local and state government structure is like trawling through the website.

Meanwhile, amidst the debauchery, philandering, cuckolding and bacchanalia in Canberra, a quick read through the Australia Institute report on coal seam gas and mining approvals provides sufficient evidence of the rotten stench of corporate malfeasance with the merger of state interests:

Then there is the enigma of the $444 million Great Barrier Reef Foundation funding, which must have left Grant King doing cart wheels.

Peter O'Neill, Justin Thatchenko et al are merely novices.

Always go too far, because that's where you find the truth - Albert Camus

Paul Oates

I agree with you Garry we should always try to accentuate the positives.

In reality as you highlight, Burke famously put his finger on the problem. Whinging about something is easy. Getting up and doing something about it requires effort.

I suggest that the responsibility is the people's because our political leaders will only do what they can get away with after they respond to the various influences that put them there in the first place.

Unless and until the majority of voters actually make their wishes known, and emphatically at that, nothing will change as those in power are very happy with the status quo.

But that requires a lot of effort to motivate and lead the majority of voters to recognise their will is important and to keep them focused on achieving the results they want by putting pressure on political leaders.

This requires being prepared to stand up and support issues against the reaction of those in power. It also requires forgetting about those apparent material things in life that many people seem to find impossible to put aside. Mobile phone junkies, Football, alcohol, a quiet life, etc. The list goes on and on. Distractions are so much easier to concentrate on and much more pleasurable.

We watched a series last night that partly described how the then UK PM John Peel, made a stand in repealing the Corn Laws of the mid 1800's. Previously, rich land owners in Parliament had been able to exclude competition from overseas grain by enacting laws to prevent their cherished monopoly on grain being undercut. Common people were starving. PM Peel led his party to overturn these laws but lost political support in doing so. A disaffected land owner then tried to assassinate him.

Human nature is the real problem. Until the enemy is at the gates, no one cares. Even then, when it's almost too late, who will stand up and make a difference?

Philip Fitzpatrick

One of the interesting aspects of this argument is how much are the ordinary people of a nation responsible for what their government does, purportedly in their name?

In the case of land clearance noted above the pressure comes from outside government and, by allowing it to happen, the government becomes complicit in actions by its citizens. Not that you could really label pushy loggers or farmers ordinary citizens.

Are we responsible for what out governments do?

I guess if we elect them we are collectively responsible for what they do.

If we didn't vote for them are we responsible by association.

Is Peter O'Neill the fault of the PNG people? Is Scott Morrison the fault of the Australian people?

No and no. O'Neill became prime minister as the result of an election that was seriously compromised and arguably fraudulent. Morrison by stealth. In both cases 'the people' can't be held responsible - KJ

Rashmii Bell

Agreed, Phil. I responded in similar vein to commentary you made in 2016:

Earlier this year, I reflected on the history of Palm Island and the (understandable) pushback from the people of Hela regarding unpaid landowner royalties.

An underlying proposition was the opportunity for Australia to advise PNG, so as to not repeat the cycle of negative perceptions of the Hela people, as has been the case for the Palm Island community:

Of course, there is the 'Trail of Woe' series, which deserves further attention and scrutiny, particularly in terms of how Australia, in their presence and activity along the Kokoda Trail, may bring the current operations of the trekking industry to the ethical and responsible tourism standards underlying Australia's industry.

One issue I will be following in 2019 is a series reporting on women in Australia and the trajectory of their criminalisation and incarceration as a result of being victims of domestic/ family violence. The statistics for indigenous women is alarming and devastating.

As we see an increase in daily reporting of horrendous anise against girls and women in PNG, the Australian series may give insight as to how to better reform, fund and deliver services to EVAWG and eliminate family violence in PNG:

Garry Roche

Whingeing Expats - or Prophetic Voices?

Phil, you raise a very valid point. The current social and political scene in PNG has given rise to plenty of comment that has been generally somewhat negative.

Perhaps at times our blogs also might be judged to be coming from “whingeing expats” or “whingeing elites”. [Whinge – to complain persistently and peevishly.]

What response can a writer or commentator give to the allegation that she or he is simply a ‘whingeing expat” or a “whingeing elite”?

Some of the “whingeing” may arise from a genuine concern for the country. The complaining may arise from an awareness of how things could be much better. Perhaps a basic question is: “What do I want to achieve by my criticisms or complaints?”

In my own opinion the Churches should be in the forefront in fostering honesty and exposing corruption. Yet at times the Churches seem to be caught between their reliance on Government funding for health and education projects on the one hand, and on the other hand their obligation to speak against corruption.

NGO personnel may be in a similar dilemma. They may see the problem but at the same time be reliant on some Government funding for survival.

Some individuals may feel that they can act more effectively by challenging officials person-to-person rather than speaking out publicly against an individual.

We do not always know to what extent some leaders have tried to battle corruption in a more private person-to-person way. Three sayings come to mind:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke(1770)

“Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness” William Lonsdale Watkinson (1907). Apparently this is also an old Chinese proverb.

"Keeping quiet in such times is the wise thing to do, for it is an evil time" Amos. 5.13. (Some would interpret Amos as being sarcastic!)

Taking action or lighting a candle? Can we point to failures and endeavor to be encouraging at the same time? Can we see the good amidst the corruption and the decline of public services? Can we continue to see and proclaim the many good things happening in PNG and at the same time not close our eyes to the many difficulties.

Perhaps criticisms of PNG we have will be better received if it is clear that we do also continue see the good in PNG and also acknowledge the good that others are achieving in PNG.

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