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10 February 2019

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Paul Oates

Phil and Chris - It's not as if this situation hasn't happened before. The human species keeps endlessly making the same mistakes due to the inability to break out of the paradigm so called leaders find themselves.

In order to lead a successful initiative to fix a human problem there has to be intelligence, inspiration and initiative. As soon as someone with any combination of these attributes rears their head, they immediately threaten those who are quite happy with the status quo. Usually this leads to a concerted effort to 'white ant' the one who wants to effect change.

Unfortunately, even when someone is able to break through the intransitive levels of sloth and ignorance and actually achieve something worthwhile, there does not seem to be any way these abilities can be passed on via the gene pool due to each set of circumstances being slightly different and the the population at large being too self interested to care until it's too late.

In the case of Bougainville and PNG for that matter, the players are never going to ask or listen to advice or even suggestions as this would indicate an obvious public show of weakness when in fact they want to project power.

The really strong people don't care about asking for advice or help since they know that no one can possibly know everything and therefore don't feel diminished in any way by listening to those who might know something about the issues involved rather than simply putting mouth into gear before engaging brain.

There will be the inevitable blast of hyperbole from each perspective involved and a public wringing of hands when nothing seems to work the way everyone hoped it would.

Aiya! Traipla mauswara inap lo kapsaitim na mumutim gutpla toksave altaim, altaim.

Philip Fitzpatrick

That seems to be the way DFAT and the Australian government operates. It arrives at a predetermined position on a matter and then closes its ears to any advice that might contradict that position. There must be a name for this sort of pig-headed approach.

All the angst about China in the Pacific is consistent with the approach. Big, bad China is invading our patch, must boost our military presence and chuck more money at the natives. No thought about cooperation whatsoever.

Chris Overland

Reading Bill's account, you can only marvel at the number of red flags fluttering in the breeze about Panguna.

Clearly, the great and the good in Moresby and Canberra had decided that the mine would proceed come what may, leaving Bill et al in a hopeless position.

Fast forward to today and it is abundantly clear that many of those same red flags are still flying, yet the same old script appears to be playing out, this time with another lot of players, most of whom are even less well equipped to know what is going on than their predecessors.

The Canberra based politicians and bureaucrats are, as Paul observes, wildly ill equipped to properly understand the truth about what is going on at the grassroots level in PNG and elsewhere in the Pacific.

Our gross under investment in developing a genuinely deep and profound relationship with these countries for the last several decades is going to cost us dearly.

I hope that our people in DFAT have the good sense to liaise closely with their NZ counterparts. The Kiwi's seem likely to be more clued up because they apparently have maintained much stronger relations for much longer.

We are just playing catch up, as evidenced by our Prime Minister's recent foray into the Pacific to announce that we are back in town, so to speak.

I hope that someone in DFAT is paying attention to Bill's narrative, at least to the extent of recognising that what the current mob in Moresby may be saying about Bougainville and much else besides is unlikely to accurately reflect what is going on at village level.

Sadly, they no longer have any Bill Brown's to give them the unalloyed truth, assuming that they want to hear it.

Paul Oates

An article in today's on line news mentions Australia's new 'Assistant Minister' for the Pacific, Ms Anne Ruston making a brief tour of some Pacific nations and claiming; 'this is our region'.

Yet Bill's report here typifies the disconnection between the perceptions of those in Canberra and those at the kunai roots. The Assistant Minister talks about the threat of China. The leaders of Pacific island nations however keep raising the issue of climate change and rising seas.

At the risk of yet again pointing out where the problem lies, no one can get a good grounding in Pacific Island issues without first putting oneself in the shoes of those who live there. This takes times and the inclination to do it.

Therein lies the credibility gap and one that in a brief window of history, many Field Officers in PNG and elsewhere took the trouble to do so with varying levels of success.

No one with the political perspective of the Canberra bureaucracy or the short term, arm's length engagement of a brief Ministerial tenancy can possibly bridge this credibility chasm. It can't be understood because it hasn't been experienced first hand.

Therein lies the biggest travesty of our time in PNG, no one knew or cared about what Field Officers had in the way of experience or advice to offer to try and help sort out this obvious (to some), disconnection.

Perhaps the only way this gap could be breached is to ensure those who make the policy must first experience the effects first hand.

I can't see that happening any time soon due to political considerations, time scales and a distinct aversion to discomfort after having attained an air conditioned office, nice house, vehicle and public service status.

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