TUMBY BAY - In 2005, the late Ulli Beier published ‘Decolonising the Mind’, an account of his time as a lecturer at the University of Papua New Guinea between 1967 and 1971.
The book was published by Pandanus Books, established in 2001 by the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University and eventually discontinued in 2006 following budget cuts.
While it existed Pandanus was a prolific publisher of, among other things, Papua New Guinean matters for both an academic and general readership.
Its demise cut off a valuable tool for furthering an understanding of the Papua New Guinean and Australian relationship.
The title of Beier’s book referred to the need for the University of Papua New Guinea and its students, as well as the wider Papua New Guinean community, to shake off its colonial mindset and embark on a more nationally-orientated future.
What it didn’t do, at least overtly, was suggest that Australia also needed to shed its colonial mindset when it thought about and interacted with Papua New Guinea.
Australia has, unfortunately, never really dropped the old metaphor of it being the parent figure in its relationship with Papua New Guinea.
James Marape seems to have recognised the dead weight that this attitude brings to bear on the relationship and the future of his nation.
In recent weeks he has asserted a much more muscular image of Papua New Guinea’s place in the region, particularly as it relates to Australia.
He has, for instance, told Australia to butt out of anything to do with his nation’s relationship with China and reminded it of its responsibility to do what it can to avert the ravages of climate change on the Pacific islands.
During his recent visit to Australia he rammed home this message.
He is talking about Papua New Guinea as an equal partner with Australia and New Zealand in the region.
This is an important rhetorical shift. No longer is it just Australia and New Zealand gazing over the Pacific. It is now a triumvirate that includes Papua New Guinea as an equal major player.
As an adjunct to this more mature relationship he is stepping up lobbying to allow greater freedom for Papua New Guineans to travel to Australia and New Zealand.
His other interesting comment while he was in Australia related to his plan to phase out dependence on Australian aid.
This is a very astute aspiration because, as long as Australia provides aid to Papua New Guinea, it will continue to regard it as an ex-colonial dependent.
To achieve this severing of the umbilical cord, Marape intends to rearrange the economic platform in Papua New Guinea.
This will see the harvesting of resource project benefits more in Papua New Guinea’s favour so that its basic needs in sectors like health and education can be locally funded instead of relying on aid.
Once this is achieved, Papua New Guinea will be able to finally claim its place as an independent and equal nation in the region.
There’s nothing startlingly new in any of Marape’s plans. What he is proposing is exactly what those familiar with Papua New Guinea were expecting to happen after independence.
That the leadership to make it happen never emerged is a matter of great regret, not only to ordinary Papua New Guineans but also to PNG’s Australian friends.
Marape says that earlier leaders were deflected by the spoils of office and allowed corruption to throw its ugly, strangling coils around Papua New Guinea.
This is why he has repeatedly stated that ridding Papua New Guinea of corruption is one of his major goals.
If Papua New Guinea gets behind him he will succeed.
If the money grubbers are successful in fighting back, he will fail.