, , ,


By Susan Merrell

And he sold our reputation,
On the proceeds he will dine,
In a land of golden plenty…
Where just the dregs are mine.

(With apologies to) Idris Davies

The bilateral PNG solution to Australia’s refugee problem is wrong on so many levels but I am going to address just one:

…from the point of view of Papua New Guinea

It is already well recognised that the agreement is a cynical and expensive exercise at vote grabbing by the desperate leader of an ailing Labor Party whose wresting of power from Julia Gillard at the eleventh hour requires him to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

And does Rudd care about the consequences for anyone other than himself, first, – the Labor Party, second  – and Australia, third?  I doubt it.

There are more people to consider: like the refugees (who have many people advocating, quite rightly, for them including the UN).

Then there’s PNG. 

Here we have a nation battling to achieve modernity: struggling with the concept of democracy where pulling together over 800 discrete tribes into a nation is proving a challenge.  Here’s a nation that achieved independence only 37 short years ago  – some have mooted it was premature. Poverty is rife, as is governmental and institutional corruption.

The tortured transition to modernity combined with abject poverty and lack of government services has produced profound social problems, not least of which is violence against women.  Indeed PNG is a recognised producer of refugees – most of them women fleeing domestic violence.

Add to that law and order problems and a population that have embraced a form of punitive and retributive Christianity that sees homosexuality and adultery still on the statute books and a population generally intolerant of religious difference.

Under the circumstances, it is a society hardly likely to take kindly to the special privileges that will be afforded refugees through Australian money – a better life than they could ever hope for.  Can you blame them?

The main problem is not logistical, it’s ideological.

If you are going to say to the abused spouse that if he wishes to pursue Cinderella, he will be forced to marry the ugly sister – how must that make the sister feel?

PNGeans are not comfortable with the role of ugly sister, and neither they should be.

The whole idea of using the threat of living in PNG to deter refugees is repugnant.  PNG is a nation struggling to maintain national pride through all of their profound problems, not helped when even the ‘touchy, feely’ Green Senator Milne, insensitively stated that Rudd’s solution surpassed even Abbott’s in cruelty to refugees.

When international headlines have labelled PNG as ‘Hell’, a ‘shithole’ and other equally pejorative terms, how does PNG maintain a vestige of national pride?

The cartoonist, Larry Pickering postulated that:

The only cost to O’Neill is that his country will now be known as a worse hell-hole than the world’s worst hell-holes.

It’s a price far too high!

In a land of poverty and strife where just existing is often difficult, O’Neill has sold cheaply one of the few things that PNGeans have to embrace and hold dear – their pride.

Gary Juffa, a new breed of Member of Parliament who is fiercely patriotic and who sits on the middle benches (ie neither government nor opposition) wrote:

…Australia is sending them [refugees] to a nation that is a developing nation with many issues of its own to contend with…in the international landscape, PNG is painted as a horrible place, IT IS NOT! I am saddened that my home is being used to deter people, scaremongering as it were…I welcome those who need help but what if they do not want “OUR” help? No body wants a hostile guest…

Introducing: Papua New Guinea’s number 1 citizen and signatory to the agreement

Independence in PNG brought into prominence an echelon of society that is venal, corrupt – and ruthlessly so.  This stratum is the highest in the land. It is well understood in PNG that the only way to riches is through becoming a Member of Parliament where one can put one’s snout in the lucrative corruption trough.  It is why there were close to 3000 candidates contesting 111 seats in the last election.

At the very highest of this echelon is the man who, last week, sold the reputation of PNG for ‘cargo’ (a concept well entrenched in PNG tradition):  to achieve that which venal governments should easily have achieved long ago had they not stolen government funds:

He is Peter O’Neill, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.

In the early ‘noughties’ O’Neill was embroiled and implicated in a corruption scandal that saw millions of dollars disappear from the coffers of the National Provident Fund.

Although he was named in the Commission of Inquiry (along with others,) no one was ever convicted of any offence – which is par for the course in PNG.  Corruption is a low-risk business.  O’Neill’s case did not even reach the courts but was dismissed through lack of evidence – evidence that was clearly extant during the Inquiry.

With half the annual budget regularly going missing to corruption, who knows how much of Rudd’s blood money will even reach its PNG target.  The Australian Prime Minister’s desperation is making O’Neill’s negotiations like shooting fish in a barrel.

The agreement promises that PNG will have more control over aid monies, for instance, something for which O’Neill has been agitating since his inception as Prime Minister.  That notwithstanding, the very reason that Australia stopped contributing aid to the general national budget was to give the politicians and public servants less control and thus to stop funds disappearing into well lined pockets.

A national disgrace

No nation can thrive without national pride.

Without national pride to cement civil society, Papua New Guinea’s problems are just poised to worsen.

When Kevin Rudd positioned PNG as the proverbial repulsive ugly sister, for the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea to have, smilingly, agreed is nothing short of treason.

O’Neill should be in the business of nation building not nation (and soul) destroying.

Seven million Papua New Guineans are struggling to maintain their national pride against great social and economic odds. Take away pride and you take away the last vestiges of hope.  How dare this Prime Minister?

This Judas got his 30 pieces of silver.