Martyn Namorong is a multi-award winning writer, blogger and television presenter.
In March 2008, Kevin Rudd made his first official visit to Papua New Guinea to build ties, the first such visit by an Australian prime minister in 11 years. Out of that visit was forged a special affinity and respect Papua New Guineans had for Kevin Rudd, perhaps best illustrated by the naming of a baby from the highlands after the Australian prime minister.
Papua New Guinean relationships are best defined by the cultural narrative of tribalism. By his special consideration of PNG in 2008, Rudd had made himself a member of the tribe.
It is therefore unsurprising that Rudd's extraordinary request for Papua New Guinea to resettle refugees was accepted easily by men who had grown up in that tribal context. It is not unusual for the tribe in Papua New Guinea to protect and assist a tribesman even though such decisions could have negative consequences. And Kevin Rudd is no ordinary member of the tribe, he is a Big Man – the Prime Minister of Australia.
This may be an oversimplification of the decision-making process, but when one looks at how this decision was made, one finds similarities in PNG culture. To begin with, there was no consultation or public debate in PNG prior to the announcement. PNG's big men, along with Rudd, made an announcement that shocked everyone. This is typical of how big men sitting in a tribal house make decisions that affect the lives of everyone else.
In essence, Kevin Rudd was party to a decision-making process was undemocratic and detrimental to the development of democratic institutions and processes in Papua New Guinea. It is not known if the Department of Justice and Attorney General were involved in advising the Government of PNG. It seems to have been a rushed decision that has not been well thought through.
In Papua New Guinea, tribal violence arises when a stupid decision is made to protect a trouble maker at the expense of the tribe. Papua New Guinea now has to deal with the negative consequences of this decision just so that Kevin Rudd's dog whistle politics about stopping the boat people wins him the next election. PNG may help solve Rudd's election woes, but it has created problems for itself.
In 2012 Papua New Guinea was ranked 156 out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index. The capital, Port Moresby, has been ranked the second most unliveable city on earth just ahead of Dhaka. The country has a high population growth rate, government services and infrastructure are crumbling, 80% of the country lives in rural areas and youth unemployment is high.
Perhaps these are the negative facts about Papua New Guinea that Kevin Rudd hopes will deter boat people from travelling to Australia. As criminologist Kristian Lasslett wrote, this may also indicate a lot about how Rudd and politicians in Canberra view PNG:
...not as a country rich in culture, biodiversity and history, but as a hostile, primitive backwater populated by mean, uneducated people – just the sort of thing that will 'turn back the boats.'
If this is indeed true, it confirms the view amongst some Papua New Guineans that Australia is the racist bully In the Pacific and reaffirms my view that Australia is not a good friend to Papua New Guinea. It is hardly surprising therefore that there is much opposition throughout Papua New Guinea towards Australia's plans to dump its refugee problems on PNG soil.
Photo by Flickr user Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer.