In The Embarrassed Colonialist Sean Dorney speaks bluntly about Australia’s relationship with its former colony. In that very Australian way, one might say he has called a spade a spade. As an Australian with a long and heartfelt connection with Papua New Guinea, Sean appears to be trying to get the two countries to work things out for a better future. He is uniquely qualified to do just that.
From my vantage point in Papua New Guinea, I have often wondered what our richest and most powerful neighbour thinks of us. I am not sure what Australia is trying to accomplish in its dealings with my country. Australia needs to better define its end game with Papua New Guinea.
On a personal level, most Australians I have met have a very warm attitude to Papua New Guineans but I find that, at the government level, things are not so warm. It’s as if the Australian government wants to give us some lollies and send us away to play.
I have always believed in the philosophy that one should focus first on those areas where there is the best opportunity to achieve positive outcomes. This is the argument I think Sean is trying to make about Australia and its relationship with its former colony.
Australia’s foreign policy should be more focused on improving its relationship with its nearest neighbour — a country where people share similar values, who love, for example, rugby league, Aussie rules and cricket — rather than those who live on the other side of the planet. Australia’s chances of foreign policy success in Papua New Guinea are surely much better than in Iraq or Afghanistan.
There is plenty of scope to improve the bonds between people and government. I recall one discussion I had with some of Australia’s top minds on foreign development when DFAT was scrapping an Agricultural empowerment program in PNG, one that had run very successfully for five years. I asked the Australian representatives why they were dumping the program despite its success. The response was 'Well agriculture is not a PNG government priority. We only fund PNG government priority programs. In addition, it is not in Australia’s interest to keep the program going'. With 85% of PNG's population dependent agriculture, that statement dumbfounded me.
I responded by saying that I understood that all countries must use foreign policy to advance their own interests. I then asked them, 'What would be in the Australia's interest?' They didn’t respond.
If the current population growth rate persists, by 2030 there will be more than 20 million Papua New Guineans living within swimming distance of Australia. Is it not in Australia’s interest to find ways of making sure those citizens live happily in their country? Or would Australia prefer to deal with thousands of people arriving in speed boats to improve their lives in your country? Papua New Guineans need empowerment, not handouts.
To all Australians, I echo Sean's plea to reset this important relationship. Come on; give us a fair shake. It's in your interest to do so.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Drew Douglas