Papua New Guinea’s tumultuous year of 2012 will be coming to a head shortly and questions are already being asked what 2013 will bring.
The beginning of 2012 was awash with a sense of national disenchantment, with the country facing a new year in the wake of the turbulent and heady political days of August 2011 fresh in people’s minds. Not least of all our observant southerly neighbors.
There was a sense of uncertainty about 2012.
Questions burned in pockets of society. Discussions dragged well into the late hours of nights of early January in the country’s burgeoning online population about what the coming year held in store for PNG.
|H.E., Ian Kemish, Australian High|
Commissioner to PNG
Would the ongoing political instability, (no, uncertainty) carry forward into the mid-2012 national elections? Would the country have national elections at all? What shape and form would this national election take should it eventuate? And who would the likely winner be?
The economy had enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted expansion and economic pundits were forecasting similar growth. Would it be sustained in 2012? Would the country’s social difficulties be mitigated by continued growth?
Much of what has come to pass would have answered those burning questions.
The country had relatively safe and successful national elections, albeit one fraught with disputes. The economy continued its merry way towards unprecedented growth levels, backed up towards the end of the year with a massive national budget handed down by the country’s ever optimistic Treasurer and Planning Minister.
People settled back into routine existence post-elections, and our neighbors’ anxieties about instabilities in the country politics seemed to subside somewhat.
But in all these, commentators and leaders of one of our most ardent allies have realized, through various assessments, that at the people to people level, many of their own do not have as great an understanding of Papua New Guinea as we do their country.
Australians are now being told to do more on an individual level to develop their understanding and appreciation of their nearest and northern most neighbors. To understand “what makes us tick.”
Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr completed a whirlwind tour of the country not too long ago, taking in various centers in our Highlands provinces, complete with the traditional pig presentation, and flew back into Port Moresby for a joint Ministerial Forum.
The success of this forum (and its resultant Communiqué) has been overshadowed by talks on the engagement of 89 Australian advisors to the district and LLG level as consultants. The Australian High Commission here rejects this notion and is adamant that nothing in the communiqué attests to this.
Sir Puka Temu, our Minister for Public Service (and the progenitor of this notion) remains steadfast. The question on the minds of some is not so much as to who is right here. Rather, who has been missed out on whatever may have transpired on the periphery of the joint ministerial forum.
Amidst all the confusion in government and social commentary circles, the Australian High Commissioner to PNG, H.E., Ian Kemish delivered a candid assessment of the year as has been for PNG to the Australian Institute of International Relations as part of its Fernberg Lecture Series.
Mr Kemish is no stranger to the country, having lived and gone through primary school here and being part what he called an “Australian Tribe”, one made up of “Australians for whom PNG is part of their personal history.”
His appreciation of the country’s idiosyncrasies and the nuances of our “Melanesian Way” carried through in his thought provoking message to his fellow Australians. He described contemporary Papua New Guinea to his compatriots as a country riding the wave of economic prosperity, but continuously dogged by poor social indicators, crime and corruption.
A country always seemingly on the brink of some disaster or other, whether it be natural or manmade, political or social.
But his reference to Papua New Guineans as a people whose tenacity and strength of character always seems to win through, perhaps best summarizes his belief that the people of PNG can see themselves through whatever difficulties they may be faced with.
In his words, “the most helpful Australian approach to PNG is one which understands that it is only Papua New Guineans who can bring about lasting change.”
Immediately on the back of His Excellency’s perceptive assessment, another Australian leader has come out to suggest that perhaps not enough is being done for public diplomacy and people to people relations between Australia and Papua New Guinea and to correct the skew.
|Richard Marles MP|
Richard Marles is the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
He recently asked whether Australia and Channel Nine’s popular Today Show had any interest in furthering Australia’s public diplomacy through highlights of PNG in its daily program content.
The Today Show is carried live into Papua New Guinean homes everyday though relayed telecast by EMTV and on the Imparja channel for cable viewers.
Mr Marles sees the PNG-Australia relationship as the “
Mr Kemish was also forthright when speaking of Australians; “the assumptions we have made will increasingly need to be questioned, and the weary cynicism that has crept into our national thinking about PNG over time is unlikely to be much help to us in the years ahead.
“Our perspective on Papua New Guinea will need to understand that greater prosperity, security and stability for Papua New Guineans is in our own interests – as Australians, and as Queenslanders.
“To suggest, however, that self interest is our only motivation is to misunderstand the depth, and warmth, of the personal links that underpin the Australia–PNG relationship.”
For our neighbors, I hope that we will reach a stage where the average Joe in Leichardt will finally hear of the existence of my local team, the Port Moresby Vipers. And he need not worry about reciprocity. I already know about his team the Wests Tigers.