By KEITH JACKSON in A PNG Attitude
AFTER AN energetic start to repair what was a fraying relationship between Australia and PNG, prime minister Kevin Rudd appears to be running out of puff.
Following his election a little over two years ago, Mr Rudd moved swiftly to renew ties between the two neighbouring countries.
He held out the hand of friendship to prime minister Somare and appointed PNG veteran, Duncan Kerr, to the Pacific Island Affairs portfolio.
But there are signs that fatigue has crept into the relationship.
Mr Kerr stepped down as parliamentary secretary in November and so far no replacement has been announced, even though the government had some months warning of the resignation.
Similarly, a new high commissioner to Port Moresby was expected to have been appointed more than a month ago, but the wires have gone strangely dead.
Australia's hapless aid agency AusAID has, inter alia, been recently taken to task by a Federal parliamentary committee and the subject of a critical report by the Australian National Audit Office without so much as a breath of comment from the government.
The civil situation in PNG, in a progressive state of decline despite an incipient resources boom, has so far not attracted any public commentary from the Australian government.
Meanwhile, the influence of the Chinese government grows rapidly in the Pacific, with PNG now looking to China to contest Australia's influence in the region.
And Somare saw fit to cock a snook at the Australian and New Zealand governments over Fiji, as a new and cavalier Melanesian brotherhood formed.
Pacific diplomacy Howard style was to look down on the islands from 40,000 feet as an interesting piece of geography on the way to the US.
Pacific diplomacy Rudd style seems to be to make sympathetic noises and then do nothing.
I hope I'm wrong and that a regiment of public servants is even now washing the Bateman's Bay sand from its hair ready to embark on a cunning plan to better equip the relationship for a robust future.