Monday, July 19, 2010

What should Australia do about Papua New Guinea?



Papua New Guinea got her Independence in 1975.  In that time until today, Australia has for 35 years been propping up PNG's annual budget with free money.  This substantial grant is currently estimated at some A$ 13 billion.  This is free money that we don't have to pay back.  Or do we in perhaps other forms? 

 Anyway the free money from Australian taxpayers is meant to develop PNG and improve the quality of life for ordinary Papua New Guineans.  This has not happened and Papua New Guineans since then have in recent times asked: where has all this Australian money gone to? 

 A good question with many answers.  One tends to get different responses from politicians from both Waigani and Canberra, including academics, public servants, private citizens. However, one thing is clear and prompts this next question: why hasn't this huge grant from Australia raised PNG out of its current abject poverty?

 We hear in recent times the angry demands from many well-intentioned people both PNG and Australians calling on their respective prime minister and governments to fix the ongoing problem(s) with Australian aid.

 Many efforts have since been made to correct this.  From independent to joint government aid reviews by both countries, but still this nagging doubt: how do we improve the efficasy of AusAid to the mutual benefit of PNG and Australia?

 Australia is an incredibly charitable nation, as evidenced by the hundreds of millions of dollars it grants to PNG and other developing countries as foreign aid.  This may sound good to constituents but now it's time for Australia to stop.  Giving so much of its hardworking tax-payers dollars to PNG only props up bad governments our people perceive as corrupt since Independence.

 It's high time new Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard reviews her country's AusAid programme and makes a basic fundamental change that none of her Australian predecessors have done since PNG's Independence

 All recent AusAid reviews before and after any joint ministerial forum meetings are basically the same.  New changes made are mere cosmetics at best to give the impression to citizens of both countries that new positive benefits will automatically flow on to the PNG people. 

 This is a fallacy and has not happened. Because the basic root cause of why the AusAid programme has not been effective to date, has not really been addressed with real seriousness by our politicians and its over-bloated bureacracy. 

 The reality is when our government complains, Australia rewrites another AusAid policy agreement paper in Canberra for joint signatories at the next ministerial forum or some government to government sponsored special event in future.  The basic problem remains until the next time PNG raises another aid-related issue.  Than another policy redraft by Canberra just to make Waigani happy and quiet for a while until another foreign Ministry representation about "some oversight aspect from our last meeting ..." resurfaces later, and so on. 

 But Julia Gillard can change all this nonsense starting this year when she later visits Port Moresby.  So PNG might not expect it now but she needs ALP's endorsement to get tough with PNG.  Australia must do this because its aid money is wasted in PNG. 

 As 'charity begins at home’, Gillard now needs to also do more for her own poor people, especially the majority of Australian indigenous and the Torres Strait people, instead of sending it north of the 10th parrallel.

 While the whole AusAid programme has merits, the basic approach of just giving PNG its taxpayers' money to be only wasted by our government is fundamentally wrong. 

 Julia Gillard must totally cut the AusAid programme down to zero and in its place increase the trade activity volume between Australia and PNG by some 100%.  This in the long run will be more beneficial to the development of PNG and subsequent wellbeing of Papua New Guineans.   

 Why must we cut AusAid now? There are many reasons, but for a start; PNG's abject poverty is deeply rooted in government corruption, corruption that actually is fostered by Australia (including other external aid from so-called development partners).

 We should ask ourselves a simple question: Why is private capital so scarce in PNG? The obvious answer is that over the years our country has been ruled by not very clever men who pursue ineffective economic policies or try to run a country in a somewhat 'policy-vacuum', laxsidaisical 'bull-in-a-China shop' way.

 As a result, Australian aid simply enriches prime ministers and their cohorts, errant politicians, distorts national economies, and props up bad national (and provincial) governments. As a matter of fact, Australia could send PNG next year a warping $1 billion, and this country still would remain mired in abject poverty and supposedly very corrupt as it is now, and getting more worse by the day.

 The answer is simply because so many of PNG politicians reject the idea of empowering its citizens from being wealthy, sharing our country's rich resources equally among citizens, being responsive and responsible, accountable, free markets and the rule of law.

 Australian aid money enables prime ministers and governments to gain and hold power without the support of the people who today are totally fed up with political corruption since independence. PNG politicians have learnt to manipulate foreign governments and obtain an independent source of income (especially AusAid), which makes them far richer and more powerful than any of their political rivals and ordinary Papua New Guineans.

 Once comfortably in power and much to the horror of Australian and other foreign governments that funded them, PNG politicians subjugate their own people to a miserable life of helplessness and being dependent on political 'hand-outs'. It is not a good thing to say here, but in reality, AusAid gives PNG politicians the power to impoverise Papua New Guineans.

 It's time to stop this crime. The bottom line is that despite years of Australian aid, the great bulk of Papua New Guineans than ever are living in abject poverty, which will only get worse in future. AusAid and simply foreign aid does not work, but only fuels more increased levels of corruption, dependency syndrome and misery for PNG; and its people. 

 Despite this reality, Australian governments (and other foreign countries) offer to increase aid are always praised for their compassionate and progressive policies.

 But what about Papua New Guineans who are suffering here at home, whether from hunger, illness, or poverty? Are their lives and well being less important? Every Australian must now ask themselves this question: Where is the constitutional provision allowing Australian tax dollars to be sent to PNG only to be fretted away by that country's politicians?

 Australians should be free to do everything in their power to help Papua New Guineans from suffering, whether by donating money or working directly in our country. But its government foreign aid to PNG do not work, it never has and must now be stopped.

 PM Julia Gillard must now direct her DFAT speech writers that she needs a fresh new speech for this year's revised Port Moresby Declaration to be perhaps titled: 'The New Order of Australian-PNG Partnership'.  This must be enduring and clearly spell out: 'What Australia should do about PNG?'

 Julia, it's time to cut aid and increase trade between our two countries. When this happens then watch what happens.  PNG will comfortably pay her way and become less-dependent and more-prosperous in future.  Future PNG administration will long remember an Australia PM for her toughness to assist our country become more independent, overcome poverty and fight corruption through good governance; and of having a more responsible and accountable government in office.

 So the short answer to the title of this article is simple.  Australia should now make PNG truly independent in every sense of the word without aid, but more trade.  Australia should now let this country be more of being herself without any strings attached (money or otherwise).

 I hereby invite the public to an open discussion of what Australia should do now about PNG.  The response here should be interesting.  It will undoubtedly allow the Australian High Commission in PNG to better advise Canberra before Gillard pays us a historical courtesy call as Australia's first woman prime minister.  When she does, we will welcome her with open arms as we did, Kevin Rudd. 




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