Manus: What price national pride?

By Susan Merrell  (edited and re-published)

The bilateral PNG solution to Australia’s refugee problem is wrong on so many levels, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is becoming, along with the asylum seekers, just collateral damage in a cynical political manoeuvre – where ‘the end justifies the means’ is the cynical catchcry even as people die.

aus8_manning-phiddian_6But whereas the asylum seekers have their global advocates, not much has been written from the perspective of PNG.  Back in July 2013, I looked at this…

…from the point of view of the independent nation/state of Papua New Guinea

And he sold our reputation...
And he sold our reputation…


And he sold our reputation,
on the proceeds he will dine.
In a land of golden plenty
where just the dregs are mine.
(With apologies to) Idris Davies


PNG is a nation battling to achieve modernity: struggling with the concept of democracy where pulling together over 800 discrete tribes into a nation is proving a challenge.  Here’s a nation that achieved independence only 38 short years ago  – some have mooted it was premature. Poverty is rife, as is governmental and institutional corruption.

The tortured transition to modernity combined with abject poverty and lack of government services has produced profound social problems, not least of which is violence against women.  Indeed PNG is a recognised producer of refugees – most of them women fleeing domestic violence.

Add to that law and order problems and a population that have embraced a form of punitive and retributive Christianity that sees homosexuality and adultery still on the statute books and a population generally intolerant of religious difference.

Under the circumstances, it is a society hardly likely to take kindly to the special privileges that will be afforded refugees through Australian money – a better life than they could ever hope for.  Can you blame them?

The main problem is not logistical, it’s ideological.

If you are going to say to the abused spouse that if he wishes to pursue Cinderella, he will be forced to marry the ugly sister – how must that make the sister feel?

Beautiful Manus Island
Beautiful Manus Island

PNGeans are not comfortable with the role of ugly sister, and neither they should be.

The whole idea of using the threat of living in PNG to deter refugees is repugnant.  PNG is a nation struggling to maintain national pride through all of their profound problems, not helped when even the ‘touchy, feely’ Green Senator Milne, insensitively stated that Rudd’s solution surpassed even Abbott’s in cruelty to refugees.

When international headlines have labelled PNG as ‘Hell’, a ‘shithole’ and other equally pejorative terms, how does PNG maintain a vestige of national pride?

The cartoonist, Larry Pickering postulated that:

The only cost to O’Neill is that his country will now be known as a worse hell-hole than the world’s worst hell-holes.

It’s a price far too high!

In a land of poverty and strife where just existing is often difficult, O’Neill has sold cheaply one of the few things that PNGeans have to embrace and hold dear – their pride.

Gary Juffa, a new breed of Member of Parliament who is fiercely patriotic and who sits on the middle benches (ie neither government nor opposition) wrote:

Middle bencher, Hon Gary Juffa.  Governor of Oro Province.
Middle bencher, Hon Gary Juffa. Governor of Oro Province.

…Australia is sending them [refugees] to a nation that is a developing nation with many issues of its own …in the international landscape, PNG is painted as a horrible place, IT IS NOT! I am saddened that my home is being used to deter people, scaremongering as it were…I welcome those who need help…[but] Nobody wants a hostile guest.

Hon Peter O’Neill, PNG’s no 1 citizen and signatory to the PNG Solution

Independence in PNG brought into prominence an echelon of society that is venal, corrupt – and ruthlessly so.  This stratum is the highest in the land. It is well understood in PNG that the only means to riches is through becoming a Member of Parliament where one can put one’s snout in the lucrative corruption trough.  It is why there were close to 3000 candidates contesting 111 seats in the 2012 election.

Leading a government that purportedly consistently loses half it’s budget to corruption (as did the governments before it)  is the man who, last year, sold the reputation of PNG for ‘cargo’ (a concept well entrenched in PNG tradition):  to achieve that which venal governments should easily have achieved long ago had they not stolen government funds:


He is Peter O’Neill, the current Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.

Not without the taint of corruption, in the early ‘noughties’ O’Neill was embroiled and implicated in a corruption scandal that saw millions of dollars disappear from the coffers of the National Provident Fund.

Although he was named in the Commission of Inquiry (along with others,) no one was ever convicted of any offence – which is par for the course in PNG where corruption is a low-risk business.

O’Neill’s case did not even reach the courts but was dismissed through lack of evidence – evidence that was clearly extant during the Inquiry.

In this scenario, who knows how much of Rudd’s blood money will even reach its PNG target.  The Australian Prime Minister’s desperation is making O’Neill’s negotiations like shooting fish in a barrel.

The agreement promises that PNG will have more control over aid monies, for instance, something for which O’Neill has been agitating since his inception as Prime Minister.  That notwithstanding, the very reason that Australia stopped contributing aid to the general national budget was to give the politicians and public servants less control and thus to stop funds disappearing into well lined pockets.

No nation can thrive without national pride.

And still they smile
…and he’s still smiling.

But forget about the money.  What price national pride?

Without national pride to cement civil society, Papua New Guinea’s problems are just poised to worsen.

When Kevin Rudd positioned PNG as the proverbial repulsive ugly sister, for the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea to have, smilingly, agreed is nothing short of treason.

Seven million Papua New Guineans are struggling to maintain their national pride against great social and economic odds. Take away pride and you take away the last vestiges of hope.  How dare this Prime Minister?

PNG sold for 30 pieces of silver.

Share Button

7 thoughts on “Manus: What price national pride?

  1. Its not going to happen. These refugees did not hop on boats to come to PNG. I will believe it when I see it…..Groups of refugee families settled around PNG. If it does happen then they wont stay long. Many of these people are economic refugees. Many don’t have papers because they have tossed them just before they were picked up.
    I have said this before but the treatment they are getting from Australia is mild. I have seen thousands living in what could be called no more than rubbish heaps in Yemen. Those that made it that far.
    If the Australian Government sticks to its guns all this will go away as it did in the Howard Era. It was labour changing the rules that started it all up again.

  2. I have been maintaining all along that the Manis Refuge Deal is against PNG Constitution. Read the mational goals and directives. I have read and wrote articles to the papers but none got published. We sold our national soverignity for the price of a slave- 30 pieces of silver.
    Our leaders are real estate agents rushing to sell as many assets as they can for a vommission, even borrowing for commission as agents. Please never sell our home. Where will we all go. We live in poverty and die in poverty. There is no joy in poverty.

  3. I do not understand how the Manus refugee centre has much to do with selling your home. You should be instead highlighting the timber operators , Chinese trade storeowners and the like who are actually doing some real damage. I am sure Australia is not doing a land grab on Manus and as I pointed out previously, if they stick to their guns all this will be of a very temporary nature. In the meantime Manus is benefiting by all of the spin off activities.
    The mention of poverty also does not ring true. PNG does not have any real poverty. There are a lot of places on this globe that do but PNG does not rate in the poverty stakes. If the country keeps expanding its population the way it is then in time you may see real poverty but that is still sometime away.

  4. Trevor, I wasn’t with you from the first line. “Selling your home…?” Anyway, I decided to keep reading hoping all would become apparent. The “timber operators” is a subject dear to my heart and one on which I will be elaborating in the near future when my investigations are complete. As for the “Chinese trade store owners and the like…” – like what? Lost me there too. But the one claim that has left me gasping is that there’s no poverty in PNG. Which parallel universe do you inhabit?

    • Susan,
      The selling your home relates to the previous comment. — David Nime.
      Poverty… I am a pretty robust and fit 67 year old still doing projects in remote areas and at times live in some hard situations. In comparison to other areas of the world PNG is just a beginner in the poverty stakes. It may look in places dirty/unkempt/crime ridden and there are many poor people in the country but this in not poverty. With most there is an option to go back to the village where food is plentiful and the living is good. The majority of Australians don’t get to see real poverty and do not understand the world in general. Many have a feel good syndrome and stand up for things they know little about but it sounds good and makes them feel good. I am not an unfeeling person…I was actually awarded a Logohu Medal some years back for services to rural communities. I am also ex Military .. Vietnam1966/67 (Tunnel Rat) and the British Army for several years (Seconded). So based on my background I am confident in saying that there is no real poverty in PNG at this time.