National Chauvinism: Lest we forget.

National chauvinism is an aggressive patriotism that is often displayed when countries are at war.  Lately it is raising its ugly head – even in peace time.
Writes PNG Echo

Once a jolly swagman…

Australia, yesterday, celebrated ANZAC Day and the battle on the peninsular of Gallipoli during the First World War where it is said Australia gained nationhood.

It was celebrated royally all over the nation with large enthusiastic turnouts for dawn services and marches even though the surviving Diggers of the Gallipoli campaign have all since passed on.

In contrast, by the late 1970s, when there were many surviving diggers of that campaign, the celebration of ANZAC Day had all but died in Australia. It was revived in the 1990s.  Some say that it was not an organic revival but a manufactured one.

Ironically, Eric Bogle who wrote his ballad in 1971 “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” that has become the unofficial anthem of Anzac Day, did not glorify what happened in Gallipoli, nor the way it was being remembered – but condemns it. His hero asks:

And the young people ask me, “what are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question.

It begs the question of whether the revival of the popularity of ANZAC Day has been a forerunner of a worrying global trend promoted by vested interests – national chauvinism?

For the ANZAC tradition commemorates a war where 56,639 Australia males between the ages of 18-44 died. Fully, 65% of Australian recruits were casualties – the highest rate in the British army.
One commentator has written:

“…perhaps the bravest thing the ANZACs could have done at Gallipoli in April 1915 would have been to mutiny.”

There’s no doubt that Australian troops were regarded by the British as cannon fodder and the Australian Military Commanders facilitated the senseless slaughter of their own – they must have known. Where’s the glory in that?

Bogle sings:

How well I remember that terrible day
When the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He showered us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia

As poignantly sad as the whole of Bogle’s ode to the ANZACs is, for me, it is the chorus that is the most chilling as he juxtaposes the band playing Waltzing Matilda – a sign of patriotism – against first, the anticipation; then the horror of what was waiting for the conscripts (and those that had enthusiastically joined up of their free will) and finally their ignominious, desperately sad and inglorious return.

And still the band played Waltzing Matilda…  is a perfect illustration of the insensitivity of rampant patriotism and its deadly bounty.

But do we never learn?

National chauvinism, globally, is running rampant – Trump, the resurrection of Pauline Hanson in Australia, Brexit and in a few days time maybe the success of Marine Le Pen, in France.  Le Pen, like Trump has, in gentler times, been considered part of the political loony fringe – her party a marginal player.  Not any more.

How many casualties do we need before the band stops playing Waltzing Matilda?  When will we realise that when we kill or stand by and watch (nay, condone) suffering (as in Australia’s atrocious treatment of refugees) and we claim to do it  “For God and Country” it is far from glorious.  It is blasphemy.

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Redeeming Moti – The book

Was Julian Moti guilty?

The answers are contained in the revelations of ‘ Dr Susan Merrell’s newly-released book ‘Redeeming Moti’.

In it she successfully unravels the complexities of a political situation that was conflated with heinous sexual criminal charges to give a compelling explanation and analysis of a saga that involved four nations, brought down one Pacific government and threatened another.

Told through the experience of the author when, during the court proceedings, she sought to reveal what was being hidden behind a veil of contempt promoted by the nature of the charges. In the effort to redeem Moti, did she end up losing herself?

Available here


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Moti in Papua New Guinea: Part 1

It’s a sad truth that precious few political scandals in Papua New Guinea reach a satisfactory conclusion: they tend to erupt violently only to soon be forgotten (and often forgiven) as the next crisis or sensation overtakes and overshadows.  It is why PNG Echo has a category ‘Lest we forget’.

However, in true PNG fashion, this category has been overlooked lately as PNG Echo has become swept up with current political events.  It’s time to address that irony by revisiting the Moti Saga.

The Moti Saga caused a serious diplomatic stoush between Australia and countries of the Pacific – most notably the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea – but not only – Fiji and Vanuatu were involved too.

In the ensuing years, myth has overtaken fact and there are many misconceptions about what really happened.

The Journalist...
The Journalist…

My involvement with the Moti case and Julian Moti dates back to 2009 when I first interviewed him – and continues to this day

As a political scientist, I was appalled at his treatment and the egregiously bad behaviour of authorities in many jurisdictions and since the first article there have been dozens more – all revealing what both the Australian authorities and, sadly, the Australian press did not want the public to know.

Three years later, the High Court of Australia agreed with what Moti had always avowed and what I had been trying to disseminate, with varying success, through a reluctant media.

This is what happened in Papua New Guinea.

By Susan Merrell

No one would accuse Julian Moti of being politically naïve. When he accepted the position as Attorney General of the Solomon Islands in 2006 he knew there were powerful opposing forces.

..the Solomon Island's Prime Minister...
…the Solomon Island’s Prime Minister…

None so powerful as the Australian authorities that were having difficulty accepting a change in attitude towards their role in the Solomon Islands brought about by the new Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare.

Sogavare had, over time, become increasingly critical of the intervention of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Moti backed Sogavare’s position.

Australia’s best interests would be served by a quick removal of Sogavare and his backers.

So when Moti learned that the Australian Federal Police had begun a new investigation into a charge of sex with a minor (a charge that had been thrown out of a Vanuatu court almost a decade previously – Moti was found to have no case to answer), he braced himself for the ‘smear campaign’.

This was how they would discredit him, he reasoned. It was politics and politics is dirty.

But, even though Moti was in Papua New Guinea on his way to Honiara to advise Sogavare how to defeat a parliamentary motion of ‘no confidence’ against him in September 2006, and though he was aware that the Australians would be hoping that the motion was successful, he still did not foresee what would happen next


It must be nerve racking to arrest a lawyer. Lawyers have an air of arrogance buoyed by the confidence of knowing the law, their rights within those laws and how to exercise them. A wise person would be very sure of their grounds before making such a move.

...the then PNG Deputy Prime Minister.
…the then PNG Deputy Prime Minister…

Moreover, in Papua New Guinea’s international airport on September 29, 2006, it was no ordinary lawyer that was arrested. It was the Attorney General elect of the Solomon Islands, Julian Moti, in transit to Honiara to take up his position.

The now PNG Opposition Leader, Hon Don Polye, in a statement to the PNG parliament (2011) on the Ombudsman’s Commission Report (into the Moti issue) reminded parliament:

Mr. Moti was not an ordinary person. He was the Highest Law Officer of a Sovereign nation. He was the Attorney General of Solomon Islands. He deserved to be treated with decorum and proper protocol of a foreign dignitary.

Polye continued:

MR SPEAKER, not only was Mr. Moti deserving of decorum and protocol, (as we would expect other countries to treat our Attorney General), Mr. Moti was also an International Protected Person under the Convention on the Prevention of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons including Diplomatic Agents 1973 (“the IPP Convention 1973”) to which PNG became a signatory in 2003. Under the IPP Convention PNG was obligated to protect Mr. Moti, who qualified as a “representative or official of a State” and grant him safe passage as the highest ranking law officer of Solomon Islands.

The Arrest, Extraction and Detention of Mr. Moti by our Police, was in breach of our International Law and our International Obligations under both the Chicago Convention 1958 and the IPP Convention 1973.

So where was the Arrest Warrant and why was Moti removed from the transit lounge without the correct immigration documents and visas? It’s questions such as these that lead one to suspect that there were compelling forces at work – even more compelling than the law.

How the arrest was effected.

When Moti arrive in Papua New Guinea, he had been travelling for almost twenty-four hours. It’s no simple matter getting from India (where Moti had been an academic) to the Solomon Islands. He took the quickest route – to Singapore through Papua New Guinea, onto Honiara.

Had Moti known what was in store he may just have chosen the long way round.

...and the Attorney general
…and the Attorney General of the Solomon Islands

For there was a reception committee waiting at the transit lounge of Jackson International Airport. It wasn’t welcoming or befitting Moti’s status.

Step aside,

was the instruction as Moti’s travel documents were handed to an awaiting, unidentified, Australian man. After perusing the documents, the Australian conversed with another Papua New Guinean man who approached Moti. Identifying himself as a police officer with the Transnational Crime Unit, he informed Moti he was under arrest.

Why am I under arrest,

Moti demanded to know.

I don’t know.  My seniors will tell you when they come.

The Police Officer replied.

Where’s the warrant for my arrest,

Moti asked

I don’t have it, it’s with my seniors,

the increasingly rattled policeman responded.

Clearly agitated by Moti’s questions, the police officer waited anxiously for his “seniors.” He knew who Moti was – he was well-aware of his position.

The seniors never did arrive – neither did the Arrest Warrant. And in spite of Moti not having the required documentation to enter Papua New Guinea, he was taken from the airport to a prison cell at Boroko Police Station.

The Machiavellian Australian figure appeared to direct the proceedings, the Papua New Guinean police carried out the orders.

In the Boroko cell.

The cells at the Boroko Police Station are hot and oppressive. There’s no air conditioning.

Squalid habitations for the wretched of the earth,

is how Moti described them.  By this time Moti was indeed wretched.

I remained in a state of shock throughout the day,

wrote Moti of his incarceration.

I had not been given anything to eat or drink. I had never felt so dejected in my entire life. The stench in that cell was overpowering.

Moti became ill and was vomiting. He was having trouble breathing. He had no access to his asthma medicine, which was in his luggage that had been taken off the plane bound for Honiara but had since gone missing.

Moti’s lawyer in Papua New Guinea, Peter Pena, described the condition of the cell as “putrid.” Moreover, the other inmates incarcerated with Moti were being detained for “wilful murder and other serious crimes.”

A more ignominious fate for a high-ranking official of a fellow Melanesian state is hard to imagine, a fact recognised when Moti received a visit from Joseph Assaigo (since deceased).  The Intelligence Branch Chief attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, apologised to Moti for the bad treatment.

By this time it was already afternoon.

Moti had received a copy of the Arrest Warrant mid morning. It had been obtained from the District Court at 9.30 a.m. Moti had been arrested at 5.30 a.m.

Mr. Moti, had in actual fact been arrested, extracted from the International Transit Lounge of the airport and held in police custody for over four hours at the behest, direction and supervision of the Australian Government without even a Warrant of Arrest.

wrote Peter Pena incredulously in his affadavit

Moreover, in the abovementioned statement to parliament, Hon Don Polye admitted Papua New Guinean culpability, stating:

MR SPEAKER, the most important fact that has eluded the media and the public eye for the last five (5) years that I must remind this House is that Mr. Moti has not committed any crime in Papua New Guinea. Mr. Moti did not commit any offence in PNG. Mr. Moti has not broken any law in PNG, either on or before the 29th of September 2006.

MR SPEAKER, there were no charges laid against Mr. Moti at the time of his arrest – for arrest, extraction from the International Lounge [Jacksons Airport] and lock-up. You can’t lock up international transit passengers without any charges. But that’s what we did.”[original emphasis]

Australian Federal Police and RPNGC - in cahoots?
Australian Federal Police and RPNGC

Furthermore, Moti’s lawyers (including, now Acting Judge Danajo Koeget) noted numerous legally questionable premises on which the Warrant of Arrest had relied including an old extradition law that had since been repealed and replaced.

It was clear to Pena and Koeget that this document had been written in indecent haste and with scant regard to the laws of Papua New Guinea.

Nevertheless, and to the lawyers’ astonishment, the magistrate refused to discharge Moti but took it upon himself to grant bail.

So, in spite of Assaigo’s expressed regret at the bad treatment of Moti, the Solomon Islands’ Attorney General elect was left for twelve hours in a prison cell with murderers.

It was a cell that stank of human faeces, urine and sweat. He had not been allowed a shower or a change of clothes.

Ominously, that afternoon, Moti had also been made aware of plans to keep him away from Honiara. If he was to believe Assaigo he had every reason to fear for his life. In Moti’s affidavit to the Queensland Supreme Court he recounts this conversation that occurred at Boroko Police Station:

You watch your back, Moti,

Asaigo warned.

“The stakes are high. You’ll be finished. This whole intervention is making a lot of Aussies very rich. We’ve kicked them out. [most likely talking of the aborted Enhanced Cooperation Program], they’re kicking you and Sogavare out before you guys can kick them out too.”

Late that afternoon, by the time Moti was released on bail, he was shaken and physically ill. The lawyer’s confidence had deserted him. Clearly, the law could not be relied on to keep him safe. He was a marked man.

What happened next?  Stay tuned.

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Is TB Australia’s problem? Maybe not long from now.

I wrote this three years ago.  Have things gotten better?

TODAY, SUNDAY 24 MARCH [2013], is World Tuberculosis Day. In Australia, tuberculosis (TB) has largely been eradicated and is at a negligible incidence of six cases for every 100,000 of population.

So, apart from humanitarian considerations for countries less fortunate, why should TB concern Australia?

It’s said that one can walk from Australia to Papua New Guinea at low tide, and PNG has a staggeringly high incidence of 346 TB cases per 100,000, with numbers rising. (There has been a 42% increase in the last decade.)

Furthermore, 33% of new and retreatment cases in PNG are of the heinous drug-resistant variety.

So will PNGs problem become Australia’s? Evidence suggests that it will.

Earlier this month, PNG national, Catherina Abraham died of TB in a Cairns hospital.

Hailing from Daru, she was in Australia on a tourist visa when admitted to hospital 10 months ago. Her intentions for making the trip were clear – she knew she was sick. Her friend had died of the disease. An Australian hospital was her last hope.

Catherina’s TB was the mutant strain of the disease known as Extremely-Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDRTB).  Being resistant to so many of the treatment drugs, it transcends and surpasses the category known as Multi Drug Resistant TB (MDRTB) and elevates the prognosis to near incurable.

Catherina had completed 10 months of a two-year treatment program that would cost the Australian taxpayer between $500,000 and $1 million. Catherina’s doctor, Steven Vincent, said her death was “not unexpected”.  I’d like to think Catherina’s death would have been peaceful – but I know better.

Treating such a robust strain of this disease takes a cocktail of drugs that are potent and highly toxic – the side effects are severe. At the World Conference on Lung Health in Kuala Lumpur late last year, one presenter remarked that treatment for drug-resistant TB made chemotherapy for cancer seem like “a walk in the park.”

It is defaulting on treatment (not finishing it) that is responsible for the emergence XDRTB and MDRTB: they are man made diseases.  In this, PNG is culpable – apathetic management of the disease has been rife.

The directly observed therapy, short course program (DOTS), that combats defaulting by ensuring that sufferers are observed taking their medication, only operates in 9 of 27 provinces.

In Goilala in the Central Province, where TB is rife, all but one of the 15 aid posts in the district has closed. Many closed when TB sufferers were in the middle of treatment, creating unwilling and unwitting defaulters. Clinics in PNG often run out of drugs – creating defaulters.

And TB is not confined to any particular part of PNG even though the Western Province is getting the bulk of Australian publicity and funding.

Late last year, there was a confirmed case of XDRTB and six cases of MDRTB in Madang, for instance.

But it is TB in Daru that’s making Australia most nervous because of it proximity.

The decision to close clinics on the (Australian) Torres Strait Islands of Saibai and Boigu was in an effort to contain the epidemic within the boundaries of PNG and to prevent PNGeans from Daru and other parts of Western Province breaching the border and crossing to the Islands for treatment in Australian medical facilities.

And although AUSAID has subsequently contributed $31 million to the TB program in Daru, Australian Federal MP Warren Entsch, whose electorate includes the Torres Strait islands, has observed that these aid programs are “riddled with corruption.”

Indeed. In PNG almost everything involving substantial amounts of money is riddled with corruption.

That’s why, even though Catherina Abraham was from Daru, she did not rate her chances there and chose to enter Australia, hoping that she wouldn’t be turned away. She wasn’t.

Catherina did not arrive in Australia by boat across the Torres Strait – she took an aircraft.

How many other people did she infect on the plane to Australia and where are they now?  TB is a highly contagious, airborne disease and spreads easily in such confined spaces. This is how epidemics start.

The next worse strain of TB is Totally Drug Resistant TB (TDRTB), the way PNG is going about managing its TB epidemic, it’s only a matter of time.  Then God help us all because when PNG sneezes, Australia catches a cold.

Dr Susan Merrell was an invited fellow of the National Press Foundation of Washington, to the World Conference on Lung Health convened by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease in Kuala Lumpur last November

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Four years ago – have things changed?

By PNG Echo

I have forgotten how stunned the audience was after giving my speech at Bordeaux University, France, four years ago. Have we become so inured to the problems in PNG that we’ve normalized them?  Link to a video of the speech.

4 Years Ago Today
I said:
Photo on 2014-05-20 at 03.59
I am currently in France and have given a paper at a French University on the socio-economic effects of the extractive industry on the people of PNG and their (your) response to environmentalism.
Taking into account my audience, the paper had to cover some very basic information. Many knew nothing at all about PNG.

I purposely steered away from the sensationally negative and didn’t even broach the law and order issues.

The reaction I got was stunned silence.

Then one woman said.

I think I speak for many when I say, I don’t know how to react to that. It’s all so grim.

Now I was the one who was stunned. Have I become so inured that I have normalised behaviour that shocks others?

Stepping outside your own context once in a while is handy to gain perspective, isn’t it?

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People in glass houses…: A timely reminder by Hon Mao Zeming

By PNG Echo.

Hon Mao Zeming deputy leader of PNC
Hon Mao Zeming deputy leader of PNC

The Hon. Mao Zeming, MP, the Deputy Leader of the People’s National Congress Party (PNC) and Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, has questioned the motives of one of the Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare’s, children – the former MP for Angoram and Minister for State Owned Enterprises under his father’s government, Arthur Somare.


While the cameras roll,

said the Hon Zeming, commenting on Somare Junior’s reported intention to stand outside ASC in Australia,

I wonder how eager he will be to discuss his own ministerial record and the charges that were leveled against him in his own political career.

The sins of the son

All 105 of them apparently.

Father and son - the PMs role not a birthright says Zeming
Father and son – the PMs role not a birthright says Zeming

They are charges that were lodged by the Public Prosecutor with the Leadership Tribunal for misconduct in office against Somare Junior in 2011.

However, in a stroke of good luck for him (although not for the unfortunate member of the three-man bench) Somare came out of it unscathed when the Leadership Tribunal was adjourned indefinitely following the passing of a member presiding over the hearing.  And with the loss of his seat in 2012 election, it was thought he’d largely disappeared into oblivion.

But lately, Arthur Somare has risen to prominence as the negotiator for the landowners in the LNG deal and has been eager to defend himself against the charge Prime Minister O’Neill leveled when he said that the UBS loan was necessary to sort out the mess that was left by the previous Continue reading People in glass houses…: A timely reminder by Hon Mao Zeming

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Torres Strait Islands – a government to government matter.

By Susan Merrell

O'Neill - Championing the rights of the people in the villages bordering the Torres Strait
O’Neill – Championing the rights of the people in the villages bordering the Torres Strait

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has instructed cabinet to appoint an eminent persons committee to conduct a review of the Torres Strait Treaty with Australia.  He says:

…for 40 years no government has ever stood up on behalf of Trans Fly villages.

Indeed they haven’t Prime Minister, although there are some who have been pointing out the inequities for quite some time. 

In 2011, I opined that only a government to government solution would work (litigation had already failed). 

At last (and bravo!) a PNG government is seeking to effect a more equitable solution for the people of the Trans-Fly villages by seeking the co-operation of Australia and other stakeholders in a government to government solution.

Here’s what I wrote in 2011 ( as published in The National (Friday, June 24, 2011)

Torres Strait Islands – a government to government matter.

It was with some interest that I read the letter to Australian Prime Minister, reproduced and published in the National, June 1 (2011) from Mr Peter Sawabarri representing the Masaingle People from the Western Province of PNG on the shores of the Torres Strait.

Torres strat senate JpegThe letter was in protest about the findings of the Australian ‘Senate Committee Report on Torres Strait: Bridge and Border’ (dated November 2010) that had effectively closed the borders to him and rendered his people without a means to carry on their traditional way of life in the Strait.

The preamble to Mr Sawabarri’s letter says he’s been campaigning for his peoples’ pre-sovereignty rights over the Torres Strait and Islands for the past ten years. Within the letter, Mr Sawabarri presented compelling evidence supporting his peoples’ position as long-time custodians of the Strait and Islands. Continue reading Torres Strait Islands – a government to government matter.

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Democracy, custom and the Melanesian Way.

By Susan Merrell

This is an article I wrote almost three years ago.  Inspired by a conversation with a learned PNGean, I am republishing – the thesis has not aged although the cast of characters has.

Is there a democratic Papua New Guinean nation – or is it merely an arbitrary state built on a shaky, crumbling foundation of disparate traditional customs and the ‘Melanesian Way’? Has the system of government become a hybrid of concepts that fail to work on any level – a bastardization of both democracy and custom?

melanesian_wayBernard Narokobi in his book ‘The Melanesian Way’ refused to define the conceptt:

According to Narokobi, those posing the question are “cynics”, “hypocrites” and display “spiteful arrogance.”  The concept is “cosmic” making a definition “futile” and “trite.”  He failed to explain how so.

Apparently, if Moses didn’t ask God to define himself then the messianic Narokobi should not be required to define the Melanesian Way – notwithstanding that he was writing a book about it, making one wonder what the rest of the book is about.

The idea of belonging to the ‘insider’ group that carries the knowledge of the Melanesian Way is so emotionally charged and identity defining that it usually provokes wide-eyed head nodding – but no conceptual challenge.

Yet, concepts only defy explanation when they are not widely understood. Given the nebulous nature of the ‘Melanesian Way’, it has become an exploitable idea. Continue reading Democracy, custom and the Melanesian Way.

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World TB Day – 24 March

nosmokingTo coincide with World TB Day, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (the Union) has released the results of a study that shows tobacco smoking  doubles the risk of tuberculosis (TB) recurring.

The Union states that the Study is the most robust ever conducted into how smoking tobacco increases the risk of recurrent TB.  The Study involved a large sample of 5,567 patients who had successfully completed TB treatment.

Continue reading World TB Day – 24 March

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Lest we forget: The Tumbi Landslide of 2012

By PNG Echo

Tumbi Landslide site
Tumbi landslide site

On January 24, 2012, almost two years ago to the day, 3 million cubic metres of earth, estimated to be 30 metres high, and 150 metres wide covering an area the size of 14 rugby fields, fell 560 metres from the escarpment to the toe in Tumbi in the Komo sub district of the Hela Province

The death toll

In the debris’ pathway were 25 people who were either killed instantly or, worse, were buried alive. (Official Continue reading Lest we forget: The Tumbi Landslide of 2012

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