I was floating around the net the other day and popped in to Lav Paper, just to see how they could warp perception to suit a narrow worldview – again. There I read a post about a UN report into the practices of the RPNGC linked to the amount of Australian aid money going to PNG, a significant portion of which gets sucked up in consultant fees etc. Wondering how they might turn that extravegent waste into an ideaological issue, I had a look.
There I found, completely to my absolute lack of surprise, various commenters making sweeping statements purporting to be facts that bore only a passing resemblance, if any, to the truth. Of note was this gem from someone called billie:
From what little I know we have a long history of ham fisted actions in PNG probably due to lack of knowledge of PNG & its society. When Bouganville (sic) Copper mine was established the miners did not talk to the land owners. They talked to some men – but in New Britain society land is owned by the women.Get a map of the area. Bouganville (sic) is on New Britain. New Britain is really part of the Solomon Islands. New Guinea is the large island to the south The royalties were paid to Port Moresby. The people of New Britain are ethnically different to the people of New Guinea so money sent to Port Moresby stayed in New Guinea. The people effected (sic) by the mine site were not compensated for the disruption. When the mine closed after a landowner disturbances (sic) the PNG Army went through Bouganville (sic) house by house, street by street shooting
every body (sic). Most Australian ex-pats had left by then so most victims were locals. [A bit like the mining company in Avatar]
There was also this from a resident whacko called Lefty E:
Its (sic) worth reminding ourselves that Australia is the former colonial power here, and equally that we supported the PNG army to the hilt in Bougainville despite abundant evidence of human rights abuses – so let not our outrage blind us to our share of responsibility.
And of course, we also pulled our own police from line positions in PNG when their High Court determined we couldn't have full immunity from any prosecution (leading by example in terms of police accountability there!)
But all that duly noted – yep: any AU funding of the securty (sic) sector at least must be made conditional on transparent action on these human rights abuses.
I did get suckered into a response. My responses are as follows:
Billie is quite right. He/she really does know very little about PNG. It is true that many tribes from New Britain are matrilineal, but that is largely irrelevant because the point was being made about Bougainville, formerly North Solomons Province and quite separate from New Britain. It is true that Bougainvilleans are also a matrilineal society, which is different from a matriarchal society. It was quite culturally appropriate for BCL to speak to the men, they are the figurehead front. It is for the men to then speak to the women, the owners of the land, before they made any agreement with BCL. It would have been a gross imposition of our own cultural mores for BCL to directly approach the landowners.
I was living in PNG when the crisis started, and subsequently served in Bougainville with the Peace Monitoring Group, so you could say I was there at the start and at the finish. There had long been a secessionist bent in Bougainville, although the actual catalyst came from a negotiating failure on the part of the Panguna Landowners Association. The initial compensation figure demanded was, from memory, about twice what the mine had ever earned. It degenerated quickly because it was led by a lunatic, who eventually holed himself in at Panguna, declared himself the President of the Republic of Mekamui and eventually, King. Bougainville, with the financial support of BCL, was far better off than the rest of the South West Pacific prior to the crisis. All that came to a crashing halt when the BRA either blew up or burned down all of the benefits that came with the mine whilst also removing any capability they might have had to repair the damage the mine had done.
It is also true that Bougainvilleans consider themselves more closely aligned to the Solomon Islands than PNG, although having served there as well, my own observation is that they have about as much in common with the Solomon Islands as they do with PNG. That didn't stop the crisis in Bougainville impacting on the Solomon Islands. The BRA were using the Solomon Islands as a staging area and safe haven from the PNGDF, running the gauntlet along the narrow strait to Choiseul Island. Although, as the crisis in the Solomons was later to show, they don't play well with their close neighbours, no matter how closely culturally aligned they may claim to be.
As to the issue of the AFP demanding immunity from prosecution, the "nuance" being missed here is that the immunity in question was not from any prosecution, but from prosecution in PNG. In order for the AFP to actually do the job asked of them, they would need to go after some of the big men in the inherently corrupt PNG legal system. They are the sort of people capable of avoiding prosecution by hauling AFP members in front of the PNG judicial system and seeing their problems disappear into the bowels of Bomana Prison. The AFP was still answerable to Australian law.
The rampant corruption in PNG derives predominantly from the Wantok System, whereby a man's principle obligation is not to his office, but to the extended clan – his wantoks. If Fran really wants to find the prima facie culprit for the mess in PNG, she need look no further than Gough Whitlam. In his rush to rid Australia of terribly unfashionable status of being a colonial power, he threw the people of PNG under the bus by abandoning our colonial obligations. Somehow, in the heady days of the "It's Time" campaign, the thought that thrusting Westminster Democracy on a stone age agrarian hunter/gatherer society was going to lead to anything other than what PNG is now, escaped the great thinkers in the ALP. PNG is rapidly on the way to becoming a failed state. The contribution from Australia to fix it is going to be significantly more costly than all the consultants in Canberra and will require a more robust legal framework than immunity from prosecution under PNG law.
Nobody has responded yet. I guess they all got distracted by Tony Abbott's recently announced refugee policy.