Righting perceptions of an uneven relationship
between PNG and Australia comes all the way down to listening.
When Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the Papua New Guinea parliament in January, he entitled his speech “a bond between equals”. There was a lot in his handle that aligned with the PNG authorities’s present priorities, together with rising PNG exports to Australian shores, enabling extra PNG staff to enter Australia, and supporting the bid for a “PNG-based Pacific crew” to hitch the Nationwide Rugby League.
However how the bilateral relationship is represented on the government-to-government degree between political leaders will not be at all times how it’s perceived and skilled at different ranges of PNG society.
In our latest analysis led by the Whitlam Institute, “PNG Voices: Views on Australia and the World”, we surveyed 536 bizarre Papua New Guineans originating in 21 of PNG’s 22 provinces – together with distant villages – and requested them to replicate on goals for PNG and views of relations with Australia, amongst different points.
A key discovering throughout the information was the significance of respectful relationships, together with delight in Papua New Guinean cultural norms of kindness, hospitality and respect. Whereas many respondents spoke very positively about Australia’s monetary help for PNG, there was additionally a widespread notion of asymmetry within the relationship. Overwhelmingly, probably the most destructive attribute cited by educated members was racism and condescension. Different findings included a scarcity of respect for PNG cultural norms and protocols amongst Australian staff, officers and companies working in PNG.
This asymmetry was additionally keenly felt by many educated respondents within the context of their capability to journey to Australia for work and examine. Australia was perceived as each very shut and really distant. Many contrasted PNG’s visa-on-demand and the benefit with which Australians can enter PNG, with the tough course of Papua New Guineans face to get a visa to enter Australia. One respondent likened the method of coming into Australia to “reaching heaven”. Others famous unequal pay between Papua New Guinean and Australian nationals working in PNG.
The survey responses additionally attest to the immense range of views inside PNG, particularly between city and distant communities. There was excessive recognition of Australian Assist tasks in city areas, particularly in well being and training. A number of interviewees in Lae expressed their appreciation for the Australian Assist-funded Angau Hospital renovation mission. Nonetheless, within the distant Saruwaged Mountains villages, respondents have been uncertain of Australian tasks and funding.
A transparent distinction additionally emerged between the forms of funding being made, with China perceived by many to be PNG’s largest investor in much-needed infrastructure resembling roads and buildings, and Australia recognised for its contribution to healthcare and training. Some educated respondents considered China’s funding in infrastructure as an indication that China understands PNG’s want for financial growth and is extra aligned with the nation’s future aspirations for commerce fairly than assist.
Amongst some educated respondents, Australian Assist was not essentially considered positively and the time period “boomerang assist” was broadly used to explain a course of the place assist contributions come to profit Australian contractors and firms fairly than constructing capability in PNG.
When requested about their goals for the longer term, training emerged as a key precedence throughout all communities surveyed. This pertains to a robust theme operating via responses – the need for Papua New Guinean self-reliance and financial independence. Funding in human capital and alternatives for training and coaching for younger Papua New Guineans have been cited as central to constructing PNG’s capability to be self-reliant sooner or later. A number of respondents felt that capacity-building was typically stymied by Australians’ lack of recognition and belief in Papua New Guineans’ current capabilities and deep information of their very own communities, which they stated presents nice advantages for growth work in PNG.
Whereas successive Australian governments have emphasised Australia’s shared historical past with PNG as a optimistic legacy, our analysis suggests this official narrative is obtained with extra ambivalence in PNG. Extra educated respondents have been inclined to each embrace and be sceptical about this framing. Some expressed the view that Australia’s assist to PNG is likely to be higher understood inside a extra transactional framework as sustaining geopolitical and financial benefit in an more and more aggressive strategic surroundings. Transactional, financial relationships the place self-interest is extra clearly on show have been perceived by some respondents as extra equal and respectful.
On this context, Albanese’s January speech and subsequent coverage developments afford many pathways to deepen people-to-people ties between PNG and Australia. These embrace transferring the Visa Processing Centre from Fiji to PNG and accelerating processing instances for many visa purposes. One other optimistic growth is the announcement of a potential Free Commerce Settlement (FTA) between the 2 international locations, with work on a feasibility examine starting final month.
However as our analysis revealed, there’s extra work to be finished in understanding each how bizarre Papua New Guineans perceive and expertise Australia’s function in PNG and importantly their very own aspirations for the way forward for their communities and their nation. The important thing findings from our PNG Voices analysis supply alternatives to rethink some long-held assumptions about Australia’s relationship with PNG in order that bizarre Papua New Guineans could sooner or later additionally view this relationship as one between equals.
The PNG Voices analysis mission was commissioned by the Whitlam Institute and performed in collaboration with researchers in PNG and Dr Hannah Sarvasy on the MARCS Institute in Western Sydney College.