Growing wealth allows PNG to take tough line
Academic says PNG's Bougainville ban on Australia a product of the confidence that comes with a fast growing economy.
An academic at the Australian National University says Papua New Guinea's growing wealth has given it the confidence to take action such as a ban Australians entering Bougainville.
The PNG government imposed the ban after Canberra announced it would open a diplomatic mission in Buka in Bougainville.
Don Wiseman asked Dr Stewart Firth, a visiting fellow at the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program at the ANU, whether this was a clumsy move by Australia.
STEWART FIRTH: Yes, the foreign minister Julie Bishop claims that PNG was informed. The Papua New Guinean government says they weren't. It's very difficult to know where the truth lies in that. But whatever the reason I think the key issue is that Bougainville is very sensitive to the PNG government. Afterall Bougainville sometime between now and 2020 will be holding a referendum on possible independence and Bougainville is very much part of PNG still. So the idea of a separate Australian mission in Bougainville touches on a sensitive nerve.
DON WISEMAN: The onus is on Australia to back away initially anyway, isn't it?
SF: Well I think there is going to have to be some deft diplomacy behind the scenes because the PNG government has stated a public position from which it can't easily withdraw. If you look at Papua New Guinea in the last two or three years you will see a sort of growing independence on the part of PNG in its foreign relations. I think it's driven in part by the liquified natural gas boom which has doubled the size of the PNG economy within five years and so in. So there is a greater sense of confidence. And you can see this in a number of ways. It's not just this latest action. For example the PNG government abolished the system of issuing visas on arrival to Australian citizens coming in in Port Moresby. Because Australia had never extended that to PNG citizens coming to Australia. And also PNG government in recent years has developed its own aid programme to the region. So PNG it now sees itself as an aid donor to the region. It's embarking upon a major expansion with its armed forces, it's opening new diplomatic missions, and all of this is without much regard for what Australia thinks.
DW: Again it comes back to Australia almost not being aware of these dramatic changes that have happened in Port Moresby.
SF: I think that's right and I think also PNG's hosting of the centre for asylum seekers funded by Australia in Manus has given the PNG government a certain amount of leverage over Australia and I think they are exercising a bit of that leverage now. They've exercised it also over the form that the Australian aid programme takes, so that PNG has much more influence now on how Australian aid is being spent. And I think that partly comes from the hosting of the detention centre.
DW: In the midst of all this of course is Bougainville, Bougainville's president John Momis says he wants this sorted quickly because it's going to hit Bougainvillians, and he's very grateful from the help he gets from Australia and from PNG for that matter.
SF: Yes well I think that's right, and Australia has at the last minute helped Bougainville with printing the ballot papers and that sort of thing for the Bougainville election. In fact one of the reasons why Australia wants to put a diplomatic mission in Buka, is because we have such a large aid programme to Bougainville, quite apart from PNG, there's about a 50 million dollar a year aid programme for that part of PNG. And so that's what's driving it from the Australian end, but what you say about Australia's lack of sensitivity is quite right.
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