Martyn Awayang Namorong May 24, 2012
Papua New Guineans are sick and tired of Australia's attitude to them.
I'M ON my first visit to Australia right now - and what an introduction to your country. A two-week run of four major cities where I'm meeting politicians, journalists and ordinary Australians.
I'm trying to help foster a relationship between Papua New Guineans and Australians beyond business, politics, diplomacy and academia.
After all, PNG is a lot more than the Kokoda Track and birds of paradise. We're a nation of 7 million people who aspire to be better than we are.
The relationship between my country and Australia is complex. You were once our coloniser. You created institutions: Western democracy on our behalf - a Westminster-style parliament, a free press, a fairly robust judicial system, university education - and modern commerce and a working infrastructure. All on our behalf. And yours too, let's be honest.
Campaigning is under way in PNG for the general election. When Australia thought the election might be delayed, it spoke patronisingly to us and got a telling off for its trouble. When the Papua New Guinean people thought it might be delayed, we marched in the streets and got an election. The message is clear - as a people, Papua New Guineans might just be a bit better and more effective than Australians think we are.
There are some other issues between Australia and PNG that need to be addressed
When you get to PNG and land at Jackson airport in Port Moresby, you can buy a visa at our front door and we let you in. When we want to come to Australia, we are regarded as potential absconders and the visa process is a torture. I know people who couldn't even visit Australia for weddings and funerals of relatives.
Papua New Guineans do not present a major overstayer issue for Australia. We really do love the country we come from, despite its faults and privations. And we don't like being treated like potential criminals when we want to visit your place.
PNG is geographically closer than New Zealand and all other neighbours of Australia. Yet Australians don't see boatloads of Papua New Guineans heading down south. We have a strong attachment to our ancestral lands and as such we prefer living on our land. Yet the treatment we get for wanting to temporarily visit Australia is perhaps based on a lot of Australian prejudice.
This sort of treatment of Papua New Guineans also extends to the arena of business.
In my home of Western Province, BHP Billiton is responsible for the destruction of the Fly River by Ok Tedi mine, an environmental disaster of world-scale proportions.
Australian gold miner Newcrest dumps mine wastes into the sea around the island of Lihir in the north-east of Papua New Guinea. Newcrest also has a 50 per cent stake in Morobe Mining's Hidden Valley project that has been blamed for fish deaths in the Markham River.
Papua New Guineans are becoming increasingly weary of Australian attitudes towards us. As the Australian government pursues its trade agenda with PNG and other Pacific Island nations, we Papua New Guineans are concerned about the likelihood of further exploitation of our people by your government and businesses.
We protected and cared for young Australian men during World War II. We have also developed many friendships with Australians. But we are not happy with Australia's attitude to us.
I don't know if you've heard the expression ''boomerang aid'' - it's got a real Aussie ring to it, hasn't it? A lot of the half-billion-dollar-a-year aid you give to PNG boomerangs right back to Australia - as consultants' fees or for the purchase of goods and services.
Australia's development agency, AusAID, has invested in training and equipping PNG police. While maintaining law and order is a critical issue in PNG, recently serious and credible allegations have emerged of police being retained by resources companies and acting inappropriately against protesting landowners.
There have been some excellent Australian aid projects in Papua New Guinea but you need to know the truth - most of the aid money doesn't get to where it could do the most good: the provision of better health services; better roads; you know the list.
PNG's increasing engagement with China is in many ways a rejection of Australia due to Australia's failure to be a good friend since independence.
I do not suggest for a moment that it is not possible for our land to be used for other than traditional purposes. But this must happen with our informed consent and approval.
Australia has been good to my country - and I think my country has been good to Australia. You are, by and large, a benign neighbour. But there is such a concept as benign neglect.
We need a more understanding relationship with Australia. And that means you must adopt a more engaged and intelligent approach to Papua New Guinea and its people.
Martyn Awayang Namorong is an award-winning writer and blogger on PNG politics and a social activist.