Foreign affairs needs wakening

Editorial, Normal

The National –Friday, January 7, 2011

 CATHOLIC sisters sent out a distress signal on the evening a massive tsunami hit a prestine stretch of beach in Aitape, West Sepik, in 1998 and swept all before it into the Sissano Lagoon.

The distress signal was received by the Australian army and, before dawn the next day, Australian army Hercules airplanes were rolling into the little known airstrip in Sissano with makeshift tents, food and medical equipment.

Before the first Papua New Guinean government worker was on the ground, Australian army nurses were tending the injured and dying in tents erected by the army.

When floods ravaged the low-lying Northern in October 2007, the Australian army was on the ground in no time providing search and rescue missions and, later, helping to feed, cloth, shelter and relocate those affected.

You name any disaster in PNG, and Australia had been there with a generous helping hand.

Australia is not without its own problems.

It faced a major drought going over 10 years coving South Australia, Victoria, Canberra and New South Wales which saw farmers commit suicide at the rate of about one a month and a dramatic decrease in its agricultural output. 

Papua New Guinea did not even offer a conciliatory note during that period. Yet, every year during that period of hardship, not a cent was missing in Australia’s programme aid to PNG.

PNG bureaucrats continued to haggle for every morass and crumb with nil regard for the hardships Australia was facing at the time.

While drought ravaged the southern and middle of Australia, heavy rains continue to hit the northern part of the land down under.

As often, cyclones have torn through many towns in Queensland.

For the last three weeks, heavy downpours have again flooded many a farm and town in the state closest to Papua New Guinea.

Once again, PNG has been mum on the disaster.

It is as if the disaster was something happening in the middle of South America, or in Africa or in Siberia in Russia.

You would think that Australia is a regime that was unfriendly, and even at war with PNG, from the lack of response from Waigani.

You would think that PNG did not have a high commission in Canberra or that it did not have a consulate in Brisbane.

But. it does and that is the tragedy. What exactly are the representatives occupying those offices in one of the most important countries to PNG doing?

If they are providing daily or weekly reports, why hasn’t the PNG government responded to those reports?

At the very least, a media statement offering consolations and sympathies would be appreciated by the Australian public, we are certain.

The acting Prime Minister, Sam Abal, is immediate past foreign affairs, trade and immigration minister.

He had a very cordial and friendly relationship with Australia and with the foreign ministers of that country in particular.

While there is some internal political sensitivity, it is important that the government makes some noises in relation to the Australian floods.

The question is: What kind of briefs and advice is being prepared and presented to the minister for foreign affairs or to the acting prime minister from the Department of Foreign Affairs?

Word on the grapevine is that requests have gone from the acting prime minister to the department for a situational brief last week and, to date, no such report has been made available to him.

The lack of a report and reaction from PNG makes it look unkind and heartless, which this country’s citizens certainly are not.

The question begs asking: What are the officers of the Foreign Affairs Department doing? 

On our common land border with neighbouring Indonesia, violence has flared up between rebels and government forces of that country.

We have not had situation briefs on that, even though PNG has a fully-fletched mission in the capital Jakarta and a consulate in Jayapura.

Yesterday, we had reports of a number of bodies floating down the Fly River they appeared to be those of Asian origin and, probably Indonesian.

When can an assessment be made and when can the government have it? This is an important security issue which requires instantaneous response.