The National, Friday 24th August 2012
LAST month, I attended a graduation ceremony at the Australian National University in Canberra.
After 18 months of hard slog, I obtained a Master of International Affairs from the ANU.
Among the many highlights of the ceremony for me was witnessing a number of Papua New Guinean students graduating from various courses at Australia’s most prestigious university, which is ranked among the top 25 in the world. Some of its colleges are ranked even higher.
After the ceremony, I caught up with one of the PNG students, Ida Yuki, who completed a Graduate Diploma in Public Administration, and is continuing with her Master’s degree.
Yuki is from the Department of Personnel Management’s Workforce Planning Branch in Port Moresby. She is a bright and articulate young lady and I have no doubt she will go on to achieve great things in the DPM or whichever government department or company her career takes her.
It was a thrill to be able to converse in my limited Tok Pisin with Ida and her wantoks and well-wishers who had come to support her on the big day.
I happily acceded to the requests for photos from Yuki and her friends and clicked away with half a dozen digital cameras to capture the big occasion for posterity.
We departed with a promise to keep in touch and I hope to catch up with Yuki during my next visit to the ANU to attend one of the many PNG-themed public lectures which the ANU’s John Crawford School of Economics and Government hosts from time to time.
Last September, I attended one such lecture given by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, where he outlined his reasons for ousting Sir Michael Somare from the prime ministership a month earlier and also articulated his own vision for the country.
O’Neill listed his government’s priorities and reflected on the state of the PNG-Australia relationship. He also fielded a number of questions from the audience, including on the sensitive West Papua issue from a tearful student from that troubled region.
Now that he is back in government with a thumping majority, I would like to remind the good prime minister of an undertaking he gave to the PNG student community in Canberra on the subject of dual citizenship for Papua New Guineans wishing to work and live in Australia.
O’Neill said he saw no problem in granting dual citizenship for Papua New Guineans since the Australian government also allowed its citizens this right. Clearly, O’Neill had more pressing preoccupations in the past year, but one hopes he will address the matter in the new parliament.
This is a pressing issue for numerous PNG students who wish to remain in Australia after completing their studies to gain experience in the workforce or even to make their homes here.
This can only be a good thing for PNG, as Papua New Guineans living overseas continue to retain strong connections with their roots. The country will benefit from their remittances to their families back home and also from their occasional visits and the opportunities for other relatives to join them Down Under for studies or holidays.
The ANU has a long and abiding connection with PNG, and counts many public servants who hold senior positions in the PNG Government among its alumni.
Although PNG students attend various institutions of higher learning throughout Australia, it would be safe to say that the largest number undertaking post-graduate studies are at ANU.
Among the doctorates of philosophy awarded at the graduation ceremony, two were on PNG: Jennifer Sam Litau did her PhD on “Macro and Micro Links of Internal Migration in Papua New Guinea: Case Studies of Migration to Rural and Peri Urban Morobe and Eastern Highlands’’, while Christine Stewart’s thesis was on “Pamuk na Poofta: Criminalising Consensual Sex in Papua New Guinea’’. I’m sure we will hear more from and about these two scholars in the years to come.
Early this month, I met Prof Ron May, emeritus fellow at ANU’s State, Society & Governance in Melanesia Programme and convenor of the Centre for Conflict & Post-conflict Studies, Asia Pacific, School of International, Political & Strategic Studies.
May is a recipient of the PNG Independence Medal in 1977 and has followed every election in PNG since 1972. He provided a colleague and myself with a comprehensive briefing on the recently concluded elections.
Among May’s observations: the Limited Preferential Voting system did not result in the anticipated reduction in the number of candidates, and the Supreme Court ruling nullifying sections of the Organic Law on Political Parties and candidates will pose challenges to the stability of the new government.
With experts such as May and a host of PNG and Melanesia scholars to draw on, it is easy to see why the ANU stands head and shoulders above Australian and international universities when it comes to PNG and Asia-Pacific studies.
For readers with internet access, the Crawford School’s Development Policy Centre’s Policy Development Blog is a valuable resource for the latest debates surrounding economics, governance, aid, public health, administration and other important issues relating to PNG. The URL is: http://devpolicy.org/.
lSanjay Bhosale, a former associate editor of The National, is a Canberra journalist.