Truly blessed is the helping hand

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday August 1st, 2013

 A FINAL word on the asylum seekers deal between  Australia and Papua New Gui­nea and then we will rest our case.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill on Tuesday defended the decision reached between Kevin Rudd and himself on the Regional Resettlement Agreement for asylum seekers as help for a friend in need.

“Our agreement with Aus­tralia for greater region­al processing of asylum see­kers, and possible resettlement, has attracted wide comment, and of course criticism,” he told a University of PNG audience.

“I believe there are three basic reasons why we are taking up a major role in meeting the challenges posed by people smuggling, and illegal border crossing.

“The first, and most basic and immediate, is that our closest neighbour, and our best friend, Australia, has a serious problem – and needs help in addressing it.

“Whenever we have had a serious problem – such as a natural disaster – Australia has been first to come to our aid. We need to be prepared to reciprocate.”

We remember when the massive tsunami took 2,000 lives at Aitape in 1998 and how Australia responded without restraint or request with humanitarian help.

Australia was there during the unprecedented El-Nino induced drought and famine of 1997 and 1998.

We remember how it responded with equal urgency during the twin volcanic eruptions in Rabaul in 1994.

It has been a constant partner and stout supporter during every one of PNG’s natural and man-made disasters.

Many billions of dollars of Australian taxpayers’ money has been spent on PNG in the hope it will meet its development needs. Billions more will be spent.

The friendship and partnership extends to the World War II years and is enduring as that affectionate image of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel guiding a blind young Australian soldier by the arm to safety. 

So, yes, there is that time to make amends, to repay the debt, to reciprocate.

But there is more to this than just making amends or repaying the debt.

PNG is a member of the global community, and a big player in our own regional community. Issues such as people smuggling, illegal bor­der crossing and multinational crime and terrorism does and will affect PNG.

It cannot just fold its arms, shut its eyes and wish such problems away.

As PM O’Neill said, PNG must be prepared to do some “heavy lifting” to share in the burden of these multinational problems.

“We should be prepared,” O’Neill said, “to help our neighbours – such as Australia and Indonesia – confront these challenges.

“We need to be mindful of the need to be vigilant when it comes to the threat of terrorism in our region. 

“We have been spared the devastating impact of terrorism – but we must never be complacent.

“The agreement we have reached not just helps protect Australia’s borders, it helps protect our own borders.”

The Prime Minister’s final reason is that helping out and exercising compassion is a Christian thing to do, the right thing to do.

We believe there is yet another reason, a fourth one that the Prime Minister has left unsaid.

That is that this decision will actually lead to a dramatic drop in the flood of asylum seekers to Australian shores.

You see, people are attracted to Australia far more than they are to PNG. 

Otherwise, PNG, with its wide open borders, would be inundated with these people.

No, first world Australia, with all the trappings of a metropolitan developed country, is a far more attractive proposition than anywhere else.

Nobody is going to want to risk life and limb and life savings to come to third world Papua New Guinea with all its inherent and well publicised problems.

Once the message goes out to those countries where asylum seekers come from that there is absolutely no way they are going to be resettled in Australia and that the next best option will be PNG, the steady stream of boat people will drop to a trickle and eventually stop altogether.

When that happens, if it happens (and that is a big IF), Australia will not have a problem on its hands and neither will PNG.

That is what the two prime ministers ultimately wanted to achieve.

They are keeping their fingers firmly crossed on this.