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Australia cannot afford a failed state on our border

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Tuesday, 23 March 2021


Australia's initial response to the Covid-19 virus crisis in Papua New Guinea was pleasantly well targeted and proportionate.

It is consistent with what I proposed in my last column which was sending medical specialists, important equipment, especially testing units, but not cash!

Since my last column the number of cases reported daily has effectively doubled – from around 100 to 200. About half the cases are in the nation's over-populated capital, Port Moresby.

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There are important lessons to be gained from this experience, both for Papua New Guinea and for Australia.

The message for Australia arising from this experience could not be clearer. We simply cannot afford to have a failed health system (Papua New Guinea) on our border!

The Australian Government, having responded effectively and promptly to the PNG Government's call for assistance, must now seek assurances from the PNG Government that it will address the failed health system issues that have long been neglected and tolerated.

Australia also needs to offer affordable and practical assistance if the PNG Government does so. The last thing we need to see in our northern neighbour is more meddling in the PNG health system by the Chinese government and its "apologists" within the PNG government.

Whereas Australia's assistance has been generous – and there could be nothing more generous than our commitment to pay for around one million vaccines – China's has consisted of piecemeal and useless PR stunts!

What is needed is nothing less than a total clean out of the PNG health bureaucracy – from the Health Minister down. Australia should offer to provide experts in health services and hospital management, take over the training of doctors and nurses and look seriously at taking for control of the nation's key hospitals such as Port Moresby, the Angau in Lae, Goroka, Hagen and Madang.

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This will be a costly exercise, but it is necessary if we are to overcome a failed health system in PNG. The Covid-19 virus is just the latest indicator of just how "failed" it is. The alarming level of cholera, high infant mortality, and even the return of polio have been poorly managed for years.

This is a unique, and probably never to be repeated opportunity, to clean out the rampant corruption – which industrious PNG bloggers regularly highlight – right across the health system.

Until 2013 an arrangement with the Australia Government saw the country's hospitals and health centres supplied with adequate quantities of drugs, medicines and even basic supplies such as bandages.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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