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The critical questions Scott Morrison must ask the PNG prime minister

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 24 September 2021


Papua New Guinea has been independent from Australia for 46 years. It must determine its own political, social and economic priorities as an independent democracy.

But that reality must not, I repeat must not, prevent the Australian Government from pursuing "the Australian National Interest" (ANI) when it comes to our relationship with our closest neighbour through frank and robust dialogue with the government of Papua New Guinea.

Now is the time for Prime Minister Morrison to draw on his "close friendship" with Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, James Marape, and pursue the ANI when it comes to the consequences for both Papua New Guinea and Australia of the "failed" Papua New Guinea health system and the Covid-19 crisis right in the community closest to Australia: the Western Province capital of Daru.

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Australia has offered PNG generous support since the pandemic began: high quality vaccines, a skilled medical advisory team, as well as oxygen and ventilators and direct cash support. Our support has been far more generous than any other country.

But it is increasingly apparent that the overall PNG response to the virus, and the state of the nation's health system, put our closest neighbour on the cusp of a crisis that simply cannot be adequately managed or controlled.

Last week, the Federal Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, warned that the islands of the Torres Strait, which are in his electorate, were at critical risk of a virus outbreak because of the position on Daru, and in the Western (Fly River) Province. In his robust statement he called the response to issues relating to the "treaty Villages" in both the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea as a "bloody disgrace".

Warren is one of Papua New Guinea's best, and best-informed friends, in the Australian Parliament. His concerns ought to be treated with the seriousness and urgency they merit.

In his statement he warned about the situation in Daru in these terms:

It's going to be devastating in Daru. At the end of the day, if you want leprosy, cholera, tuberculosis, encephalitis, meningitis, it's all there!

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To that sad list he of course added and focussed on Covid-19. Since he spoke just over a week ago, the position has worsened profoundly.

I have been reliably informed there are now approximately 2,000 positive Covid cases in the Western Province and many are on the relatively small island of Daru. Some have travelled and been transported from mainland parts of the Western Province. That number of cases is massively beyond the capacity of the Daru hospital to cope. A number of hospital workers have fallen victim of Covid, and last weekend the hospital's medical superintendent died of Covid.

Daru is right on our northern doorstep. Its basic services are in dreadful shape. Until the border was closed due to the pandemic Papua New Guineans traded with the people of the Torres Strait and utilised the better health services.

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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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All articles by Jeffrey Wall

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

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