Welcome to PNG, Mr Abbott

THERE is very little excitement about this week’s visit by Tony Abbott to PNG. His visit has carried just a small mention in the dailies. By Wantok

This contrasts greatly to the visits by Rudd, Gillard and Howard. Their visits were much heralded and a few pregnant mothers named their children Rudd and Gillard.

Interestingly, it is the Liberal Party leaders who have come to the helm of Australia's top post at times when PNG and Australia face strained relations. Howard and Downer's approach was that of neo-colonisation of PNG, which was given a kick in the backside when the Supreme Court nullified the Enhanced Cooperation Package.

Abbott comes at a time when trade relations between PNG and Australia are at stake. This may actually be the understatement of the year. Whilst Australians with a long history of doing business in PNG may have the connections and know-how to survive the ban on visas on arrival, those trying to gain a footing in PNG will have a tough time.

Abbott must smooth out the visa issue with O'Neill because at stake are the opportunities for Australians hoping to do business in PNG. This is an issue of mutual interest to both nations. Beyond the historical connections, the business relations are important for both countries. Australian agricultural produce, for instanc,e underpins food security in PNG. The Australian rice company Trukai feeds PNG.

Australian mining interests in PNG are also significant. Highlands Pacific, Indochine Mining, Santa Barbara and Newcrest play a pivotal role in the PNG economy. That is why Wantok believes it is in the mutual interest of both nations that the visa issue be sorted out.

Those who are sceptical need only look at recent history and the immigration ban on Professor Ross Garnaut. The ramifications of Garnaut's ban on entering PNG are now being played out at the Singapore Supreme Court and the arbitration in Washington.

For all PNG's rhetoric about its Look North policy, PNG's long-term strategic interest in the Asian century lies in the strength it gains from collaborating and partnering with its Pacific neighbours. PNG's Look North policy has led to the disenfranchisement of small businesses and the ruthless degradation of its forests.

Even the Chinese-run Ramu mine has had technical issues with local ramifications.

PNG has a golden opportunity to gain from the fresh views about its relations with Australia being presented by Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Bishop's strategy on renewing the relations between both countries has been to increase people to people diplomacy. Abbott will be sticking to the game plan when he meets PNG's emerging young leaders this Friday.

Abbott's meeting with PNG's emerging young leaders highlights the Australian focus on the long-term relationship between both nations. is shared by many whom Abbott will be meeting. There is a level of maturity in the thinking found in the views of the likes of Deni Tokunai and Emmanuel Narakobi. Both are pragmatists who understand PNG's national interest but also recognise the significance of the forces that interact to shape current realities in PNG.

Friday's tea with Abbott should be closely watched by O'Neill et al. PNG's politicians risk being out of touch should they continue to ignore the new voices of reason. There is an enlightenment in this nation largely driven by a highly educated PNG middle class that is tech savvy. Even the nouveau riche and first-time politicians like Gary Juffa represent this new brand of Papua New Guinean self-affirmation.

This Papua New Guinean self-affirmation is not driven by bigotry or self-interest but by reason. Reason is a rare commodity in a nation whose political landscape is carved out by parochial interests.

This does not rule out the existence of carpet baggers and political hangers-on but what is does illustrate is the growing influence of those voices of reason.

Who will shape the future of PNG? It seems Abbott wants to have his finger on the pulse of this nation. Welcome to PNG Mr Abbott.

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