In the first of a series of contributions from our ‘Champions’ Dame Carol Kidu tells us why she believes people-to-people links between Papua New Guinea and Australia are important and shares some of her ideas about how they could be improved.

History both divides and unites people in our world.  People are social beings who need and thrive on and react to interaction and relationships with other people – both positive and negative.  My reflections on people to people links between Papua New Guinea and Australia will begin with a historical and regional perspective and then I will look at the contemporary scenario and the importance of connections of this type in a world that has changed dramatically in the last decade.

The Pacific region is historically one of people on the move, developing new relationships.  It started with the waves of migration of those who settled the islands of the vast Pacific Ocean. It has no end because there will always be people on the move in human societies. They will move for expansion and acquisition of land and resources; or to search for a better life; or to escape from famine or poverty; or to flee from conflict, political oppression or various forms of persecution. Some will move having been displaced by natural disasters; or for curiosity; or to follow their emotions as I did many years ago.  The reasons for the movement often determine the nature of the people to people links.

Australian and Papua New Guinean people to people links officially began post-World War I when German New Guinea and British Papua were joined into the Territory of Papua and New Guinea to be administered under Australia.  Colonial relationships by nature were unequal but the length of colonial rule in global terms was short and kindly (although psychologically disempowering) – taim bilong masta or taubada negana (in Papuan).  The relationships in the social hierarchy changed to accommodate a new top level that officially was more powerful than the traditional bigmen and chiefs.

During the colonial era the people of PNG were dragged into a foreign war that changed the nature of the people to people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The Papua New Guineans interacting with Australian soldiers experienced a ‘mateship’ relationship that was new and empowering for them – perhaps not equal but certainly one of gratitude and mutual sharing of emotions and scarce resources.  Now deceased elders from Pari village near Port Moresby often reminisced about trading fresh fish for army rations with the soldiers and drinking murmura (alcohol) together near the beach – it was a relationship experience they had never had before.

The war legacy of people to people links has emerged in a new form today with relatives and friends of Australian soldiers trekking the Kokoda Track to honour the sacrifices of their grandparents’ generation. I have often thought how great it would be if descendants of PNG soldiers and ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ could be part of some such treks so that a deeper level of people to people links could be experienced, particularly with new generations of young people. Or perhaps a trekking programme could be introduced whereby PNG national high schools could partner with adventurous Australian schools for senior students to walk the track and actually interact with children at schools along the track rather than basically just trekking through the villages.

Iconic photo of Raphael Oimbari helping Australian soldier Dick Whittington near Buna, 1942 (Australian War Memorial, 014028).

Post World War II, the global move to decolonisation pushed the Territory of Papua and New Guinea towards a new era.  The need for global exposure and education for Papua New Guineans was realised and a small cadre of students began to be educated in Australia under scholarship schemes.  My late husband was one of the lucky ones that qualified for a scholarship and spent over ten years of his life in high school and university, immersed in the Australian way of life – only returning home for the Christmas holidays.  This immersion made the people to people relationships meaningful and enduring.  The reverse was happening for the children of Australians working in Papua New Guinea who were educated in Papua New Guinea but often without the immersion in PNG culture.  The experience did however develop long-lasting deep affection for Papua New Guinea for the majority of these ‘expatriate’ children who have maintained their own networks in Australia.

The experience of shared education is perhaps one of the most long-lasting experiences in developing on-going people to people relationships.  An increasing number of the growing middle-class of Papua New Guineans are choosing to send their children to Australia for education and many more would dearly love that opportunity for their children to develop people to people links with Australia. The Papua New Guinea government itself has recognised the benefit of education overseas by instituting its own scholarship scheme to send students to the TAFE College in Cairns and my visits to the students when I was a Minister highlighted the fact that the college staff recognised the mutual benefits of this scholarship scheme.  If only more young people from Papua New Guinea could have that exposure.  Would it be possible for international fee-paying students from Papua New Guinea to have a reduced rate in recognition of our colonial heritage and relationship? I guess that is too idealistic.

It is well known that education and employment opportunities are two key factors for development in Papua New Guinea. Both are based in social interaction and people to people relationships. Exciting programmes such as the Emerging Leaders’ Dialogue have added great value to people to people relationships within the Pacific and between Papua New Guinea and Australia in recent years.  Their value is without question and will hopefully become institutionalised in Pacific relationships for young people.  However, in some ways they are the cream on the cake that has not yet been fully baked.   There are other valuable programmes that foster people to people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea – sporting events, entertainment, two-way tourism and various church exchange programmes.  All are very important but to me they are still part of the decoration.  The main ingredients of the cake mix must be education and employment opportunities that foster increased and increasingly meaningful links between people.

Participants at the 2013 Australia-Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue in Sydney (Lowy Institute).

I firmly believe that both nations would benefit if programmes provided more opportunities for education and employment for Papua New Guineans in Australia.  The relative success of the Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) scheme in New Zealand serves as an example of how pragmatic policies can contribute to the development story of the Pacific.  Australia stands out as the Pacific neighbour with the greatest capacity to develop new opportunities that recognise Australia’s history as a colonising power, its interest in promoting regional security, and the special needs of some Pacific island countries. There is a moral dilemma in the fact that our educated elite are welcome in Australia and we suffer from brain drain but little is offered to provide learning and remittance opportunities for the less skilled. The Seasonal Worker Program announced in 2008 takes a small but very valuable step along this path.  An intensified and genuine journey along this path (accepting that there will be some potholes to negotiate as in any journey) would be a huge leap forward in people to people relationships between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guineans still feel great affection for Australia but when I chaired a series of consultations in five provinces about the Regional Resettlement Agreement for asylum seekers, they expressed disappointment and anger during our consultations that Australia was “sending its problem to PNG” and “making our nation look like a terrible place”.  However, I have no doubt that that disappointment and anger would not be felt so deeply if there were enhanced opportunities for movement between Papua New Guinea and Australia and a more vibrant seasonal and temporary workers scheme could be one such opportunity that would result in more substantive people to people links as a by-product.

Increasing people to people links is about maturing our relationships and perhaps it is time for both Papua New Guinea and Australia to come of age.  Papua New Guinea is on a steep learning curve with an emerging identity crisis as we strive to integrate the best of tradition with the best from outside.  Australia also perhaps needs to redefine its relationships and its identity in a rapidly changing world.   Australia is no longer an outpost of the former British Empire. It is the largest and most prosperous nation of the Pacific region and as such can add global weight and voice to the unique struggles of its nearest neighbours.

But how many Australians actually know very much about the reality of their nearest northern neighbor other than the negative media stereotyping?  The most effective way to break down stereotypes is to give them a human face and increase people to people relationships.  To me, fostering enhanced people to people links is fundamentally important for both nations both for development and for regional security, peace and harmony.



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Dame Carol Kidu - Former Parliamentarian, Papua New Guinea - Lowy Institute

Dame Carol Kidu

Former Parliamentarian, Papua New Guinea

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Dame Carol Kidu, a former PNG Member of Parliament and Minister for Community Development, has three honorary doctorates from the University of Queensland, University of PNG and University of Natural Resources and Environment, Rabaul, PNG. Carol originally trained as a teacher at the Kelvin Grove Teachers College and University of Queensland in her birth city, Brisbane.

As a member of PNG’s parliament for three terms, Carol was a driving force behind a number of important legislative reforms including the repeal of the colonial Child Welfare Act, changes to the Criminal Code on rape and sexual assault, and new legislation on child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children. Policy reforms initiated by Carol include the community-based policy for people with disability, revised National Youth policy, sports for development policy, informal economy policy and a revised policy on gender.

She also established the Parliamentary Committee on HIV and AIDS in 2003 and the PNG Parliamentarians on Population and Development in 2008.

Carol’s international appointments have included membership of the James Cook University’s international advisory board of the Cairns Institute and the independent Global Commission on HIV and the Law.

In addition to her honorary doctorates, Carol’s achievements have also been recognised by her adopted country, Papua New Guinea, where she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire. She was also Pacific Person of the Year in 2007, the same year she received the International Woman of Courage Award from the US Secretary of State. She is also a knight in the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.