Hawke and Namaliu
Bob Hawke and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu, meeting in Canberra last week, agreed that more Australian aid should be directed to solving PNG's "law and order" problems.
They agreed that PNG must shift the orientation of its military spending and preparations to deal with "internal security threats" rather than attacks from foreign countries.
Namaliu has asked Australia to provide another 60 police advisers on top of the 40 already in PNG. He has asked for more Australian aid for police training, equipment and building prisons. The Australian government has doubled aid to the PNG police this year, to $13 million, and PNG will increase its police force from 4000 to 6000.
PNG's major cities are under curfew every night. Police roadblocks prevent unemployed rural people entering the cities. On August 28, the PNG parliament voted to reintroduce the death penalty.
There is a crime problem in PNG. There are large numbers of poor people and unemployed youth in urban centres. Each year 40,000 young people leave school, and only one in eight finds a paid job. But the endless repetition by politicians, journalists and business people of lurid stories about "rascal" gangs perpetrating rape, assault, murder and robbery are merely a smokescreen behind which an increasingly repressive and authoritarian regime is being imposed.
Rather than street crime, what really haunts the powers that be is the ghost of the Bougainville uprising. Australian big business has $2 billion invested in PNG and expects the total to skyrocket as gold, oil and other mineral discoveries are developed in the next few years. It wants struggles for greater popular control of the country's resources and fairer distribution of wealth to be suppressed.
Under pressure from the World Bank, the Australian government and business, the PNG government is moving to slash employment in the public sector and cut the wages of those still employed. These moves can also be expected to spark opposition.
As landowners and the urban poor continue to see the massive wealth derived from PNG transferred overseas by multinational corporations, while local development remains stagnant, the inchoate rebellion expressed through individual and gang crime may well develop into a more politically coherent movement for control of PNG's economic development.
The Australian and PNG governments are determined to ensure Australia's long-term exploitation of PNG's resources. They are prepared to meet any future challenges with repression. Defence Minister Robert Ray last month agreed to fund a study into establishment of a PNG military base in the Highlands, where major mineral projects are being developed. These forces would be directed at protecting the projects from their workers and local in Bougainville has shown that the PNGDF and police are likely to reply to opposition with gross human rights abuses and brutal atrocities.
Aid to PNG's military and police should be ended immediately and the funds redirected to projects that genuinely aid long-term economic development and local control of the economy. Only then can the problems of crime caused by poverty and unemployment begin to be addressed by the PNG people themselves.