Boats, aid and the art of the possible

by Gary Hogan – 22 July 2013 9:21AM

Retired Brigadier Gary Hogan has been Australia’s Defence Attaché in both Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Indonesia.

In March 1964, the ‘Year of Living Dangerously’, Indonesian President Sukarno, speaking at a public rally, told the US ambassador in attendance to ‘go to hell with your aid!’

Aid programs with Indonesia, even ones as massive as ours, at over half a billion dollars annually, have never been an effective means to garner support from, exercise influence over, or curry favour with its leaders. If there are Australians who presume otherwise, tell ’em they’re dreaming.

In sharp contrast, last week’s announcement of the ‘Papua New Guinea Solution’ to illegal boat arrivals by Prime Minister Rudd was a direct offshoot of the tens of billions of aid dollars Australia has poured into that country since its independence in 1975. A cargo cult mentality is alive and well in PNG and this afforded the necessary levers for the Australian prime minister to pull so deftly in his game-changing policy statement, which will almost certainly stem boat arrivals in the near term, until people smugglers and Australian activists are able to find paths around the absolutist decree that even legitimate asylum-seekers will now not find sanctuary in Australia.

Only the passage of time will tell whether the policy is a masterstroke or too cute by half. With an Australian election due very soon, it is at least a short-term masterstroke. For it will take at least that long for the wheels to fall off and the gloss to fade from the toughest statement yet of Australian resolve to foil the peddlers of hope and merchants of death operating between Java and Christmas Island.

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Rudd’s PNG solution will work, but it isn’t right

by Khalid Koser – 22 July 2013 3:10PM

Dr Khalid Koser is a Lowy Institute Non-Resident Fellow and Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Prime Minister Rudd’s new asylum policy is likely to work.

First, he has filled a dangerous political void. Even Mr Abbott appears grudgingly to condone the policy. The Labor Party can still be attacked for its poor record on boats (as the party that let them back in) but this is a far less potent criticism than being a party without a coherent stand on the issue. If the Labor Party loses the next election, I don’t think it will be the boats that bring it down any longer, as many have been predicting.

Second, I think the policy is likely significantly to reduce the number of boats departing for Australia. It is punitive enough to make anyone think twice: no-one arriving by boat in Australia without a visa will ever settle there. It will undermine the smuggling business in all but a few cases where smugglers are unscrupulous (and short-sighted) enough to take their payment up front and dispatch their clients without regard – and these smugglers won’t be in business for long.

The policy is also clear, which should make it easy to communicate. No ifs or buts, no quotas, no time limits. There is no way you will settle in Australia, period.

I hesitate to suggest that the policy will stop the boats, and if I were advising Mr Rudd I would urge him to manage public expectations. Even if the policy is strong and coherent, it will take time to achieve an impact. There will be migrants in Indonesia who have already made a payment for the onward trip and I doubt smugglers will be handing out refunds. However clear the policy, experience shows that many would-be migrants simply don’t trust information disseminated by governments, so some may continue to try their luck. And there will be some who are simply so desperate that no fate could be worse than the one they are trying escape.

Nevertheless, from a political and policy perspective, Mr Rudd has done things right. But has he done the right thing? I don’t think so.

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Kevin Rudd, you’re not a good friend of PNG

by Martyn Namorong – 23 July 2013 9:37AM

Martyn Namorong is a multi-award winning writer, blogger and television presenter.

In March 2008, Kevin Rudd made his first official visit to Papua New Guinea to build ties, the first such visit by an Australian prime minister in 11 years. Out of that visit was forged a special affinity and respect Papua New Guineans had for Kevin Rudd, perhaps best illustrated by the naming of a baby from the highlands after the Australian prime minister.

Papua New Guinean relationships are best defined by the cultural narrative of tribalism. By his special consideration of PNG in 2008, Rudd had made himself a member of the tribe.

It is therefore unsurprising that Rudd’s extraordinary request for Papua New Guinea to resettle refugees was accepted easily by men who had grown up in that tribal context. It is not unusual for the tribe in Papua New Guinea to protect and assist a tribesman even though such decisions could have negative consequences. And Kevin Rudd is no ordinary member of the tribe, he is a Big Man – the Prime Minister of Australia.

This may be an oversimplification of the decision-making process, but when one looks at how this decision was made, one finds similarities in PNG culture. To begin with, there was no consultation or public debate in PNG prior to the announcement. PNG’s big men, along with Rudd, made an announcement that shocked everyone. This is typical of how big men sitting in a tribal house make decisions that affect the lives of everyone else.

by Deni ToKunai – 24 July 2013 10:24AM

Deni ToKunai is a political commentator who writes PNG’s leading political blog, The Garamut.

In the public commotion and media frenzy of Kevin Rudd’s announcement that a new arrangement will see Australian asylum seekers resettled in PNG, one key point has gone largely unnoticed: it was his counterpart Peter O’Neill who approached Kevin Rudd with the deal.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. It is clear that when Rudd and company briefly visited PNG on 14-15 July, the issue of asylum seekers was on the bilateral agenda, albeit not advertised as prominently or publicly as concerns such as the PNG LNG project or the state of PNG’s hospitals.

It is also clear that Rudd left PNG without a final deal on the asylum seeker front, and it was only on 19 July, four days after his departure and coincidently also the last day of what had been two continuous weeks of parliamentary debate in the Haus Tambaran (parliament has been adjourned till September), that O’Neill flew to Brisbane to sign the new regional resettlement arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The machinations of the discussion surrounding the new asylum seeker arrangement is there for all to see: a proposal was put forth by Rudd and it needed time to be discussed by O’Neill with his coalition partners as dictated by the Alotau Accord, the post-election coalition agreement. Based on the ‘spirit of reconciliation, trust and unity’, the Alotau Accord requires the prime minister at all times to consult with other leaders of the coalition on major policy changes that may impact the unity and integrity of the government.

The matter was discussed in the PNG cabinet and an agreement was reached by 17 July which formed the basis of a radical counter-proposal. It was then submitted to Canberra where it was consequently accepted by Rudd.

Prime Minister O’Neill has made it no secret since his election in 2012 that he wanted to see a total re-alignment of the Australia’s half-a billion dollar a year aid program to support his government’s priorities. His demands had continuously been stalled by AusAID officials and Australian diplomats based in Waigani who were advising then Australian PM Gillard.

But with the consent of a reawakened Australian prime minister, O’Neill finally got what he wanted,describing the deal as something ‘every (PNG) prime minister in the past has wanted to achieve’.

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Sam Roggeveen

Kevin Rudd on asylum seeker in 2006

by Sam Roggeveen  – 24 July 2013 1:50PM

From his essay in The Monthly, Faith in Politics:

The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches.

The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches.
The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches.

PNG reacts strongly to asylum seeker deal

by Martyn Namorong – 24 July 2013 3:40PM

Martyn Namorong is a multi-award winning writer, blogger and television presenter. His initial reaction to the PNG-Australia asylum seeker agreement appeared on The Interpreter yesterday.

From online postings to offline activism, a new generation of protest-hardened Papua New Guineans is making its voice known to the powers that be.

Yesterday, as the Prime Minister was recording an interview on national television regarding the asylum seeker deal, only a stone’s throw away at Jack Pidik Park in the nation’s capital, Port Moresby, a gathering of around 50 hard-line activists was taking place.

Protest banner against asylum seeker deal. Taken yesterday at Jack Pidik Park, Port Moresby, on the author’s mobile phone.

It wasn’t so much a protest as a meeting about a bigger nationwide protest not just against the asylum seeker deal but also other issues such as the unpopular constitutional amendments on votes of no-confidence. If the protest meeting is any measure of the growing public outcry against the asylum seeker deal, one can only imagine the outrage of many Papua New Guineans when thousands of asylum seekers turn up at their doorstep.

As Papua New Guineans ponder the implications of the asylum seeker deal, it seems Prime Minister O’Neill hadn’t much of a clue about what he signed up for. This has angered pundits, many of whom are unhappy with his blind acceptance of the deal.

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In the current climate of electoral desperation in Australia, it is difficult to get a true picture of the reality of Australia’s aid program in PNG because it’s so misunderstood even when the spotlight isn’t shining on it. Very few people actually understand that there is a genuine effort on the part of Australian aid officials to respond to PNG’s development priorities, priorities that are agreed to by both governments. That’s what the PNG-Australia Development Partnership signed in 2008 is all about. And that’s what its predecessors, the Development Cooperation Treaties, were all about.

PNG governments have traditionally not liked the confines of the treaties and partnership because they attempt to hold PNG to its word about what it will achieve in meeting the development objectives for the country. It would be easier for them if Australia either (a) handed over the money or (b) simply built things. But experience in PNG shows that the medium- to long-term development objectives like better health for all and good education aren’t met that way.

A sober assessment of what this latest asylum seeker initiative means for the aid program has been done by Stephen Howes on the Development Policy Centre’s blog.

What Howes describes is the reality: there’s a core aid program, which keeps on keeping on trying to support PNG’s own development priorities. And then from time to time, like now, along comes a big political train which says ‘we want to do this, find the money and do it now’.

So the program gets shuffled around a bit to find the money to do what the train requires BUT (and this is important) at the same time, there is an effort to maintain some sort of development integrity so that the shared long-term development objectives can still be met. It’s not perfect or even excellent but the sad reality is that without AusAID working with parts of the PNG Government and across the country, particularly in health and education, the situation for the ordinary Papua New Guinean would be worse.


by Danielle Romanes – 26 July 2013 4:29PM

Danielle Romanes is a research assistant in the Myer Foundation Melanesia Program.

So are we. Over the last week The Interpreter has hosted a raft of posts on the so-called PNG Solution, with opinions from observers in all corners. Here’s a selection from The Interpreter and other places.

The emerging consensus is that Kevin Rudd’s change of heart on the ethics of banishing all asylum seekers to Manus Island is not so much a solution as a wriggling can of worms that promises to create far more problems than it solves. What’s more, the policy involves severe reputational risk for Australia and Rudd himself.

Opening the Interpreter debate, former defence attaché to PNG Gary Hogan wrote that the PNG Solution was a powerful demonstration of the way Australia’s aid largesse allows it to pull political strings in PNG to an extent enjoyed in no other recipient country. But the deal actually represents aconsiderable win for PNG’s leadership too, as prominent PNG political commentator Deni To Kunai has pointed out.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has put the total realignment of Australian aid at the forefront of bilateral dealings since he rose to power in 2011, and now claims to have pulled off a feat that every preceding prime minister has sought but not achieved. How much change in aid delivery this actually portends is questionable, but as Jenny Hayward-Jones wrote, if the arrangement does work as a deterrent, O’Neill will have secured a chunk of additional aid and more leverage with the Australian Government, and will not have to do much in return.

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by Philippa Brant – 29 July 2013 9:11AM

Dr Philippa Brant is a Lowy Institute Research Associate.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has made no secret of his desire for a realignment of Australian aid. In his address to the Lowy Institute last November he called for a greater focus on infrastructure development. O’Neill is claiming the new asylum-seeker aid deal as a win in that regard.

Reading Stephen Howes’ post on the DevPolicy blog on the aid implications of the ‘PNG Solution’, I was struck by how the new aid announcements could easily be mistaken for ‘China Aid’ rather than AusAID. Australia has pledged to assist with the new courthouse in Port Moresby, construction of a hospital in Lae and construction of the Ramu-Madang highway.

China is well known for its funding of government buildings and roads around the Pacific, though it has been rightly criticised for not considering maintenance provisions.

The Moresby courthouse project could offer an opportunity here: under the recent Australia-China Development Cooperation MoU, there could be scope to bring China in as an observer right from the beginning. This wouldn’t be a joint project (like the trilateral arrangement in the Cook Islands) but a more informal arrangement whereby Chinese embassy staff could be involved in planning discussions.

This does of course depend on the desires of the PNG Government and the willingness of both AusAID and Chinese officials. But with an increasing number of China-funded infrastructure projects on the cards (through the multi-billion kina China EXIM loan) and the apparent ‘realignment’ of Australian aid towards PNG’s ‘high impact’ priorities, this could sow the seeds for greater cooperation and perhaps a jointly funded project in the future.

It is in the interests of the people of PNG that their development partners are working together to help them achieve sustainable development outcomes.

James Brown

Asylum seekers: The cost to Defence

by James Brown  – 30 July 2013 12:23PM

There must be days when the Chief of the Defence Force and Secretary of Defence pine for the creation of an Australian Coast Guard, just so they can prise the Australian Defence Force away from the toxic debate on Australia’s asylum seeker policy. Labor’s PNG solution will rely on the ADF to expand refugee operations on Manus Island and will tie up the Navy’s only operational amphibious ship for some time. The Coalition’s plan, Operation Sovereign Borders, will see one of the ADF’s six already busy three-star officers lead a distinctly military-themed policy response.

But for all the centrality of the ADF in this debate, we know little about the operational details of the military’s role in border protection, known as Operation Resolute. In defence budgets and white papers of the past decade there’s only scant reference to the military’s contribution to interdicting asylum seekers who come by boat. Over the past five years the government has supplemented the defence budget by approximately $10 million per year to cover the additional costs incurred from running Operation Resolute. In 2011 parliament asked Defence to estimate the full cost of Operation Resolute and was told: ‘Defence does not estimate the full cost of operations as this would not enhance budget processes’.

So in the absence of official figures, in this post I present my best estimate of the true cost of the military dimension of Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

I’ve costed Op Resolute based on the force structure and operational tempo outlined in the ADF Force Posture Review. This data shows that for the year starting October 2010, Defence assigned the following military assets to Op Resolute:

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Reader riposte: the cost of Op Resolute

by Reader riposte – 31 July 2013 2:33PM

On our Facebook page, Sam Oldfield responds to James Brown’s piece calculating the cost of Defence’s asylum seeker operations, known as Op Resolute. Sam Oldfield begins by quoting James Brown:

‘You could argue that Defence assets would be conducting border protection tasking anyway’. I think this should be argued, I think this is why the ADF doesn’t like to cost operations in a vacuum, this is money that would be largely spent anyway so the question that needs to be asked is: ‘Would the benefits of what the Navy is NOT doing outweigh the benefits of Operation Resolute?’


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