Monday, March 31, 2008

being here and not being here

hola readers, listeners, perusers, friends, foreigners ...

baby had her march in sydney but was very sick for 3 weeks, caught an awful virus that wiped her out. her spirit leaked from her sides and her desire went with it. yes, i was ill. ill. ill. awful. my energy and enthusiasm just fell out the window and took my like and my play with it. that was my yucky awful month of march. a grey march which followed a blue february ... 2008 not starting off so wonderful.

but baby is finding her way back now. just as i started recovering, at easter i took off to western australia with some old gal pals and we just lunched it right up in margaret river and then i took off on my own and spent a week On The Road jack. baby hit the turf and kind of didn't stop. until yesterday, when she came back to sydney ... and felt good about it.

so if i have been absent from this page ... it's because i really have been away. in sydney with illness and in south western australia with play.


and just so you know, for the last week, this is what I have been looking at.

just me, myself and i. driving. music blaring. singing at the top of my lungs. sleeping in the desert. watching a blue blue sky never unravel.

i got away away and i have just started smiling again.

now that kevin is here

When the Australian elections took place late last year, I was celebrating. Celebrating!! Wow. Never thought I'd feel so much joy at the change of government other than my own ... but there you have it. A women deputy PM and just not having John Howard anymore - what a breath of fresh air. For so so many reasons ... not the least of which is a renewed hope in reestablishing the somewhat tattered relationship between PNG and it's most important neighbour - Australia.

And what does Kevin do? He comes to PNG. He comes and is welcomed like royalty. He brings with him hope and a clear sense of direction in what are definitely muddy muddled times. And the plan of his new government has its babis in the Port Moresby Declaration - a list of 20 objectives and plans signalling Australia's greater commitment to the region.

And so I cheer once again and keep my fingers crossed that our own politicians will meet him half way and start acting in a way that truly represents a desire to act in the best interests of their constituents and not their clans. We need to grow up and learn to eat at the big people's table rather than squabbling over left overs. People are suffering all over our great land and now we have a very real opportunity (for the first time in over a decade), through Kevin Rudd, to be as constructive as we can be.


Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor of the Australian newspaper published this article on March 15, 2008

KEVIN Rudd wants a new beginning with the South Pacific, especially with Melanesia.Last week in Papua New Guinea, Rudd issued his Port Moresby Declaration, which promised more aid and a new era. And yesterday the Australian Strategic Policy Institute issued two new papers on our policy in the region.

The focus, both in government and think tanks, is Melanesia rather than Polynesia. There are three reasons for this. Melanesia is closer to Australia than Polynesia. Melanesia is in much worse crisis than Polynesia. And New Zealand tends to take the lead in Polynesia.

The four big nations of Melanesia - PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji - are each in a version of their own long-running crisis.

Rudd and his team believe they have a chance just now to make a difference in Melanesia. This is partly simply because they are a new Government. A harsh hostility had arisen between PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare and John Howard.

This was not a result of any particular mismanagement by Howard but because Somare was opposed to the Enhanced Co-operation Program through which Australia inserted personnel into PNG to try to improve the delivery of basic services and to bring some control to the endemic corruption in PNG.

As was evident in his effusive welcome, Somare doesn't have the same hostility towards Rudd. But whether the new goodwill amounts to anything, with Canberra's efforts to make aid to PNG accountable and to limit corruption, remains to be seen.

As with Australia, there is a new Government in Solomon Islands. The old government of Mannasah Sogavare was opposed to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands and gave shelter to the fugitive Julian Moti. The new Government reversed both those positions. Both Canberra and Honiara now want the emphasis of RAMSI to shift from security to nation-building.

The Government is also alive to any possibility of a little movement with Fiji, an indication that the elections will be held on time, a chance perhaps to resume some greater level of contact. This would be very well advised. Fiji's economy is suffering. Everyone, certainly Australia, has made their opposition to the coup in Fiji clear. Now is the time to draw Fiji back into dialogue and co-operation, not to impose any additional pressure that could exacerbate internal tensions. Rudd's speeches and press conferences in PNG and the Solomons were important and under-reported. They followed his policy in Opposition and begin the process of giving greater flesh to the Pacific Partnerships for Development that his Government will construct with the South Pacific nations.

These are ambitious and promise more aid and improvement across all sectors of Pacific society. Rudd was naturally up-beat in his speeches, but he did acknowledge the scale of the problems. For example, he spoke of the HIV-AIDS problem in PNG, noting that there are 40,000 to 60,000 sufferers in the country. With a business-as-usual approach, Rudd said, this number would swell to half a million by 2025. This would be a truly catastrophic outcome for PNG, and for Australia.

Rudd deserves praise for recognising the urgency of the problem and giving it priority when no other part of Australian civil society is really doing likewise. However, there is scant prospect of Australian success in Melanesia.

This is not because of any particular weakness in the Rudd Government but because of the sheer, bloody intractability of the problems.

Australian policy towards the South Pacific is like an old-fashioned upright clock. The hands are ever in motion, yet they pass through familiar positions in an endless cycle. First we emphasise our small neighbours' sovereignty and give them some aid; that's no good, so then we intervene a little in an emergency; then we intervene a lot; then that causes resentment and we retrench, and on and on it goes. Meanwhile the overall social and political indicators just get worse and worse.

The two new ASPI documents on the South Pacific are both very good: thoughtful, practical, modest, sensible.

Two big ideas animate them. The first is that we need to integrate South Pacific, especially Melanesian, economies into our own. And secondly that to do this we must open our labour market to Melanesian guest workers.

The first idea is plainly right. The second is less clear.

There are more than seven million people in Melanesia and only 21million Australians. It is hard to see labour mobility operating on a big enough scale to make a fundamental difference. Nonetheless it is true that Polynesians, many of whom live in New Zealand, have more opportunity to work abroad, and this benefits their homelands in many ways. First, they can send back remittances, which are a vital, non-bureaucratic and precisely targeted de facto aid flow. But also, their exposure to foreign ways and foreign standards gradually helps them have higher expectations of their own societies.

The Government is continuing to give this matter serious thought. I am constantly undecided about Melanesian guest worker schemes, in part because I have always believed that anyone who comes to Australia to work ought to have a pathway to citizenship. I certainly think it would be a great mistake for the Australian Defence Force to recruit Melanesians as soldiers without citizenship.

More basically, we need to understand our commitment to Melanesia is long term and therefore to train a permanent cadre of language and regional culture specialists throughout our military, diplomatic service, aid agencies and the bureaucracy generally.

Australia is poor at language training (something Rudd knows all too well) and our bureaucracies have a bias against regional specialists, and no one these days wants to specialise in Melanesia. But if we're actually going to make a difference there we need a core of long-term Australian Melanesianists. Training such people is a long-term investment but an essential prerequisite for all our ambitions.