Reflections on reflections: Australian public policy, history and institutions

It has been just over a year since Peter Varghese, outgoing Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), delivered his ‘graduate lecture’ to Australia’s next round of aspiring international civil servants. Titled ‘reflections on a most fortunate public life’, it appealed to me both as a former Canberra graduate at the Prime Minister’s Department, and as a young professional working closely with DFAT during my early years in the South Pacific. As someone with an instinctively conservative tilt, however, I found most appealing Varghese’s emphasis on Australia’s institutions – ‘the bedrock of our society’ – and his […]

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Positive Pacific developments: Papua New Guinea’s housing appetite

Good news can be difficult to find in Papua New Guinea. Since independence from Australia in 1975, reports of crime, corruption and poverty now seemingly tumble out of the South Pacific nation on a daily basis. But a trickle of good news has emerged from a recent housing survey. With 2000 respondents, and considered the most comprehensive ever undertaken in PNG, the survey highlights positive trends for a growing economy – rental demand is high but demand to buy is higher; many Papua New Guineans are keen to put down deposits; the capital Port Moresby and other regional centres are […]

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Papua New Guinea, aid and economic growth

We live in a time where more people have been pulled out of poverty than at any other time in history. This has not been achieved by foreign aid but through free markets and economic growth. Recent commentary has exposed the problems of criticising PNG’s pro-economic growth agenda, and elevating foreign aid as the centrepiece solution to the many domestic hurdles facing our nearest neighbour. These views have emerged out of Australian Senator Fierravanti-Wells’ recent “aid is not charity” comments after PNG’s request for $558 million – our total current aid package to the country – to be paid to […]

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Where are the role models? Right there

When recently undertaking some basic research into Aboriginal Australians at war I was, as usual, surprised at what Australian history threw back. Decades before the good intentions of segregated computer labs, and the advent of ‘black lives matter’, I came upon three examples of black Australians at war that would surprise many young people today. The first was Douglas Grant – a north Queenslander rescued from a tribal fight in the early 1900s by chance from a Scottish immigrant surveyor. Educated in Sydney, and later training as a mechanical draughtsman, Douglas developed an early passion for Shakespeare, writing and drawing. […]

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Is Conor McGregor Tony Abbott?

Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor has returned to the high peaks of stardom and notoriety following his ‘rematch’ win over opponent Nate Diaz. While many don’t usually turn to McGregor as a source of insight on current affairs, it was his recent comment in the lead up to the fight that caught my eye: I am just trying to do my job and fight here. I am paid to fight. I am not yet paid to promote. I have become lost in the game of promotion and forgot about the art of fighting. There comes a time when you need to […]

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The Disciplines of Leadership, Democracy and Revolution in the Developing World

In late 2010, as a young UN staffer in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, I witnessed the tail end of an ultimately fatal high-speed police chase. It was a late Friday afternoon and I was standing across the road from a busy outdoor marketplace, accompanied by men, women and children buzzing home for the weekend. The gentle energy of the Friday afternoon, however, quickly dissolved from the screeching tires of four land cruisers sliding through the market, accompanied by two loud gunshots. I’ll never forget the unplanned choreography of around 700 people, including myself, dropping and splintering apart at the […]

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Strong At Home Means Strong Away: Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill and Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s domestic reforms have strengthened Papua New Guinea both at home and abroad. ‘We live in an age of official apologies for historic crimes,’ writes the American scholar Peter Berger. Saying ‘sorry’—from Barack Obama’s apology for the Christian Crusades to Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations—has clearly become a useful tool for modern leaders attempting to symbolically pacify past tensions. In early 2014, although much less significant, Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill also delivered an apology. O’Neill’s ‘sorry’, however, was not for historic crimes but to PNG’s neglected diplomatic service, which he said had […]

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A modern lesson in ‘old school’ leadership: UK Prime Minister David Cameron

The British Prime Minister deserves more credit than electoral success Until the recent UK election it had become common, even among staunch conservatives, to write off the Tory leader David Cameron. The sum of accusations Cameron faced, from disfiguring conservative principles to peddling an overly cosmetic appearance, primed the Tories to predictable electoral defeat. No British party, the experts said, should fantasize of an outright majority. And certainly not the Conservatives. While many were surprised with Cameron’s win the applause has, understandably, shifted rapidly to pressing issues of Greek debt and offshore terror attacks against British nationals. But Cameron’s triumph, […]

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Benjamin Franklin in the Pacific Islands?

What an American founding father can still teach us about life and wealth For some time now I’ve thought about what the great Benjamin Franklin would say if he took a walk (or paddle) through the Pacific Islands. Franklin, who helped found the United States, is one of the most well-known figures in history for contributions to writing, publishing, diplomacy, innovation and politics. The most accomplished American of his generation, and arguably of all time, he has provided generations with universal advice on ‘the way to wealth’ through simple values like thrift, industry and frugality. He delivered this advice at […]

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Rhodes, student politics and a small warning for PNG

Earlier last month South African students from the University of Cape Town rallied, threw excrement and tore down a statue of the historically prodigious businessman and politician Cecil John Rhodes (1853 – 1902). Rhodes is most clearly remembered for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which has sponsored thousands of students globally – many of them African – to study at one of the finest universities in the world. At around the same time similar public taunts emerged around South Africa against symbols of white colonialism and imperialism. These acts are clearly distressing in a number of ways but, to audiences in former […]

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