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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Changing the Flag will blunt Australia’s future

Australia is at a period where good ideas matter. Changing the flag is not one of them. Labor MP Tim Watts has recently emerged as Australia’s leading anti-flag spokesman. His thoughts echo those of a thin group of flag-changers occasionally emerging to propose amendments to Australia’s pinnacle national symbol. The motivation is both predictable and simple – because Australia has changed we must change the flag. ‘In many ways,’ Watts recently wrote in an SBS opinion piece, ‘our flag reflects the country we once were, not the nation we have become today.’ To look at Australia this way, however, commits […]

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Australia: change when change is required

It’s often said that many young Australians find public debate bitter and lacking in civility. Greg Sheridan’s When We Were Young And Foolish, however, gives some perspective on the political currents of past generations, which make today’s social landscape appear mild by comparison. Although Sheridan looks at the political elites of Australian politics he actually devotes more time to exploring the political landscape where they cut their teeth: the Catholic-Protestant divide, Labor’s split over communism and the venom of student and union politics. These, thankfully, are cleavages no longer dividing Australian life. ‘For more than 150 years,’ Sheridan writes, ‘Catholic […]

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Standing up for conservatism in Queensland

It’s healthy, regardless of political complexion, to read well-written books threading history with current affairs. Mark Bahnisch’s Queensland: Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask performs this task brilliantly. Bahnisch shows that Queensland, known for its conservatism, actually lays claim in 1899 to the first Labour government in the world and, in addition to hosting the world’s first general strike in 1912, pioneered a “path to socialism through intervention in the economy.” It’s through this lens that Queensland’s contrasts take shape: the free trade without big business; shearers, miners and railway workers upon the northern frontiers with doctors, […]

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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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