CANBERRA, 29 JULY 2019 (THE GUARDIAN) — Australia has a responsibility to protect the Pacific region from the impacts of climate change, Papua New Guinea’s newly appointed prime minister has said.
James Marape told the Guardian Australia had “a moral responsibility … to the upkeep of the planet”, particularly given the extreme effect it was having on smaller Pacific nations.
“I don’t intend to speak from Canberra’s perspective, they have their own policy mindset, but as human beings I know they will respond to the moral obligation that is prevalent amidst us, that we are environmentally sensitive to the needs of others.”
He said the voices of smaller island nations must be listened to.
“As big countries in the Pacific – Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand – we have a sense of responsibility to the smaller island countries, because displacement of these smaller communities will first and foremost be our neighbourhood responsibility,” Marape said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Marape outlined a vision for his country, to leave behind a history of wasted opportunities and squandered resources, and move towards a healthy and educated nation free of violence.
In May, after Scott Morrison led the Coalition to an election victory , Pacific leaders urged him to do more on climate change, saying Australia was “lagging behind”.
Marape, who is completing his first official visit to Australia last week, said he would “not be silenced” on environmental responsibility.
“We can have our resources but we must have it in an environmentally-friendly manner, so that we leave planet earth to the next generation not in the form we’ve inherited but a better form.
He said he believed Australia, New Zealand, and PNG should lead the Pacific as a “bloc” of nations reconstructing their economies to handle resource productions in a more environmentally and socially sensitive way.
Last Thursday Marape warned foreign companies already in PNG that he intended to crack down on regulatory compliance, and also shake up revenue processing to ensure PNG drew at least 50% in taxes and royalties.
He also wanted to see a shift towards an agricultural exports economy, as a “food bowl for Asia” rather than the current dependence on mining.
“For the amount of wealth, the Lord has blessed us with … the actual translation of this resource into improving people’s life hasn’t happened well in 44 years,” he told Guardian Australia.
“I don’t blame the past they lived at the time. They wrote the history, I’m going to write the future for our country.”
He said if his government didn’t get the balance right, future generations would blame them.
His comments followed an ambitious declaration on Thursday that the impoverished nation would be free of its dependence on Australian aid – more than half a billion dollars a year – within the decade.
He told Guardian Australia a prosperous PNG was a “win-win” for Australia.
“If we are independent economically, if we are solid and sustaining our own life, your taxes don’t need to come to us,” he said.
“We’ll keep the borders up north safe, we’ll have a better, friendly region up there, so the entire region is safe. If we disintegrate up there it affects Australia too.”
Marape won the leadership in May after several months of political chaos which ousted his predecessor, Peter O’Neill.
O’Neill’s legacy includes numerous crises and controversies, including allegations of corruption and mishandled public policies. In recent years a growing health crisis has been exacerbated by corruption scandals, medication shortages, mishandled medication contracts, and outbreaks of polio and drug-resistant TB.
Marape pledged investigations into corruption around the medication supply, and announcements by September of new health interventions. He said he and Morrison had negotiated Australia’s assistance in improving health care.
PNG also continues to have some of the world’s worst rates of family and sexual violence, and last week 18 people were massacred in the highlands village of Karida. The murders of mainly women and children were an escalation of worsening tribal violence which shocked the country.
Marape denied there was a cultural tolerance of violence in PNG, warning perpetrators they would face prosecution, and said revenge attacks and traditional systems of compensation as a response to violence had to end.
“I’ve made it absolutely clear on every occasion I’m asked this question, that whether it’s domestic violence or violence generally in society, culture and custom will not be a place to hide,” he said.
PNG police have historically been underresourced, with investigative officers and specialised family violence units effectively grounded because they can’t pay for petrol to attend a crime.
Marape said his government would target “hot spots” around the country to improve police resources where they are needed most. (PACNEWS)