PNG celebrates 40 years of independence from Australia

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Celebrations are underway in Papua New Guinea to mark the 40th anniversary of independence from Australia.

Recreating the birth of the new nation of Papua New Guinea four decades ago, the red, black and gold Bird of Paradise flag was raised on Independence Hill in Port Moresby on Wednesday.

The end of 70 years of Australian rule is remembered not as an expulsion of a colonial master - Australia relinquished control as the era of decolonisation swept the world, often with bloodshed, but Papua New Guinea waved a fond farewell to a friend.

Despite a sometimes turbulent relationship, that friendship is being described as stronger than ever.

“For Papua New Guinea, we are happy with the relationship,” Prime Minster Peter O’Neill told SBS.

“We have a very good relationship with our friends in Canberra, and we hope to build on that into the future as well.”

That relationship includes about $500 million, as the largest recipient of Australian foreign aid for the nation of 7.5 million people.

Paul Flanagan from the ANU's Development Policy Centre told SBS that Australia has a moral obligation to “keep helping” PNG.

“As I say, right on our doorstep, 10 kilometres from our shore, there are three million people living in absolute poverty,” he said.

“I think we’ve got some responsibility there still.” 

Australia took control of Papua in 1906 from the British and invaded German New Guinea in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War.

The bond between the nations was sealed with blood on the Kokoda track, as Australia and PNG’s fuzzy wuzzies united to repel the Japanese during the Second World War.

After independence in 1975, disagreements were usually quickly resolved. 

“We speak freely on all issues and encourage that, it’s healthy,” said Mr O’Neill

“Even if we have some difficulties, we have to address them in a mature and constructive manner.”

Recently one issue has overshadowed the relationship: the Australian-run asylum seeker detention centre on Manus Island.

“The concerns over the Manus island detention centre means that the Australian government is a lot quieter on issues that they should have been speaking up about,” Mr Flanagan said.

“It’s almost a role reversal.”

“For the G20 we talk about a peer based review, Australia will comment on China, United States. PNG is moving down the path of some pretty bad economic policy and there is silence from the Australian government.

“It’s a long way from a colonial attitude and I think we’ve lost some space to speak frankly with our closest neighbour.”

Not everyone is celebrating this anniversary or the cost involved, while the country faces mounting economic and social problems.

PNG political activist Martyn Namorong said his country was using commemorations to distract from a budget crisis.

“We’re cutting own on health and education, we’re cutting down on social services, we have a foreign currency crisis, we have an national budget crisis,” he said.

“I think the government is just using 25m kina to distract people from the fundamental issues facing this country.”

Despite corruption and a violent reputation, PNG has remained a vibrant democracy. 

“Business is now starting to prosper, with enviable growth around the world with average growth of eight per cent over the last 14 years, and continuing,” Mr O’Neill said.

“These are some of the great strengths of Papua New Guinea and I think the best is yet to come.”

Source SBS

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