Fiji. Nauru. The Solomons. Timor. Indonesia, even maybe. There’s an arc of instability stretching right across Australia’s north.

But we don’t seem to like to talk about the
centre of the arc of instability, our old colony of Papua New Guinea.
Indeed, old PNG hands tell Crikey that the Prime Minister, his
advisers, Foreign
Minister Alexander Downer and his Parliamentary Secretaries just
haven’t wanted
to know about it.

So here’s hoping they read the piece by professor of political science at the University of Papua New Guinea, Allan Patience, in The SMH

The simple fact is that all of the South Pacific
states are struggling with increasingly intractable and dangerous
problems of
misgovernment. Nowhere is this more ominous than in Papua New Guinea.
Australia has a serious Pacific problem, right on its doorstep.

There is incontrovertible evidence that the
situation in PNG is worsening by the day. The systemic corruption that poisons the
political system from top to bottom is well known. Transparency International
continues to downgrade PNG each year on its international corruption index. Late last year the
PNG police force was strongly criticised by Human Rights Watch
International for routinely imprisoning, bashing, torturing and raping children…

Over the past two years the United Nations
Development Program has placed PNG successively lower on its Human Development Index because essential
services are failing and governance is stalling. Now the UN has warned that PNG may be downgraded
from being a “developing state” to a “least developed
state”, ranking it among the poorest nations in the world…

That PNG is a vast
administrative and political mess is patently obvious. It will soon be a major
social disaster.

Does Australia
have the resources or the foreign policy acumen to handle the problems that
will flow as a result? On present indications, the answer would have to be
“no”. Nothing short of a major international intervention can save PNG. The real test for Australia
will be whether it can assemble and coordinate a multilateral approach to PNG – and to all of the
South Pacific.

Papua New
Guinea has a
population of 5.5 million people. It is the second biggest island in the world.

If – when – humanitarian disaster strikes, Australia
will need to put in a massive effort. A massive amount of money. Can we cope
with it?