East Timor “simply wasn’t ready” for independence, Gerard Henderson writes in
The SMH today. Well, we’re dealing with it now – as we are
dealing with strife off the eastern coast of our continent, in the Solomons.
But what of our former colony of Papua New Guinea?

There’s more mail. One Crikey reader tells
of a PNG prime minister telling a colleague that his country received
independence “a generation too early… he believed his people had not had
sufficient time to be educated properly to handle self-government, that they
needed another generation of university graduates.”

Another adds: “When asked I have always
said PNG is safe, except that with the right catalyst, it could implode in
fifteen minutes. At every corner market in the highlands are people milling
around with nothing to do and all day to do it in. Every door to every business
is the same. These people are in pain with the frustration of failure, and the
expats in the highlands are losing their vision and hope and as those remaining
farewell the leaving, the situation compounds… Missionaries and Australian aid
people do a great job, but are not really the basis of a functioning society
like a family with business skills and roots in the community.”

Papua New
Guinea’s biggest
problem is tribalism. With over 700 language groups, the potential for chaos is
enormous.

There’s considerable criticism from expats
and old PNG hands that the Commonwealth Government relies too much on formal
intelligence and academic and diplomatic assessment for its knowledge of what
is going on, rather than information from on the ground sources.

The prime minister and the government have
been criticised for fobbing off old PNG hands who have sought meetings on the deteriorating situation in
the country. One reports being told by a senior Liberal
Party machine man: “We’ve given the whole place away”.

They say the government has good intentions,
but it’s failed to adequately help PNG combat the investor confidence, corruption, economic efficiency,
health, community safety, law and order and land tenure issues that bedevil the
nation.

And they point to leadership – about how Australia
could create some sort of institution to train up a new generation of native
leaders from our neighbourhood.

Their greatest fear is that, by skipping a
generation, we may have left it too late to equip new nations in our region for
self-government.