In July 2003 when announcing the creation of RAMSI, Mr Howard described the Pacific island states as “our backyard” implying that we would keep it clean and tidy. And in its first six months RAMSI was successful in cleaning up the outlawed armed gangs that were terrorising some parts of the islands.

With basic law and order re-established, what was then required was not ongoing strong-arm tactics, but some Napoleonic guile in nation-building. This would sometimes require the use of kid gloves, flexibility and cultural awareness. Instead, Australia tried the bully approach.

I have been watching Australia’s bullying tactics in the Pacific since working as a Sydney based barrister in Vanuatu in the early 1990s. Yesterday’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Craig Skehan has all the hallmarks of a typical DFAT-ventilated smokescreen.

“A Tangled Web…” is often DFAT’s first line of defence. “That’s the Pacific for you!” one will regularly hear journalists say as their eyes glaze over with the convoluted facts and unfamiliar names. Much easier to rely on DFAT’s nice briefing paper.

Several times I have contacted reputable journalists when they have published facts which I knew to be wrong. It turned out that they had checked those facts with the local Australian High Commissioner.

The next tactical ploy used by DFAT is to mention the millions of dollars spent by Australia; ergo: “these Pacific islanders should be grateful and do what they are told…”

For example: Australia pushed forward with the Billion Dollar Enhancement Co-Operation Program in Papua New Guinea; notwithstanding strong opposition from many in government and Civil Society. Close to a hundred Australians commenced work under the program in Papua New Guinea only to find shortly thereafter that some aspects of the enhancement program were against the Constitution. Many of the expatriate Australians had to return home. How much money was wasted in that little effort?

Now, we are assured by Mr Ellison that the Moti extradition request must have complied with all Papua New Guinea legal requirements because the paperwork had been vetted by Mr Ruddock’s Department. In any event, the fact is that at least 80% of Australia’s aid goes directly to Australian companies and individuals — not to the Pacific islanders — and among those companies and individuals are some of Howard’s mates; including the Packer private family company (through GRM International) and Patricks subsidiaries.

In 2002 — 2004 the Packer organisation had set up an Internet gambling operation in Vanuatu, while GRM International was being paid millions to coordinate TWO Australian Federal Police officers engaged in training some Vanuatu police.

One could reasonably argue that the Australian Federal Police should not be working closely with Packer companies; given Packer’s associations with worldwide gambling interests.

I raised this issue squarely with Commissioner Keelty in April 2005 when he lectured the New South Wales Bar Association. He stated that he knew nothing about the Packer/AFP relationship through GRM International in Vanuatu. Several follow-up letters have remained unanswered.

Yes: there is a tangled web in the Pacific but it emanates from DFAT’s own backyard. Trouble is that more and more our own Federal Police is also becoming entangled.

Peter Fray

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