An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Taming The Shoe Incident

Bad pun I know, but if you haven't heard - which is highly likely - there is a current simmering of tensions between Australia and PNG. This time it is over an incident at Brisbane airport as Sir Michael Somare was on his way for a visit to New Zealand.

The security guys had Somare walk through the metal detector a few times and then he was asked to remove his shoes and walk through. Highly undignified for a Prime Minister of a foreign country, to go through that - is he going to have a bomb in his shoe - especially as he was only on transit to another country anyway.

So the incident hit the papers here and was front page stuff. "Disgraceful!" screamed the Post Courier. The people hit the streets - well about 1000 anyway - and they marched twice - once on Thursday 31st of March and then on April fools day - to the Australian High Commission.

The marching incident caused a few concerns with-in the High Commision in Moresby, they proceeded to send a warning out to all the Australian volunteers in PNG - including me - stating:
"A large protest march on the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby is planned for 1 April. We are told protestors will be seeking a response to the petition handed to the High Commissioner by a small group of protestors today. A sizeable police presence has been requested. It is highly likely that the High Commission will be closed to the public. While we hope that the protest will be a peaceful one, there is a possibility the situation could deteriorate. We would suggest that personnel avoid the area of the High commission and maintain a heightened sense of security in their workplace and social circumstances. It is recommended that all personnel monitor the DFAT website for consular bulletins."

Not much good me knowing this. I don't live in Moresby and I am not planning on going to the High Commission, guess it is just another case of them worrying about their perceived importance.

My country's esteemed Foreign Minister Mr Downer really made a mess of it by saying "no apology will be made forthcoming" and this has been like a red rag to a bull. Somare's advisers and Chief of Staff are now filling the air waves and column inches demanding an apology. Fair enough I have no problem with that. PNG is once again being treated like a poor cousin and a backwater.

The only problem is now they are overstepping the mark and have suspended the Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP) and the Au$800 million it represents. They would be mad to scuttle this as it would set the country back years. Though as the Post Courier states in today's editorial they could just be using this incident for a new bit diplomatic leveraging:
"We wonder whether the reservations initially expressed about the ECP package have festered and finally burst out into the open with the Somare search episode at Brisbane airport.
Whether the motives were purely to defend the honour of our nation and the longtime leader against the crass behaviour of airport security guards, or to leverage a new look at the aid package, only time will tell."

Unfortunately that still does not deny the fact that the Australian government is running rough shod over their closest neighbour again. To state, as a spokesman for Downer did yesterday, that "We have a non-discriminatory security policy" is just rubbish. I am sure the US President or the Chinese President when they came at the end of 2003 did not get made to take their shoes off.

Time I think that Howard and Downer did the respectable thing and said sorry. For once.