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Editorial April 1st 2022

Welcome to this week’s editorial,

As many of you know I grew up in Papua new Guinea. I was incredibly fortunate have done so at a time when I could witness colonialism first hand and to be present when the country decided it wanted to become independent.

In the 1950’s the country was only just recovering from the second world war and the influx of funding and resources into, what was then the Territory of Papua New Guinea, was enormous. There was money and equipment for roads, dams and hydroelectricity. New wharves were built and there were jobs for anyone who wanted one. The Australian government took control and set out to deliver health, education, communication and to improve the overall well being of the population. They took steps to control malaria, kuru and TB and to improve infant mortality. Such wonderful dreams they had for the small tropical island nation.

Up until Independence in September 1975 there was evidence everywhere of the country going from strength to strength. Dirt roads were sealed, networks expanded, hospitals and clinical outposts were popping up all over the country, a territory curriculum was established and schools were being built for children, who were now growing strong with improved nutrition.

What I experienced, in the leadup to Independence, was nation building. Money was invested into people. Into their well being, their health and their future. There most likely was a budget somewhere by way of development funds provided by the Australian government and, from what I saw it was applied fairly, for the good of all.

The downside came after Independence where it all came to a grinding halt. The once proud infrastructure of the previous administrative government came under control of the new leaders of the country. Within a few short years of ego and greed Papua New Guinea was without a rudder and it was an all in brawl by politicians to get to the feed-trough.

The country had countless millions invested in mining and were shipping out their resources as fast as they could but the revenues didn’t appear to make it to the people. It wasn’t too long before schools closed, hospitals and aid posts failed to function and the road networks failed. In less than a decade I watched my country slide from being a jewel to being one of the poorest countries in the Pacific region. And all because of politics, tribalism and factionalism. Much like Australia.

Last Tuesday night we could have had a budget that focussed on delivering improved universal health for everyone, where every Australian could feel secure that if they fell ill they would be looked after. Not necessarily in a private room with private staff and private hospitals, but fairly, timely and with all the care that our professional health services offer.

We could have had a budget that gave certainty to the tens of thousands of Australians now living in fear of becoming old and needing aged care. There could have been a budget that offered some assurity to our disabled that we have their backs.

Maybe we could have looked at the reason why we give so much money to private schools at the cost of devaluing our public schools. The list goes on and on of what could have been a budget that delivered to everyone.

As it turns out, and is being revealed, the budget handed down once again benefited the few at a cost to the many. On Wednesday the homeless were still homeless, the poor still poor, the public school students still left out in the cold and those with health needs still struggling to afford the treatments and suffer the wait times and the under resourcing.

I reflect back on the early days of Papua New Guinea where visionaries sat around a table and discussed what would be good for the country and its people to improve the quality of their lives using the riches of the country for the good of all. So much for what could have been for PNG. And so much for what we might have seen delivered on Tuesday night. We too are all the poorer.

Until next lei