In the last week Papua New Guinea (PNG) has received more exposure in the Australian media than it has for a very long time indeed. Ever since news of the ‘Regional Resettlement Arrangement Between Australia and Papua New Guinea’ agreement between Prime Ministers Rudd and O’Neill appeared on 19 July, discussion and criticism of the so-called ‘PNG Solution’ has been widespread on the internet, on television, radio, and even in the few newspapers still being published. Media outlets which negligently had let their regional coverage slip away – preferring to invest their remaining funds into reportage of last night’s Masterchef – are now scrambling to find copy from anyone with either opinions on the subject, but little knowledge, or some direct knowledge of PNG, alas in short supply.
What can one learn from the reporting of PNG so far in 2013? Well, it doesn’t seem a very pleasant place (unlike Nauru, according to Tony Abbott). Violence against women, a drug-resistant TB epidemic, rampant government corruption, squatter slums to rival anywhere else in the third world – who would want to live there, other than the seven million Papua New Guineans who have no choice? And yet this is the country to which our Government (and the alternative government) is proposing to send asylum seekers from now on. What, it is being repeatedly asked, are we thinking? Surely this is the last place we should send the defenceless and vulnerable?
It seems that for many Australians, the less they think about PNG the better. Especially for the majority who live in the cities of the southeastern corner, ignorance is boosted by Australia’s stringent and cumbersome visa regulations which mean that it remains unlikely they will ever actually meet a Papua New Guinean walking down the street of their manicured suburbs.