The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 3) - It is indeed refreshing to read of a Parliamentary Select Committee set up last month that appears to be speedily dealing with the issues it was created to address.

We refer to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Pacific Economic Community (PSCPEC), which has a series of clearly defined targets in its sights.

These include the possibility of part-time work for senior PNG students in Australia.

Governor Ian Ling-Stuckey of New Ireland, who chairs the Committee, says that its members have already undertaken several studies on this issue.

The advantages of some 2000 PNG students having an opportunity to work outside of their own country for a few months are obvious.

Endemic insularity is plainly obvious among high school leavers, according to academics tasked with introducing them to university studies.

These senior students rarely have even a superficial knowledge of the world outside of PNG, and their analytical skills and ability to assess the nature of neighboring societies remains undeveloped.

That proposal is not the only initiative the Committee is investigating.

Investigations into the possibility of the South Pacific sharing one adopted currency have been launched, and while that is a subject unlikely to be capable of rapid resolution, it is encouraging that it appears on the agenda.

A further item on Ling-Stuckey’s list holds out hope for a solution to a nightmare that has confronted many Papua New Guinean citizens since independence.

That is the issue of dual nationality.

Once again, false and emotional concepts of "sovereignty" can be blamed for the unwillingness of successive governments to address this matter.

There is a body of PNG born citizens in this country that is faced with an unenviable choice - either to retain their PNG citizenship and stay home, or to renounce the land of their birth in order to be able to live and work in Australia or many other South Pacific nations.

This is a hangover from the days when citizenship policies in countries like Australia were determined mainly by emotion.

Strict laws fuelled by open racism and fear of the unknown meant that Islands people found themselves barred from obtaining citizenship in Australia, unless they were prepared to abandon their country of birth.

Even then, use of the stringent White Australia policy saw our southern neighbor effectively shutting the door in the face of all but Anglo-Saxon and European immigrants.

For the rest of the world those days are now past, and Australia is one of the world's great multi-cultural societies.

Immigrants are accepted from most countries, and there are dozens of nationalities firmly established in the Australian community.

But those open door policies have had almost no impact on Papua New Guineans and other Pacific Islanders wishing to work for a period in Australia, while retaining the right to come and go from the country of their birth at will.

If the Ling-Stuckey Committee can bring about amendments by our own Parliament to the Constitution to allow dual citizenship, while negotiating successfully with the Australian and other governments, a long-outstanding blind spot in regional laws will have been eliminated.

The Committee is also tasked with investigating and making recommendations about national policies and legislation relating to residency status, work permits and visas for citizens of overseas countries wishing to work in PNG.

That is another issue that has been bubbling away on the back burner for too many years, and in many instances, negativity has led to PNG’s loss.

For example, a qualified foreigner who takes up an appointment as, say, a specialist doctor in PNG, may find it impossible for his well-qualified wife to obtain legal employment. The result has often been that PNG has failed to attract the skills and experience from overseas that we need.

This Committee's Australian counterpart has been working on some of these issues under the chairmanship of Senator Peter Cooke, and there are early indications that an understanding on some of these important matters could at last be reached.

These deliberations hold some promise of an end to many antiquated and inappropriate laws that continue to restrict the development of a healthy and realistic relationship between PNG, Australia, and the balance of South Pacific island nations.

August 4, 2004

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