Oceania - Issue 53 - Magazine | Monocle

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Go forth and populate


There’s much talk of creating a new city to deal with the country’s 1.7 per cent annual population growth. The Pilbara region’s rainfall and proximity to mining developments make it ideal for settlement. But critics say the northwestern city would be too isolated.


Backseat drivers

Papua New Guinea

Peter O’Neill/Michael Somare

The answer to who belongs in the backseat of Papua New Guinea’s prime ministerial Land Cruiser depends on whom you ask. The elected parliament thinks it’s former accountant Peter O’Neill; the Supreme Court prefers 75-year-old Michael Somare, who led png to independence in 1975. The leadership dispute began in mid-2011 when Somare was hospitalised with an acute heart condition. He characteristically shunned Australia’s healthcare in favour of Singapore (his relationship with Australia soured in 2005 after being asked to remove his shoes at Brisbane Airport security).

After three months in intensive care, Somare’s family announced his retirement, paving the way for O’Neill to take office. Upon recovery, he claimed the decision was made without his consultation and he was still pm. Tensions boiled over in November when a handful of Somare’s supporters attacked government offices and destroyed a car. Keen to see the dispute resolved peacefully, Australia has donated two commercially leased helicopters to ferry local officials to polling booths in remote areas. The extra aircraft should help temporarily fill the gap left by the €22m sale of the state jet by O’Neill to help fund a free healthcare plan.

In November the aircraft sparked a diplomatic standoff when it was intercepted by two Indonesian fighter planes. Local journalists claimed the Indonesians were tipped off to undeclared US dollars onboard. The official line: the plane didn’t match the description in the flight clearance documents.

Bell 407 Helicopter Australia has pledged two commercially leased helicopters to help ferry officials and transport ballot papers to remote villages during the scheduled election in June. They come in a package that will that also includes 88 computers to update the electoral roll. The Bell 407s will boost the ageing fleet of Huey choppers given by Oz in 1989 on the (unkept) condition they would not used to attack secessionists from Bougainville.

Cars (Nissan Patrol, Land Cruiser and Camry) Luxury loses out to rugged reliability when many major transport routes are unsealed, as reflected by PNG’s mostly Japanese fleet of all-wheel-drive state cars – although, O’Neill official Nissan wasn’t sturdy enough when a group of protesters attacked government offices in November, breaking its windows and windshield.

Deal breaker

New Zealand — LABOUR

After four months of industrial action, Auckland’s port has come up with a controversial strike-breaker: fire the workers. The port – which is owned by the Auckland Council – has been at loggerheads with unions seeking greater flexibility on working hours. When negotiations failed, the port made 292 workers redundant and outsourced its labour to contractors.

Swimming in murky waters

Solomon Islands — TRADE

The opposition leader of the Solomon Islands, Dr Derek Sikua, recently accused senior government officials of helping a criminal network export 200 tonnes of poached sea cucumbers worth up to €7.8m. Harvesting the seafood delicacy was banned three years ago when stock levels became unsustainable.

In January, police burned €1.5m-worth of illegally obtained sea cucumbers after a raid in Honiara. The resolution could come in the form of a new farming facility partially funded by the government of Japan, one of the delicacy’s biggest consumers.

Playing catch-up

Australia — INVESTMENT

Isolated out on the west coast, Perth has had a bone to pick with pesky east-coast upstarts such as Sydney and Melbourne for some time: why do they get all the attention when it’s Perth that keeps the economy buoyant with its lucrative mining industry?

They’re not standing for it anymore: the state capital has a new State Theatre, a nearly finished Entertainment Centre, a city rail line on the way and plans to spend AU$1bn (€787m) on a new football stadium.

“Investment in Perth is fundamental to our future – we are the fastest growing state in Australia,” says Debra Goostrey, CEO of the Western Australia division of the Urban Development Institute of Australia. However, she admits to downsides: “Congestion will increase, CBD commercial rents have now entered the top 10 most expensive in the world and managing housing affordability is key.”

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