The Pacific wants money, not “gifts”
My favorite grandson, Asher, openly told me at the age of 8 what he doesn’t craving for her Christmas present. “Please don’t give me a wool sweater, they’re so rough!” It was an unusual answer to the question of what he did want to. When I asked him how he would react if he had received the wool sweater, he replied that he would thank me, but only out of politeness as his mother had asked.
Gifts are a tricky area. One Christmas day, I gave my wife a beautifully wrapped copy of the Norfolk Island telephone directory. After unpacking this very thin booklet, she asked me for an explanation.
Hugging her in my arms, I said, ‘Honey! You’re so unique, I thought I’d buy you a present that no other woman in this whole country would get for Christmas!’
I watched her smile turn into a menacing frown and – in case she felt like stabbing me with the letter-opening knife she was holding – I quickly gave her another gift of paper-wrapped jewelry. of Christmas.
You need to do your homework on gifts and make sure they meet the recipient’s basic desires.
So what have the Samoans done to Australia that justifies us giving them another Guardian Patrol boat as a gift when it is of no use to them?
In 1976, Australia donated the $6.5 million ferry Queen Salamasina in Samoa. This ‘gift’, designed and built in Dillingham, Western Australia, had too deep a draft to approach within 200 meters of the Mulifanua ferry terminal. I was there at the arrival ceremony, and enraged Prime Minister Tui Ātua Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi demanded that Australian High Commissioner Allan Deacon take him back and give the money to Samoa instead. Deacon persuaded the prime minister to give him six weeks to sort out the problem, and within four weeks Deacon was posted to the Middle East.
This Queen Salamasina has become a cornerstone of the economy around the necks of Samoa’s 200,000 people, as detailed in Denis Gallagher’s recent book Shoes and Ships and Scotland.
Three years ago Australia gave Samoa a Guardian patrol boat Nafanua 11 – a lean monohull designed and built in Western Australia with exposed propellers and rudders on either side of the keel, absolutely useless for access to small South Pacific ports which are mostly lined with coral outcroppings and easily damaged. After a $2 million Australian taxpayer exercise that brought him by submersible barge back to Cairns, he was classed as a total write-off.
Just turning on the 2 x 2,000 kW Guardian-class track-propelled patrol boats has a negative effect on the GDP of these 13 beneficiary countries, where diesel now costs almost $3 a litre. Thus, patrolling each of their economic zones of approximately 125,000 square miles is generally unacceptable for their strict budgets and most of the time these ships sit idle.
Does anyone from DFAT visit and ask these South Pacific countries what they need? Or are these bureaucrats still locked up and ‘pretending’ to work from home while watching old gunboat diplomacy movies like sand pebbles?
Only the former prime minister of Fiji and former brigadier in charge of the Fiji Defense Force, Sitiveni Rabuka, had the audacity to tell Australia in 2002 at the Interferry conference on the Gold Coast:
“Please don’t treat us like beggars and give us a boat that carries 14 people and a gun. When I have hundreds of people stranded on a beach after a cyclone or tsunami, I need a handy vessel that can transport and land ambulances, medical aid, bulldozers, etc.
Although the press covered Rabuka’s speech extensively, that did not stop the flow of “gifts” from patrol boats to our brothers in the South Pacific.
With the usual condescending attitude, our Foreign Secretary, Penny Wong, said on her first visit to Samoa: “We are giving you another Guardian-class patrol boat as a gift.” The inexperienced Minister Wong should have added, “Or is there something else you would prefer?” The Samoans, like all other island nations in the South Pacific, would have responded quickly, as they have a very good knowledge of the types of ships that work, but are too gracious to reject this unwanted gift.
Australia has a history of imposing inappropriate “gifts” in the South Pacific. This is partly why the Chinese had easy entry into all these nations by asking, “What would you like?” despite the questionable underlying terms and conditions.
Years ago I spent a hilarious evening in Vanuatu with agricultural and civil engineering consultants where we swapped stories of inappropriate Australian gifts and came to the conclusion that Canberra should be renamed ‘Fort Fumble’.
Watching two high-profile media personalities on TV discuss the Solomon Islands’ “ungrateful attitude” towards Australian aid donations on TV last month had me jumping to my laptop and sending them a quick lesson in point of view of the maritime industry. Our lazy media should let go and make fact-finding visits.
My other favorite grandsons are well organized by carefully naming their gift preferences writing down exact specifications including color, size, serial or model numbers, knowing that I will stay within their guidelines. Maybe there are job openings at DFAT for 13- and 15-year-old boys who are already very gift-savvy…
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