I am always happy to return to Port Moresby. Papua New Guinea is my second home.
But it’s never felt better than it did a few weeks ago when I walked out of the airport, looked at the clear blue sky and took a deep breath of clean, fresh air.
This is because I had flown here from what was, at the time, the most polluted city in the world.
A grey, sooty city shrouded in thick, toxic smoke.
A city by the name of Canberra.
The smoke came, of course, from the massive bushfires that have been raging all over Australia. More than 10 million hectares of land have already been burnt– that’s an area the size of England – and they’ve taken around a billion animals with them. Lives have been lost, together with thousands of homes, towns have been emptied, businesses have shut down, and hundreds of roads have been closed.
It’s unbelievably shocking and sad, and what’s worse is that summer’s just getting started. Australians have been told to brace themselves for the possibility that the worse is yet to come.
At times like these you need your friends, and I’m glad to say that we have plenty. Firefighters from Canada, New Zealand and the United States have already flown to our aid, while France, Fiji, Singapore, Vanuatu and Singapore are providing operational support.
And our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is doing its part. I was so touched to see that the PNG Defence Force has sent in more than 100 soldiers – mostly engineers, to lend a hand. They are helping to get the country up and running again by clearing debris from bridges and roads and supporting communities to recover.
Prime Minister Marape has also set up a national Fire Appeal Secretariat for the country he describes as PNG’s “closest friend”, and many ordinary Papua New Guineans have been quick to respond, donating money and offering words of friendship, support and prayers.
On behalf of my fellow Australians, I want to say ‘thank you’.
It’s a wonderful example of international neighbourliness, and of exactly how and why development partnerships benefit all. Sometimes we are the donors and at other times the recipients of aid.
Quite apart from broader considerations like trade, defence and bio-security, the simple fact is that nations that work together tend to be nations that stick together – and nations that help each other out when there’s a crisis at hand.
With the changing climate, uncertain economy and ever looming threat of new wars, the world can seem like a rather unsettling place. As we enter this new decade it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by global problems, and feel that, as individuals, there’s nothing much we can do.
The key, I think, is to remember that we’re not just individuals – we’re all members of communities, we’re all citizens of countries, and we all have families, colleagues and friends. We all have influence, whether we know it or not, and when we work together, we have even more.
As the famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead once said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Partnerships are more important than ever. Let’s start the decade with that in mind.
Happy New Year.