Friday, June 26, 2009

A PNG Attitude

Young Jackson - aged 18, taken soon after arrival in PNG in November 1963
Keith Jackson with Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and Orange City councillor in Canberra, April 2009
Keith Jackson speaking in front of PNG flag as President of PNG Association of Australia, April 2008
Keith Jackson and Di Siune . Di, from Simbu, looked Jackson in his early PNG years. Photo from 1964
Charles Lepani (left) and Keith Jackson (right) at investiture into the Order of Logohu of Hal Holman OL on Feb 20, 2009
At the base camp at Lake Pindiu 11,000 ft on Mt Wilhelm, Easter 1964
As a returning officer taking votes in the bush south of Chuave in the first House of Assembly elections February 1964
An increasing number of Papua New Guineans and Australians are now turning to the ground-breaking PNG Attitude website ( and newsletter, two outlets with growing influence in both countries for their candid commentary on Australia-PNG affairs.
Both are published by former PNG-based teacher and journalist, Keith Jackson, 64, who is chairman of the Sydney-based public relations firm Jackson Wells.
He lived in PNG from age 18 to 31 and still feels a strong sense of commitment to the country and its people.
PNG Attitude offers a range of views on current Australia-PNG issues from contributors such as Paul Oates, Gelab Piak, Ilya Gridneff, Bernard Narokobi, Don Hook and many guest writers.
Mr Jackson is passionate about using communications processes to build closer relationships between the people of Australia and PNG.
He believes the political relationship has been neglected until recently, and that the civil relationship has a long way to go.
“We’re like a family that’s drifted apart,” Mr Jackson says.
“We need to do something about that, on both sides.”
He says he has some crucial questions he believes Australians want answered about PNG.
“I asked Sir Michael most of them a couple of months ago through an intermediary, but they obviously didn’t get to him.
“They’re questions Australians interested in PNG worry about.”
And what are Keith Jackson’s worrying questions that Australians would like to ask?
“We’re concerned about corruption, about public money going wrongly into private hands. Is this a serious problem? And if it is, what’s the Government doing about it.
“We’re concerned about violence. How safe would we be visiting PNG as tourists? How safe would we be living in PNG?
“It seems the public service is not really delivering for PNG. Rural infrastructure – health, education, basic services - is in bad shape and the people are not getting what they need. What’s the Government doing to fix this?
“We don’t know whether Australian budgetary support - $400 million this year - is being well spent. Can we get some assurance about this?
“Our aid agency, AusAID, spends a lot of the money Australia gives to PNG on consultants. How come these consultants are not delivering the services that are needed at the PNG grass roots?
“We’re not sure about the next generation of PNG politicians. Are they likely to be nation builders – and friendly towards Australia?
“The recent anti-Asian riots indicate a big problem for PNG. They seem to show that Papua New Guineans are being excluded from commerce in their own country. What’s going on?
“These are tough questions,” says Mr Jackson, “but, where I come from in the Australian bush they’d be considered fair. And they need to be answered.
“Why do they need to be answered? Because there’s an underlying suspicion amongst Australians who would be PNG’s best friends that there’s a lot going on that doesn’t smell right.
“You know, the Papua New Guinea Government doesn’t explain itself very well to the Australian people. It probably should. It should probably also explain itself to its own people.”
After finishing high school, Mr Jackson became a cadet education officer at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in 1962-63, arriving in PNG in November 1963 as an 18-year-old school teacher.
His first posting was as head teacher of the Kundiawa Primary A School, where he also established a local newspaper, the Kundiawa News, and became a correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, South Pacific Post and Pacific Islands Monthly.
After teaching for three years, he was transferred to Port Moresby as editor of school publications and, a year later, joined the ABC to write and produce broadcasts for PNG schools.
Mr Jackson left the ABC to join the PNG Government Broadcasting Service in 1970, managing Radio Rabaul and Radio Bougainville.
Around the time of Independence, he was appointed head of policy and planning in the new National Broadcasting Commission.
Reflecting on PNG’s impact on his life, he says: “I built my career in PNG, I married there, got my degree there, my first two kids were born there, and I made many, many friends.
“I retain a great affection for the country and its people.
“It’s in my blood.”
After leaving PNG in 1976, Mr Jackson developed broadcasting systems in Indonesia, the Maldives, India, the Philippines and Fiji.
Back in Australia, he established radio stations in Armidale and Sydney.
In 1983, he became a lecturer at ASOPA's successor, the International Training Institute, ending up as principal.
In 1985 he returned to the ABC as a general manager before establishing his company, Jackson Wells, in 1991.
“I left PNG but it never really left me,” Mr Jackson says.
“When you’re immersed in a different culture at a very young age, large bits of that culture stick. “One of the big bits of PNG culture that stuck with me was a strong desire to seek consensus.”
Mr Jackson has got the credentials and the awards.
His first degree was a BA in economics and political science from the University of Papua New Guinea and he went on to get a Graduate Diploma in Management from the University of New England.
He was awarded the PNG Independence Medal in 1976 and became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2004 for services to management and training in media, communications and public relations.
His interest in PNG remains undiminished.
He was president of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA) in 2008-2009 and is currently working on a number of projects related to PNG.
After helping to establish New Dawn FM in Bougainville Mr Jackson continues to work with its manager, Aloysius Laukai, on its news website.
He’s chairman of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee.
He’s working on a project to recognise the work of kiaps in PNG.
And he’s trying to get books about PNG history into PNG schools.
“PNG has a rich and proud history,” Mr Jackson says.
“There are books that tell that history.
“They are not in the schools.
“They should be.”

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