Prime Minister Scott Morrison is fond of describing Papua New Guinea as “family”. He did so recently when announcing Australia’s assistance with PNG’s COVID-19 outbreak.
The urgent support for PNG in the form of vaccines, testing kits, medical personnel and training was “in Australia’s interests”, Morrison said, because it threatens the health of Australians, “but equally our PNG family who are so dear to us”.
These familial bonds are “born of history and geography”. PNG is Australia’s closest neighbour. Only 4 kilometres separate the two countries in the Torres Strait, a fluid border that has been redefined numerous times (most recently in 1985). It is currently closed due to the COVID outbreak.
But what about the long histories Australia and PNG’s share? The fluid border acknowledges ancient, unbroken Indigenous connections.
This history is deep, fraught, complex and the very foundation for the present relationship. This past needs considered attention now to strengthen ties at this pivotal time and in the future.