Between 2012 and 2019, two prominent themes in the bilateral relationship between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Australia were gender equality and the Australian offshore asylum seeker Regional Processing Centre (RPC) on Manus. Australia reopened the Manus Island detention centre under a new arrangement while simultaneously ramping up its support for programs to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) and enhance women’s empowerment in PNG. Both issues received substantial Australian aid and were the subject of numerous Australian media articles.
Using a variety of analytical concepts to examine media representations of the Manus RPC, this paper finds an analytical synergy between feminist critical discourse analysis and Regis Stella’s ‘Imagining the Other’ approach to studying the PNG subject. Through this lens, the paper examines 277 Australian media reports over this period and analyses how the Australian media reported on these two shifts in Australian development aid and the bilateral relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It finds that the Australian media tells a story of a shift away from framing Australia as a paternalistic helper to redress GBV in PNG towards an increasing weaponisation of alleged sexual assaults of Manus women and girls in Australian political discourse. These findings also raise new important policy and conceptual questions for understanding the implications for media coverage of PNG and Pacific people.