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Reprising the future of the PNGAA

First of all, my apologies, dear Reader, for the deep silence that has prevailed on this site for a week now. It has not been a Scroogelike sullenness with the Season, I assure you. I love this time of the year. No, the total scarcity of information has been due to the strangeness of a Christmas spent - for the first time in many years - away from home. In the depths of the Barossa, as it happens, where the reds are as big as ever.

One thing I have been doing on the Internet, though, is corresponding with a PNGAA member who is concerned about changes in the Association. Without disclosing his name or his private correspondence, I want to share with you my response to his most recent communication. It follows:

Thank you for you most recent letter. While I don’t want to unnecessarily protract our correspondence, I hope this response may help clarify some of the issues you raise.

I tried to forward you a copy of [Parliamentary Secretary Duncan] Kerr’s address, but from my current location in the backblocks of South Australia, Mr Trujillo’s Bigpond seems just as unwilling to bear the burden of Mr Kerr’s words as some of our members were at the Christmas lunch, so their transmission will have to await my return to Sydney.

When you eventually do receive the transcript, you will find it is all about the current Government’s policy towards PNG and the Pacific and the Government’s activities to implement that policy. There is nothing of a more general political nature about the “achievements of the Rudd Government during its first twelve months in Office”. I think it is, by and large, a straightforward account of a program of Australia's current approach to PNG policy – a subject in which both Mr Kerr and I thought our members might be interested.

There was no sense in which a guest speaker was “(introduced) without consultation”. The matter was discussed in committee, with no objection, and it was advertised to members without any objection. A record number or people turned up on the day knowing that Kerr would speak. Some objected to his speech, others were complimentary. At previous PNGAA functions, I have from time to time found speakers tedious and hard going, but I have always accepted this as part of the life of a listener. I would not dream of behaving as a small number of our members did on Sunday 7 December.

Now to what is a most important part of your letter – change in the PNGAA.

You argue that change is being introduced in “haste” and that the changes “are unpopular with an identifiable section of our members” who “will certainly leave the Association unless you are more moderate in your approach”.

First of all, I must say that so far there has been little change in our Association under my presidency. What there has been is discussion of change in order to establish whether a consensual view can emerge of the direction in which the PNGAA ought to head so it can survive as an active and sustainable organisation.

In this respect there seems, in the case of a small group of members, to have been more subversive indignation to the canvassing of ideas than there has been a substantive and open response that would be more helpful in fashioning the future of our Association. You have been a notable exception to this.

The two major, real changes (most of the other stuff is housekeeping) I am keen to see members accept when they vote on the constitution next April are:

[1] To vary the PNGAA’s objectives to accommodate a few existing activities not presently included in the constitution and to add “strengthening the Australia-PNG relationship” to the Association’s goals. Some members have objected to this latter proposition and I can’t see why. It seems to be self-evident.

As young men and women, we spent many years engaged in building and strengthening that relationship, perhaps without adequate recognition as you suggest, and there seems no good reason why that wonderful tradition shouldn’t continue in another form.

I don’t see why the heritage that we and our predecessors worked to create in PNG should die with us. PNG was an important part of our lives – and, for many of us, it continues to loom large in how we think of ourselves and our careers, no matter what we may have done since. I want our Association to articulate this.

[2} The other big proposed change is to establish branches in States and Territories where local PNGAA members wish to do so, thus potentially making the Association stronger and more active by rendering its governance and its activities less Sydney-centric and giving it a greater ability to recruit new members from regions where these branches may be formed.

For the life of me, I cannot see anything ‘immoderate’ in these proposals. They seem to me to be pretty straightforward. And, remember, they remain as proposals and no more than that until the membership endorses or rejects them through a democratic vote.

Let me now canvass a few of the other initiatives the Association has taken since I’ve been President and you tell me whether any of them are other than ‘moderate’ or reasonable:

-- A stronger sub-committee system has been established to broaden the Association’s activities, bring more focus on achieving its stated objectives and involve more members in its operations. It is intended that these sub-committees will increasingly drive the PNGAA’s efforts to better cater for the needs and interests of members.

-- The Association has consulted widely with members throughout Australia about constitutional change. A number of ideas - some better than others - have been canvassed and the best ones will be put to members to decide whether or not to adopt them.

-- We undertook a major fundraiser, the ‘Oro raffle’, to support a well-managed and worthy PNG rural development project and raised a net $9,000 in a very short time frame. We want to make this a forerunner for other similar ventures.

-- The PNGAA website went through a process of substantial improvement in structure, content and interactivity. It will increasingly become an important part of the Association’s offerings to members and others.

-- The PNGAA has thrown its weight behind moves to ask the Australian Government to officially recognise the contribution of kiaps to the development of PNG and will do the same for other professional groups and individuals as the opportunity arises.

-- We have initiated a small task force to ensure that the sinking of Montevideo Maru in 1942 – Australia's worst maritime disaster – is properly recognised and commemorated.

-- We have begun a more energetic process of recruiting more members to the Association, resulting in an increase in membership of 5% in the past year compared with 1% and 0.5% in the two previous years.

-- The History and Scholarship Sub-Committee is planning to embark on a major project to identify and register documents and other material of historical interest in members’ private collections that should not be lost to posterity.

-- Moves have been initiated to better align the activities of the PNGAA with other PNG-related organisations such as the Wantoks Club and the Australia-PNG Business Council.

-- The PNG Relations Sub-Committee is engaging with small, non-business, non-government providers of assistance to PNG to facilitate and support these activities. We have already put a number of individuals and organisations in touch with other providers to strengthen the delivery of services in PNG.

There have been other initiatives, but these will do for starters. In addition, I would like to see many more Papua New Guineans resident in Australia join our Association and I would like to see the PNGAA able to persuade the Australian Government, no matter who’s running it, to give greater recognition to those people who left Australia to work in and help develop PNG and who did such a magnificent job, such that today – despite everything else that has transpired – it remains a united and democratic country. I would like the Australian Government, on behalf of the Australian people, to recognise what fine work their countrymen and women did in PNG.

But mainly I want to see the PNGAA continue as an organisation that respects the past and is able to operate productively in the future.

I do not see that there are ‘two types of members’. There is one type of member: the type who will share the new objectives of our Association and who will work to see them achieved.

That’s what I’m working for, and that’s what I will continue to work for.

My personal best wishes to you.



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