It seems PNGAA is now at the crossroads
16 January 2009
Rotorua. Let no one tell you any differently: New Zealand is the great escape and New Zealanders are the great escapees. Now to business. Margaret Komarek, a contributing PNGAA committee member, has asked where now for the Association [see Recent Comments]. Well, when the committee next meets in Sydney on Sunday 1 February, that question should be top of its agenda. One thing’s for sure, committee members know where I stand on the question.
The ‘old guard’ committee members will have to decide whether they are builders or wreckers, because I don’t think there’s any plausible position in between. They also have to decide whether it’s proper for them to continue to adopt a position that essentially denies the Association a future.
It is worth noting that the ‘new guard’ committee members see themselves as both protectors and builders. Through initiatives under my presidency such as the History and Scholarship Committee and advocacy of projects such as Kiap Recognition and the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, mechanisms have been created to protect and strengthen the recognition and maintenance of Australia’s historical connections with Papua New Guinea.
In addition, of course, the ‘new guard’ is also looking to the future – a dimension in which the ‘old guard’ seems not the least interested. The future involves redirecting the PNGAA, partly so it can take upon itself the role of contributing to Australia’s civil relationship with PNG. The ‘old guard’ – for reasons I shall explore at a later time – do not want a bar of today’s PNG. For example, when the Oro raffle was held recently, many of these members returned their unsold tickets as a protest gesture. A few even made sure the tickets were accompanied with derogatory remarks about PNG. This is the ilk of some of these members.
The schismatic behaviour of the ‘old guard’ (which I believe represents a rump of no more than 5-10 percent of the total PNGAA membership of 1,600) represents a serious problem for the Association. I doubt whether the committee can sort this out at its 1 February meeting. It is more likely that the matter will have to be resolved as a result of the next PNGAA election due in April.
A note about the conduct of this election. As president, I was advocating that, unlike in the past, future elections should be conducted by a postal vote of members. The proxy arrangements employed hitherto are totally incompatible with a fairly contested election. A significant right of membership must be the right to vote and this right should be positively affirmed and pursued by the committee for each and every individual member.
So the committee stands on the threshold of deciding whether or not it wants the Association to be in the vanguard of a new civil relationship between Australia and PNG or to be just a bunch of old fogeys fretting about the past. The meeting on Sunday 1 February will give us a strong indication of where the PNGAA is really headed.
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