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How Oz gave PNG the wrong political system


PHIL FITZPATRICK, perhaps having murdered an Asiatic or two in some long-past life, seems to be encumbered with some slight traces of the autocratic eccentricities of view which I myself maintain.

He says: "I was on the point of responding to John Fowke’s provocative article on the Westminster system by suggesting that what is missing in PNG are two opposing ideologies – socialism versus capitalism."

This was the point I have so long attempted to make both in PNG Attitude and in several other places: in egalitarian TP&NG there were no landless, no exploited social classes or subordinate hereditary castes, no tied farmers obliged to hand over half their produce to the exploitative, hereditary "squire" or "Lord of the Manor."

Thus there were no existing "parties" of dominant or of exploited subordinate interests needing representation and redress. There were only one or two small, peripheral societies where a hereditary system of chieftainship prevailed.

Tribes and clans were strongly opposed one to the other in their interest towards self-preservation and the keeping and extension of land-based resources, and it was this common interest, expressed in guarded suspicion and occasionally in violent confrontation, which drove natural communal politics and social management here.

The concept of occupation/class/inheritance-based politics, as in the British style, was adopted throughout the Empire/Commonwealth. The British way being assumed to be the best, was entirely redundant for this reason.

It had no anchor or points of focus or foundation in need in post-war TP&NG, where land and the burial-places of the ancestors were the basis of all action and motivation of a socio-political nature.

As I have laboured to point out for some years past, the pre-existing local level governments, the successors of the earlier local government councils - if tied to a fully-enfranchised society electing democratised versions of the then-existing District Advisory Councils and the Legislative Council - would have provided a socially-relevant, grassroots-located, fully-understood basis for the political pathway of the new, free nation. But it was not to be thus. As we know.

The attempt, post-independence, to make PNG politics more relevant - while done in a clumsy, hasty, inchoate way, as seen in the rise of Provincial Government with all its well-known faults - reflected a deep discomfort with the separation of politics from land and thus from as ples, custom, tradition, and so from the understanding of the mass of the people.

This has foundered on the reef of the greed of an opportunistic and well-educated minority elite who are able to pull the wool over the eyes of the great mass of poorly-educated and politically naïve. These men have no conscience.

PNG's two original political parties arose simply as representatives of the educated, young, ambitious citizen on one hand – the Pangu Pati - and the conservative, cautious and "don’t rush it" sentiments of the majority - the National Party.

But from then on the parties simply became vehicles for the ambitious and manipulative - and in a great many cases the selfish and less-than-honest.

These people entered a sort of upper echelon, an aristocracy within which the power and the wealth of the nation is accumulated and dispensed in an increasingly hegemonic and uncontrolled way.

Party based politics, whether of the parliamentary or the presidential-executive style, were like oil in water in the pond of PNG society. They did not mix.

And they have never been at all well-understood, either, allowing a ceiling of great opacity to arise dividing the controlling political aristocracy from the increasingly-long-suffering and exploited ordinary citizen.

Thus the party-system of politics has introduced into what was perhaps the most egalitarian of societies existing, worldwide, 60 years ago, the same conditions of exploitation and unfairness which gave rise to the slow stirring and ultimate creation of party-based politics.

A political system aimed to dislodge an entrenched, existing and exploitative aristocracy in Europe, a process taking some six centuries from around 1350 AD.


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Papua Tauna

PNG has the wrong political system. Papua needs to be given autonomy to rule itself like Bougainville.

The Australian government miserably failed to ask Papua whether it wants to join with New Guinea or not.

No national referendum was held and Papua has suffered as a result of this.

The new generations of Papua will fight for its freedom from New Guinea.

Peter Kranz

Reg and other contributors, please be aware that certain people are cutting and pasting comments from this and other websites and sending them as 'emails to the editor' of the PNG newspapers.

I was surprised to see one of my comments on PNG Attitude reproduced as a letter to the Post-Courier yesterday. I did not do this, and it was without my knowledge or permission. In fact the published email contacts for the PC do not work.

This has happened to some of Reg's comments as well. One story of mine which was published by the SMH some time ago was reproduced holus bolus by the Sunday Chronicle as if it was their story.

Maybe this is flattering (at least they are reading PNG Attitude), but it is a bit naughty that they pretend these are 'letters to the editor' or original articles when they are not.

Post Courier and other PNG journos and editors please note: this is dishonest.

As proof that the Post Courier email addresses don't work, here is the latest response: "This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification. Delivery to the following recipients failed - [email protected]"

Melvin Jensen

I have seen what has happened and is happening, and have mapped out where to from here. After 35 years of independence from Australia, I find myself thinking more and more about what it has contained – sifting through its moments, finding the messages, looking at the big picture.

I travelled several times and engaged with the people of Papua New Guinea – with most communities and networks stretching across the vast wild wilderness of this great land ours, rich with natural resources.

It touches my heart deeply and brings me sadness every day from what I’ve experienced and witnessed. The experiences I will never forget: nursing frail, malnourished babies; giving children their only meal of the day into a tattered coconut bowl brought from school to home. What do they eat at the weekends? I asked. I was met with blank looks.

Although reports on the status of the PNG children are deeply disturbing, characterised by deprivation and injustice, sadly diminishing my heart bit by bit as feel I should do something about it to make a difference for the people of PNG.

Papua New Guinea today is full of wanderers – the victims of conflict and intolerance; the displaced and dispossessed; lives engulfed in darkness and despair. People in PNG are experiencing the violation of their human rights. These rights – to freedom, security, equality, integrity of mind and person – articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “that human beings shall enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination.”

I have a very fond memories of speaking to a group of young people at the National Student Leadership Forum in PNG and their enthusiasm and strong desire to learn were inspirational and left me with great optimism about future leaders.

I cannot help thinking how very different is the world in which I grew up compared with today; with its complexities, its frantic pace; its excitement and its challenges. In a world of changing conditions and priorities, we humans as leaders and individual contributors must be able to look beyond the "now" and take a more strategic leadership approach to our work.

[Much of the next part of Melvin's comment was copied at length and without attribution from]

All of the above is my big concern and I don't think the past PNG leaders have this skills and abilities to do the job and hope some educated people should wake up and call for help as myself

Contributors should always acknowledge material derived from other sources and not present it as their own work - KJ.

Reginald Renagi

Melvin - I fully agree with you and PNG would have a very affluent, just and a fair society today. PNG would be the "Big Melanesian' and be a big influential player in this part of the regional neighbourhood.

Today PNG is still not a united country after 35 years of political independence. The country is still very much divided. Many provinces still think and behave in their own very primitive and savage ways, as if they are the only province in PNG.

Many of these people have drifted into the urban centres. They bring with them their own tribal mentality and, in recent times, several ethnic clashes have flared up in the streets of Port Moresby and elsewhere in the country.

These people still have to learn to improve their attitudes towards others, and learn to live like civilised human beings in a modern settings of an urban environment.

If PNG became independent today, it would have developed a good system of politics and government to ensure the country was properly governed.

PNG would have turned out better to be one of the leading Pacific countries like Australia and New Zealand with a more educated and civilised citizenry and society.

Melvin Jensen

Australia made a very big mistake to let PNG get independence too soon.

It could have waited untill today and slowly let us take over, because the western way is not our tribal way of doing things. It is the white man's way of doing things and they have grown with it.

It will take alot of time for the black man to understand all it comes with.

Today the majority of tribal village people and the majority that live in the city are uneducated to function and live life like western developed world.

It is very said to see my people suffer and I must do something about it quickly.

Melvin Jensen

Thank you, Reginald and Bernard, for your helpful feedback and your knowledge of the PNG political system.

Reginald Renagi

Good stuff, Melvin. Lets hear more from you.

What Bernard is saying is true. Money can become an obstacle for anyone trying to get into public office.

Bernard Yegiora

Melvin - Good dream. Hope you have a lot of money because PNG politics is all about money.

People can say they will vote for you, but in the final hours while waiting in line to cast their vote they can easily be lured by a K100 note to vote for another candidate.

I am referring to those uneducated people in the rural areas. Make sure you have a good strategy before going into battle.

Melvin Jensen

I have been fortunate enough to be raised by a European mum and dad in the “Australian western way of life” premised on modern ideas of PNG culture and western culture.

These presume that the present governance arrangements in Australia are not only correct and proper but they are not in need of major reform.

Mum and Dad gave me different chores that had to be done every day: make my bed, feed the chooks, chop firewood, water the fruit trees, set the dinner table, and so on.

I was taught what was right and what was wrong and there were no "ifs" and "buts" about it. It was all very simple.

There was a sense of caring, of long term commitment to family, school, district, state, and country. There was also compassion and a willingness to help those around us.

Neighbourhood contact was frequent and warm. My school cadet instructors were wonderful men; firm, fair, friendly and great leaders of we teenage boys. I came to be School Captain because of their influence on me.

I mention these things at some length, not because I want to revert back to those years, far from it, but to emphasise that my parents, teachers, cadet instructors and the clergy helped instil in me a code of values and a sense of responsibility by which I've tried to lead my life and certainly helped me develop as a fair human being for a future leadership role in PNG.

The code of values is enhanced if a spiritual dimension is involved. I firmly believe that man has bestowed within him a special quality, called the spirit, a divine spark which makes us different, animates us and most importantly, is the anchor point for our fundamental morality.

It is this that provides the certainty of knowing the difference between right and wrong, from where we have come, and ultimately (at death), whence we are going.

But this spirit (essentially the spirit of love), implanted at birth, like a young seed, needs careful nurturing; water, fertiliser, sun and weed control in the case of the seed; family love, caring schools and church direction in the case of the spirit. Without the essential nurturing, it is very difficult for the spirit to be released, to grow and be itself.

Today I believe that those codes of values helped instil in me a special sense of responsibility to contest for a future leadership role in PNG to direct, manage and inspire people into a western democracy system.

PNG's past political leaders managed the country on what they knew best. It was a huge step for a PNG national to be a leader in the western world way of life. I don’t blame them for what the country has become today, they just did what they knew best.

They were also abused, fooled and lied to by westerners and left confused on how to govern the country.

I believe that because I was nurtured while young to fully understand western democracy this will make me a good leader. I have courage – physical and moral, professional expertise, compassion and caring, personal example, a sense of humour, the capacity to communicate, and
the capacity to listen.

I am currently organising my platfrom to get to public office, to present my views and researches and make a speech for the whole nation.

Reginald Renagi

Melvin - Are you of European descent? First you have to be a PNG citizen to run for public office.

What will be your political platform for the 2012 national general elections?

Melvin Jensen

I am a 34 year old civil engineering design drafter and civil construction surveyor here in Brisbane. I have been fortunate enough to be raised by European parents since I was six and educated through to what I am now.

Since I was in high school I wanted to become prime minister of PNG and my dream still is alive.

I have done numerous researches to put into my political speech, which I would like to put it across to the nation.

I know why PNG is confused, abused and used left behind by the rest of the world.

To my view PNG can be fixed and they need a few people like me to acrifice what they have here in Australia to help the country where they come from.

Reginald Renagi

Rod - PNG does not have to exactly copy the US presidential system because that is not possible.

The country and its future leaders, along with good collaboration with its people, need to try and work out a good system by learning what's good.

We can try to borrow a few good ideas here and there to modify our own political system for the local context.

PNG can borrow the good points of the Westminster system from the UK, and of the Australian, NZ, Canadian and US systems, plus those of other western democracies.

It can incorporate some of them as part of its long-term political reform process.

I am confident that, over time, PNG will have a good basic configuration of a 'homegrown' system.

The new system should not be too complicated and unwieldy, but one that will ensure the country is properly governed with certain inbuilt oversight mechanisms to provide the required checks and balances.

This should go a long way to see PNG adhere to good strong governance, transparency and accountability to its democratic institutions and citizens.

This will make PNG develop into a better Christian nation and a fair and just society from its brutal and savage past.

This is not asking too much, is it?

Reginald Renagi

What PNG now needs is a simple political concept. A good practical system that effectively holds all the different regional groupings of people together.

The next good government (hopefully) must try to do this even if it takes PNG 200 years to achieve this end-state. This will make PNG a strong country rather than the fragile fragmented nation it is now. But first, PNG need some major political reforms.

First, we start by reducing the number of political parties in parliament. At last count before the 2007 national elections, there were over fifty political parties, some were two men groupings.

Maybe four or no more than five political parties at the most may be ideal in future. The parties will have to have, by law, a certain number of women members they can field as political candidates during elections so we do have some fair representation of women MPs in parliament.

In future, Parliament needs to have an upper and lower house. This will address the full range of issues that do not get properly attended to now.

It will avoid what is happening now with the ruling coalition bulldozing all matters through parliament without any serious debate at all, and disallowing on many occasions the opposition to voice the real concerns of the people.

Importantly, the next Prime Minister must also be elected by the people and not within parliament by the MPs themselves.

The present system allows many little factional groups in parliament who are very biased picking their own favourite person (already predetermined in secret talks between certain party groupings) as the next PM.

This is done in a secret ballot voting process, so is not very representative of the people's choice for a PM.

This way the citizen can get the most suitable person who they can trust and think of as the best qualified leader to properly run PNG in future.

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