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Hey Mr Somare, have we got a deal for you!


WHETHER PAPUA NEW GUINEA was ready to govern itself in 1975 is a moot point really.  It had been governing itself for thousands of years already.

The question was rather whether it was prepared to centralise its government in the same way as Australia and other western countries so that it could be dealt with on their terms rather than its own.

It needed some form of government to avoid being prey to the outside world, Indonesia in particular, but there were plenty of alternatives.

In that sense, the form of self-government and independence being foisted on it by Australia was a trap into which Michael Somare and the Pangu Pati willingly fell.

So why did the founding fathers fall into the pit so easily?  They were certainly well aware of alternatives and discussed them at great length.  Joe Nombri, whose brain was considered dangerous and who had been banished to the wilds of the Western District, often discussed alternatives when we shared a house in Kiunga.

I occasionally saw Ebia Olewale in Daru and he told me the same thing.  Later, so did Sinaka Goava in Port Moresby.  I don’t know about Tony Voutas but I know that Barry Holloway canvassed several different scenarios.  And Michael Somare knew Tom Mboya of Kenya well.

Tom Mboya was a moderate whose views were generally acceptable to the Australian government.  He toured Papua New Guinea in 1964 as a guest of Australian prime minister John Gorton.

Mboya said in an article, These are our Brothers, in 1965 that “the development of a strong political party and trade union movement [in PNG] is a matter of urgency.  It is something which must be initiated and run by the Papuans themselves but trade unions in Australia can play a bigger part”.  He was, in effect, advocating a form of socialism for Papua New Guinea.

Charles (Ceb) Barnes, the Minister for Territories, didn’t have a problem with this and neither did Gorton.  Barnes thought that Mboya’s criticisms were much more constructive than both those of the United Nations and the Australian intelligentsia in Port Moresby.

John Guise was such a fan of Mboya that he started to dress like him.  Paulus Arek was another fan.  So the alternatives were there for the choosing.

I can only think of two reasons why Pangu didn’t take up the challenge.  The first is the cargo cult mentality of “we want what you’ve got”.  If we adopt the Australian system we’ll become rich like you!

The idea worked for a few individuals, like Somare himself, but not for the people of PNG as a whole.  What Pangu and the founding fathers seemed to forget was that you needed a sound economic base and all the social trappings and equities that go with it before the Westminster system could really come into its own.

That’s why it’s been floundering for all these years in Papua New Guinea – the environment has just never been right.  Perhaps Somare believed that he could create these conditions fairly quickly; a view that seems fairly fantastical in retrospect.

The other reason is laziness; pure and simple.  Not only laziness on the part of the Australian administration for not exploring viable alternatives but also laziness on the part of the founding fathers for accepting what they were given.

The administration probably knew that the government in Canberra, with Gorton gone, would be unlikely to condone any deviation from their own system without a fight because of the bogey man of communism.

But what about Whitlam?  He was a committed socialist was he not?  Perhaps he feared the wrath of the USA if he set up a socialist state on his doorstep like the USSR was suggesting.

But that should have been a red rag to a bull, so why didn’t Somare go after it?  Was it just too hard or wasn’t there enough in it for him?  Or did he not understand it?  Perhaps he didn’t have the fight in him after all.

It’s all too late now of course.  Globalisation is entrenched in the world and the big multinationals have almost absolute power.  Theory aside, the practical Westminster system of 1975 is a far cry from the practical Westminster system of 2013.

But these are questions which need to be answered?  Joe Nombri, Ebia Olewale, Sinaka Goava, Barry Holloway, John Guise and Paulus Arek and the others are now all gone and have taken their secrets to the grave.

Will Michael Somare come clean one day soon and provide those answers?  I doubt it.  They might damage his already shaky legacy.

And don’t we know that it’s the Melanesian Way never to admit your mistakes, in public at least.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

No disrespect of Michael Somare is intended in the article.

What he did required tremendous determination and courage. No one can take that away from him. The backbone that he displayed in the 1970s is sorely needed in PNG today.

The aberrations of the last couple of years can probably be put down to age and cynicism.

In his quiet moments he must be completely outraged that no one else was able to carry his vision further.

It would be great to hear his take on the last 37 years and where he thinks PNG is going.

William Dunlop

True talk

Jasap Gaiwep

I personally salute Sir Michael Somare. If it was not for him and Pangu Pati, PNG will be just like West Papua or New Caledonia.

Our Melanesian neighbours are still governed by foreign powers and are slaves in their own land. What are Australia, New Zealand, USA and the UN doing about this issue?

I am glad I have the freedom to be educated in an institution of higher learning and be able to write a comment here.

I only wish people who smear the name of this great man should have been around during his younger days and greatest political career as Chief Minister.

The comments by Kela Kapkora clearly demonstrate that he will not respect to even smack his own father. The current government was formed by power hungery political thieves who stormed into the GG's house and threatened him to sign papers to approve a government of the day.

The prime minister of the present government must serve time at Bomana gaol together with the Leader of the Opposition.

To be specific, Peter O'Neill, Belden Namah and Michael Ogio must serve time in jail for disobeying a Supreme Court Order. Full stop!

Michael Dom


Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

All through his political life, Somare seemed to act mostly on impulse and not on rationality. Anyway, he was at the right place at the right time to land himself the accolades he is given today.

There are some people who equally deserved praise but Somare hoarded it for himself and henchmen like Matane.

Anyhow, he has done more damage than good to the people of PNG and their heritage. Now, he is a rat in the O'Neill camp.

He has to put his tail between his legs in this current camp forever because if he wants to chest beat again, of course they will dent his legacy.

Don Tapio

I would concur with Harry and Phil, two ex-kiaps spot on in their assessment.

Even if Genghis Khan himself walked into parliament with a proposal to make PNG the next America in 10 years, 90% of the MPs would not know who he is.

Education of the masses (and the MPs) is a start.

It is in the natural order of 'growing up'.

Hopefully a positive shift in the illiteracy rate will cause a general change in our lazy attitudes and superstitious mindsets which in turn will allow us to comprehend the finer aspects of governance, accountability etc.

Meanwhile we can write about it for the masses to read when they eventually can.

Phil Fitzpatrick

It is curious why PNG wasn't encouraged to include an upper house in the mix. I have a vague memory about it being discussed and seem to remember that the idea was considered too complex for people to understand. Dumb reasoning at its worst.

It is left wing and centre left orthodoxy that the establishment of a single centralised state and the creation of a ruling elite in a non-communist state, as has occurred in PNG, creates the ideal environment for capitalists and multinationals, like resource developers and globalists, to exploit the ordinary people.

Another orthodoxy is that democracy is impossible without a universal and comprehensive system of education.

Add to that the theory, which was well known at the time, that unicameral parliaments create ideal conditions for corruption and the mix becomes really fatal.

And I think I disagree with those commentators who say that this is history and water under the bridge and we should be thinking only of the present.

I am a firm believer in the adage that if you don't know your history you just keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

And there's nothing wrong with being a lapun kiap as the academics would have it. Perhaps if the kiaps had been left alone to organise it all things would be very different now.

Harry Topham

Phil - A couple of points or perhaps pints?

The Westminster system of government only functions effectively if there is some form of house of review or senate in place to provide the necessary accountability factors through associated checks and balances provided by such bicameral arrangements.

I think that the Whitlam government’s decision to grant PNG early independence was based upon pragmatic rather than altruistic motives as the Australian government of the time was concerned about being dragged into trying to resolve the insurrections issues occurring in the Gazelle and Bougainville and wanted out.

The later PNG government’s decision to create provincial government status was also flawed as the there was not enough trial time given to bench testing the previous Area Authority system which formed the nucleus of the introduced provincial government system.

Tingting bilong wanpela lapun ex kiap.

Bernard Yegiora

Thank you Phil, a wonderful piece.

Rob Parer

Hopefully Gabriel Ramoi our Aitape /Lumi MP at the time may like to comment as he was a major part of the inner circle of the government "think tank".

He was one of the few in parliament with a university degree and many said the brightest among them.

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