An old dog not ready for his pit: With gratitude, more Attitude
PNG politics: Parsing Peter O'Neill’s Christmas attack on Don Polye

The apathy and ennui of the Papua New Guinean people


PAPUA New Guineans are an elemental people.

As a largely agrarian society they have long recognised their helplessness in the face of the overwhelming natural and spiritual forces of the world.

This acceptance of their lack of power against forces beyond their control has rendered them stoic, apathetic and ripe for exploitation.

We in the west, on the other hand, have weathered almost two hundred years of industrialisation and rampant capitalism and all the inequities that entails.

Prior to that we bore the brunt of rabid monarchists and theocrats.

In our desperation and unable to bear any more we eventually revolted. Thus was born modern democracy and our parliamentary system.

It is still a revolution being fought. We have to be constantly vigilant to ensure those malign forces are contained at an acceptable level.

We are still confronted by plump men in silly dresses in places like the Vatican expounding contrived platitudes while surrounded by unimaginable wealth. We still pay homage to a dysfunctional family of ‘let them eat cake’ parasites masquerading as something special in their royal palaces of tawdry glitter.

And while we still listen to their fantasies of gods and angels and the divine right to rule it is with a jaundiced and healthy scepticism.

Not so in Papua New Guinea however.

That majority of simple subsistence farmers has not yet been pushed to the point of desperation where they will have no choice but to react.

When that point is reached it will be very interesting indeed. I suspect it is not far off.

Of all the self-serving and greedy cabals of amoral incompetents elected to the parliament of Papua New Guinea over the years since 1975 this current crop has been one of the most venal and dysfunctional.

They have pushed the people of Papua New Guinea closer to the brink of intolerance than anyone before them. They haven’t even been smart enough to let a few crumbs fall to the floor to keep the masses happy.

In Australia we have just endured the most obscene and sickening example of over-indulgence in the form of billions of dollars splurged on rubbish to celebrate an ancient pagan ritual and one of the fabulist inventions of our loony religionists.

In Papua New Guinea the politicians and business czars don’t even have the nouse to throw it’s minions the dregs of its extravagances to keep them happily shopping.

Mass apathy can only last so long. One day the dreamers will awake to realise their worst nightmares have come true.

For the sake of Papua New Guinea we all hope this will occur in 2017. If it doesn’t the future is hopeless.

It is time to wake up Papua New Guinea.


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Milislav Koric

PNG population is so diverse that current political system cannot function. Each member of parliament represents different group of people. They got elected in most of constituencies by giving money to village chiefs. After elected they move to Port Moresby for 4 years and try to recover their investment first and than if lucky get rich. People who elected them cannot complain that are not representing them because , they signed four year contract with devil, for that they got money in front.
Only political system which will give most power in decision making to local governments(cantons), lesser to the provinces and least to Federal government. Money should stay locally and then people would elect more cleverly and would not fall pray to bribe. Central government in Port Moresby would be in charge only of
Foreign affairs, Military Mail service , Sport etc.
PNG is naturally one of the richest countries in the whole world and citizens deserve way better life.

Peter Kranz

Phil - well said. In my experience there is a sad acceptance and apathy in PNG society which leads to the lack of action against sorcery-related violence, mistreatment of women, acceptance of corruption etc.

"It's the Melanesian way" I have been told time and time again.

Well it's the bloody wrong way and it's time it finished.

PS. At the risk of being facetious, your photo above shows a remarkable resemblance to David Bowie. One of his songs was "The Angels have Gone."

Phil Fitzpatrick

Adding to what you have said Chris; Papua New Guineans are very good at putting on masks.

They do this with lots of things and I think it is a form of defence.

For instance there are many outwardly and pious Christians in PNG but just below the surface there is invariably a savage who still believes in sorcery and witchcraft.

This veneer extends to other things as well.

The recent report by Keith about Don Polye describes him as the leader of the Opposition. But is he really? In Australia we know that the term refers to an alternative government party with a well developed ideology and policies.

The Opposition in PNG, as far as I can see, has no ideals or policies - it is just a loosely formed and temporary group of politicians who don't like Peter O'Neill and want his job. Why they want it is a moot question but I'd suggest it's got little to do with PNG's future and a lot about their own future.

A similar thing can be said about the government. The government is similarly a group of miscellaneous politicians with various interests who have aligned themselves to O'Neill for what they think they can get out of it. very few of them have PNG's interests at heart.

Paul Oates has written extensively about the lack of a true party system in PNG and everything he has said is still true.

What PNG needs in 2017 is a party something like the old PANGU Pati (not the current version).

The old PANGU had a reason for existing - independence from Australia. It's just a pity that they never got round to thinking beyond that. Instead PNG ended up with a government under Michael Somare that had got what it wanted but had no idea what to do next.

If I was to give any advice to Gary Juffa and the other like-minded politicians in PNG it would be to spend 2016 formulating a set of ideals and policies and promulgating them as widely as possible.

At the same time they should be setting up a party structure with very strict rules of membership. Among other things they should have a rule that bans party hopping, both in and out.

The Australian Labor Party would be a good model; with some modifications i.e. strictly limited union and other vested interest influence and a straightforward election of positions, including the leader.

I can't for the life of me discern any basis that the Liberal Party operates under accept a commitment to free trading and an emphasis on individualism; which is ironic because they have spent the last two years busily curtailing individual freedoms under the misapprehension that we are seriously threatened by terrorists and being overrun by Muslims.

A membership drive would be a good idea too, not only to raise funds but to mine ideas.

It wouldn't hurt, given some of Gary's preoccupations, to have a look at the Greens too.

By undertaking such a process they will gradually instil hope in the Papua New Guinean people - hopefully in time for the elections.

They will also need a strategy to deal with big business, which I suspect will attempt to wreck any such move to set up a non-corruptible party and possible government. To do this they will come in behind O'Neill and they will throw lots of money about.

The latter works really well in the venal highlands and will be hard to combat. The only thing I can suggest is to get as many honest highland candidates on board as possible.

A party will have to be truly representative of all of PNG - that will be one of the hardest things to achieve.

Chris Overland

I liked Phil's article, which resonates very strongly with me for a number of reasons.

I have come to believe that liberal democracy as we know it is not an end point in the development of human societies. Its recent triumphs over fascism and communism are not evidence of the end of history.

Rather, it yet another stage in a range of complex social, political and economic processes that have been happening for several millennia.

These processes are characterised by the ebb and flow of "civilisation", being the urge to establish an orderly, highly structured society governed by known laws and "barbarism", being the explicit rejection of such a society in preference for an essentially anarchical and highly fragmented collection of loosely affiliated communities of interest.

Thus there is a constant tension between the state in whatever form it takes and the desire of individuals to pursue their own interests largely unfettered by others.

Liberal democracy is an attempt to reconcile these competing forces and, so far at least, it has worked pretty well overall.

However, it is not the "one right way" to do this because it is culture dependent. Basically, it is a product of European and, especially, British historic experience.

At the moment, places like Russia and China have adopted aspects of liberal democracy even while maintaining quite oppressive quasi-autocratic state structures designed to maintain the power and influence of the relative handful of people who constitute the political and business elites.

Within places like Australia, the state is less oppressive and more responsive to public opinion, but there are still powerful elites who dominate the political and economic processes.

So, what has this to do with contemporary PNG?

It is my belief that PNG has thus far failed to truly transition from a state of barbarism to that of civilisation.

Thus, while PNG now has many of the formal structures and processes associated with civilisation, its peoples are still instinctively drawn to the more familiar and culturally comfortable barbaric state.

This, in turn, makes it very hard for them to comprehend that their social and material aspirations cannot be achieved without fully embracing the "rules" of civilisation, not just its forms.

In short, the PNG state is little more than a mask, behind which the political and business elites can pursue their individual interests in a largely unaccountable way.

As each successive generation of politicians fail to meet the expectations of the people, they are replaced with another lot who, in turn, will pursue their own interests in preference to the public interest. Thus a cycle of perpetual exploitation and despoliation continues despite a supposedly democratic political process being in place.

There are now a few people appearing, like Gary Juffa, who appear to have understood how this dynamic works and are trying to break out of it.

The difficulties attached to this cannot be underrated. Nothing in history suggests that there is a peaceful and painless path to creating a genuine democracy. In fact, all the evidence points to the opposite.

Paul Oates

If there's one thing that can be learnt from human history it's that once the revolution or war happens, it quickly gets out of the control of those who think they are either in control or then try to exert control.

In the case where civil war erupts, Australian politicians will then suddenly react with dismay and wringing their collective hands, wonder aloud: 'Why didn't someone say something before all this happened?'

Just look at what happened in Bougainville and amplify that a hundred fold across PNG.

If we end up with a Biafra or a Somalia on Australia's doorstep it will be due to a number of foreseeable factors.

The first is that PNG was never completely pacified and unified prior to Independence. The second is that the system of electing politicians and then being able to hold them responsible and accountable had never been allowed to take root and flourish past the point of tribalism.

There are two other equally important and rather obvious reasons why PNG may well end up imploding. Australian political leaders are almost totally devoid of understanding the PNG people and their cultures and will not listen to those who may well know something about our nearest neighbour. This is due to an entrenched government establishment that feels threatened if they admit they don't know what to do except spend millions on useless, short term aid programs and political leaders who won't admit they don't know what to do and are afraid that admitting this aspect might reveal a weakness.

The other important reason is the foreign influence that goes hand in hand with exploitation of PNG's natural resources. Why pay millions in foreign aid that just disappears into the corruption feeding chain when you can go direct to those in charge and pay them a whole lot less.

Ahh... it's a good thing I haven't become cynical as I get older.

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