Real leaders should be good readers
How literature can deliver for PNG

Do politicians actually read books?

Phil Fitzpatrick
Phil Fitzpatrick - "Perhaps politicians see an educated and literate public as a danger"


TUMBY BAY - When Keith Jackson and I were managing the Crocodile Prize in the years after 2011 when it was conceived, we debated whether it might be a good idea to seek the support of government.

On the one hand the funding government could inject into the prize would have been valuable. But on the other hand, the meddling, self-aggrandisement and corruption that might have come attached to that money was strong.

We determined that, if government was to supply financial support, it would need to have no strings attached.

In any event, with some minor exceptions that followed some large promises, the Papua New Guinea government showed a distinct lack of interest and our approaches turned out to be a waste of time.

Clearly PNG’s politicians did not place value on reading and literature. Why this should be so remains a mystery.

Do politicians actually read books? Who knows? At a guess I'd say few of them do.

Perhaps politicians see an educated and literate public as a danger. Maybe they are just plain dumb.

But they seem not to care, and that's a big hurdle to overcome when seeking their assistance for literature.

The question then becomes whether it is worth trying to get politicians interested.

Well, in those early days the Crocodile Prize found private funding, and the Australian High Commission was a good friend.

When they see something working well and popular with the public, most politicians will fall over themselves to jump on the bandwagon and take credit for any success.

And the Crocodile Prize did work really well for a while and a few politicians did jump on the cart. But they didn’t invest in it and, when things began to falter, they lost interest.

The current campaign with the writer's petition speaks of this same lack of interest on the part of politicians.

The problems that three visionary PNG writers are encountering in seeking to speak with the prime minister indicates that getting government support may be a lost cause.

Although Daniel Kumbon wrote yesterday in a comment to PNG Attitude:

"I notice that James Marape writes well, he shares his thoughts on Facebook just like Garry Juffa, Bryan Kramer, Sir Mekere and a few others.

"I believe those people who write will also read other people's ideas, thoughts and experiences.

"Our request letter was read by James Marape and he has given us directions. Let's keep our fingers crossed that he will call us to his office."

I hope so too, and I hope my pessimism is wrong but, if I’m not, this is terribly sad and an indictment of the quality of politics in PNG.

That will leave the job back in the hands of PNG writers and readers themselves.

Professor Steven Winduo is right. There is no point in writing and publishing books if people don't read them.

This suggests the key to promoting writers and literature in PNG begins with building up a reading public. To do this the logical place to start is in the schools. In this sense Caroline Evari is well and truly on the right track.

In the small town where I live in country South Australia, we have a combined school and public library. The library is located on the school premises but is also available to the community.

It is linked to a very efficient and interconnected State run library system.

Adult readers are strong supporters of the library and carry out a lot of voluntary work. One of the things the volunteers do is coach school pupils who are having problems with their reading.

If I want to read a book that is not in the local library I can order it from the State library which will source it from one of the many libraries in South Australia and send it to me through the local library.

The key elements of success here seem to be the mix of adult and child services, strong support from the reading public and strong government support. And another thing: nobody steals books.

This proven system could be replicated at the provincial level in PNG. A well-resourced library in the provincial capital could supply and manage school libraries used by both students and adults.

With this in mind, if the current petition cannot get to Mr Marape, maybe the campaign should be re-directed towards provincial governors and those MPs, like Governor Gary Juffa and Bryan Kramer, who show an interest in communicating through their writing.


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Bernard Corden

The Australian federal minister for education moves his lips when reading a book.

Bernard Corden

"Men of power have no time to read, yet men who do not read are unfit for power" - Michael Foot

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