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Australia records gratitude to Grand Chief

Hon Scott Morrison MP


Motion to acknowledge the life and service of the late Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare delivered in the Parliament of Australia by Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison on 16 March 2021, as recorded in Hansard.

CANBERRA - Mr Speaker, I move that this House acknowledge the passing on the 26th of February 2021 of Papua New Guinea Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare and place on record its gratitude of his long-standing and respected relationship with Australia and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Mr Speaker, I welcome the [Papua New Guinea] High Commissioner here with us today.

Sir Michael Somare was a towering figure in the history of Papua New Guinea.

A driving force in the development of Papua New Guinea’s national constitution.

The nation’s first prime minister.

The longest serving prime minister, holding office for a total of 17 years over four separate terms.

Somare whitlam
Muchael Somare with Gough Whitlam

And Papua New Guinea’s longest-serving member of parliament, faithfully representing his East Sepik constituency for a remarkable 49 years.

To his fellow countrymen and women, Sir Michael was known simply as ‘the Grand Chief’.

It was a title that reflected his immense standing and the deep respect in which he was held.

To Australia, Sir Michael was a longstanding and respected friend, indeed family.

Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour, is family to us.

The ties are deep, forged at Kokoda, Port Moresby, and Milne Bay and remembered at Lae, Rabaul and, of course, Bomana.

And the many kiaps, those young Australians who patrolled and worked with local village communities, walking across their vast and rugged interior.

Because it was once a territory of Australia, indeed as we defended it in the Second World War.

As prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael worked with Australian prime ministers Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Howard, Rudd and Gillard.

But his connection to the leadership of our country goes as far back as the Gorton government.

As a young man, Michael Somare championed an independent Papua New Guinea.

And he did so working with Australia. Working together.

It is to the credit of so many Australian and Papua New Guinea leaders in the late 1960s and early 1970s that they came to a shared recognition that sovereignty must rest with the people of Papua New Guinea.

Somare hawke
Michael Somare with Bob Hawke

It was right that many years later, Sir Michael along with Sir John Gorton and Gough Whitlam came together received honorary doctorates for their work in delivering independence.

Because on the day when Papua New Guinea became independent, the Australian flag was respectfully lowered. It was not torn down.

One of those who witnessed that significant moment was a future Governor-General of Australia, Michael Jeffery. In 1975, he was a young soldier in East Sepik.

Later he said, “I well remember the Australian flag being lowered in Wewak for the last time and the beautiful Papua New Guinea flag being raised in its stead.”

He recalled the positive spirit that surrounded independence.

That was, in large part, a credit to Michael Somare. He was not a man who tore down.

He understood that free nations are built on democratic institutions and on what he called ‘sana’: a word from his own language signifying peace, consensus and inclusion.

Indeed, those were the hallmarks of his public life and are his legacy.

Somare howard
Michael Somare with John Howard

Thanks to his vision, and his commitment to sana, Papua New Guinea’s path to independence was a smooth one.

The foundations of this new nation were laid in peace.

Sir Michael remained a staunch defender of his country’s independence, proudly, but always appreciated Australia’s unstinting commitment to his homeland and Papua New Guinea’s success.

He carried the Olympic torch when it passed through Papua New Guinea on its way to Sydney in 2000.

We can only hope it will pass through Papua New Guinea again if Brisbane 2032 is successful.

He was also, like so many Papua New Guineans, a rugby league fan. And, unlike so many Papua New Guineans when it came to the State of Origin, he was a devoted fan of the Blues. Something I’m sure the Leader of the Opposition and I on at least that matter can concur.

He was a great man of faith, he was a great man of conviction and commitment, and he will be deeply missed by his many friends in Australia.

Somare rudd
Michael Somare with Kevin Rudd

High Commissioner Kali, could you please extend to the government and people of Papua New Guinea, to your prime minister, my dear friend James Marape, the sincere condolences of the government and people of Australia as represented in this people’s house.

Thank you for joining us today and thank you to the members of the diplomatic corps who are also with us today, a sign of Sir Michael’s standing in the world.

During this time, we are thinking also of Lady Veronica, their children and grandchildren, and the entire Somare family.

May they, in this time of grief, know the peace of God.

And may the Grand Chief rest in peace as a good and faithful servant.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Here's another tribute from the House of Representatives. Mr Gosling appears to be severely out of touch.

Mr GOSLING (Solomon) (16:39): It's no small thing to be called the father of a nation, but that was the title bestowed on Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare.

It's no small thing to help create a new nation and lead it into a new world.

These were but two of the many achievements of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare.

It's an honour for me to rise today to contribute to this condolence motion and join my friend in acknowledging an extraordinary leader.

It is not only a privilege to be honouring the life of this leader and the contributions of this great man; I am also the co-chair of the Australia-Papua New Guinea Parliamentary Friendship Group.

The reason I am working in that area is that Papua New Guinea is such an important friend of Australia's.
That relationship is in no small part thanks to the efforts of the late great chief.

Sir Michael led Papua New Guinea to independence from Australia. Amid the pre-independence debate about what an independent Papua New Guinea would look like, Sir Michael was clear about the vision he had for the new nation and brought all of his considerable skill and talent to bring that vision to fruition.

We can learn much about Sir Michael the statesman from the stories of those who met him and those who worked with him.

Bill Sanders, who worked as a patrol officer in Papua New Guinea before independence, told me about when he met Sir Michael, who was then but a young politician.

At the meetings Bill attended, Sir Michael took the time to explain to each person about the progress which had been achieved at that point on the road to independence.

Bill said, "I do recall the respect that we all had for the quietly spoken politician, who was still finding his way."

Quietly explaining things and bringing people together to a common position was Sir Michael's leadership style. It is true to say he was a leader who sought to build consensus and reduce conflict.

When a new nation is born, there is no guarantee of success or failure for the future of that country. We all know of numerous examples of failed and troubled states—new nations plunged into chaos, or autocracy, after much initial promise.

At the time of independence, many thought Papua New Guinea would face a similar fate. How could one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse nations in the world cohere and survive?

The factor that makes the difference, however, is political leadership. When leaders place institutions above themselves, success for those institutions follows.

Sir Michael was just such a leader.

At various points over his long public career, such as when he first lost the position of Prime Minister of the country that he had helped create, Sir Michael could have attempted to hold onto power through extra-parliamentary means—and there are plenty of examples of where that has occurred in other countries—but he was committed to the rule of law and democracy as much as he loved the country he had helped create.

It can be difficult to recognise and evaluate a historical reputation so soon after the death of such a significant figure.

There may be debates about the finer points of legacies, and contrasting views will of course be put—and that is a good thing—but I am confident that the fullness of time will demonstrate the full role of the Grand Chief.

History will judge Sir Michael favourably and place him among the greats. Papua New Guinea has lost a great father. The region has lost a great father. Australia has lost a great friend. But let's not dwell on this loss.

Let's instead reflect upon what Sir Michael leaves behind. His legacy lives on. Papua New Guinea is a free country with a free people who, having seized their own destiny and having joined the nations of the world, look towards a future of progress and prosperity.

That is the legacy Sir Michael leaves behind.

More importantly, Sir Michael leaves behind a family that he cherished dearly. I too pass on my personal condolences to his widow, Lady Veronica, and to his children, Bertha, Sana, Arthur, Michael Junior and Dulciana.

Finally, today Papua New Guinea faces a crisis from the ravages of COVID-19. Australia shares an important history with Papua New Guinea and our destinies are inseparable.

In the shadow of the death of the Grand Chief, let us here in this place resolve to do everything we can to support our sisters and brothers in Papua New Guinea overcome this terrible virus.

Rest in peace, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Regarding the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's tribute read to the House of Representative on March 15.

As Bill Brown asks, is it hastily cobbled together gobbledegook?

Michael Dom

Thank you for your fine words Mr Morrison.

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