TUMBY BAY – In 1971, between 4 January and 19 February, Paulus Arek took his Select Committee on Constitutional Development on a fact finding tour to gauge the feelings of Papua New Guineans about self-government and independence.
Arek, the MP for Ijivitari, was first elected in 1968 and was also Minister for Information (1972-73) and the first president of the Federation of PNG Workers' Associations.
The select committee visited all districts and met with most local government councils before producing a report of their findings.
They found overwhelming support for delaying both self-government and independence, the general sentiment being that PNG needed more time to develop before it thought about such matters.
At the same time, however, they found many 'hot spots' where opposition to the Australian Administration was strong and people were calling for independence.
Arek (as had Michael Somare) had previously visited Africa and met people like Kenyan leader Tom Mboya, who like Arek was a committed trade unionist.
From discussions with people like Mboya the view was formed that PNG should already have been independent.
Mboya had visited PNG in 1964 and said, “How am I going to tell people in Africa that the people of Papua New Guinea don’t want to be free? Nobody will believe me.”
Mboya's visit to PNG had been influential and, as district commissioner Ian Downs noted, "many of his proposals became part of the Australian program."
Faced with conflicting views and encouraged by the Australia government, Somare obviously decided that the issue had to be forced even though many people in PNG were against it.
In this sense meetings like the ones described by Chips Mackellar were rather pointless because the decision had already been made.
When the Administration appointed political education officers in each district drawn from kiap ranks, their task was to explain to people that self-government and independence were coming whether they liked it or not.
As a footnote it’s worth noting that there was always a strong propensity among Papua New Guineans to tell whoever in authority was asking questions what they thought they wanted to hear rather than what they believed.
This was (and still is) a form of Melanesian politeness.
Mboya was assassinated in 1969 and Arek died of lung cancer in 1973, so neither of them lived to see Papua New Guinea gain independence.