Grand Chief of Papua New Guinea
An important lesson from Sir Michael

When orthodoxy seeks to strangle dissent

Brian Cooper - Uttered a n opinion that the Australian government of the time was determined to suppress


ADELAIDE – The story of Brian Leonard Cooper is a very sad story indeed.

The early sixties in Australia were a period in which there was developing a simmering pent up desire for significant socio-economic change.

This would explode in the 1970's with the election of the Whitlam Labor government which introduced many long overdue reforms, notably a universal health insurance system.

In my own state of South Australia, the election of Don Dunstan's Labor government saw sweeping social reforms introduced that changed the state for the better and forever.

Sadly, it seems that Mr Cooper became the hapless victim of the anti-communist paranoia of that era, as well as the cynical political manoeuvering of a Menzies-led Tory government.

By 1960, the Coalition was in deep trouble and needed to distract, deflect and otherwise camouflage its failings from a still deeply conservative electorate.

It is still the case that those who choose to dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy will be variously ridiculed, marginalised and ignored.

A lesson of history is that it pays to listen to the dissenting voices.

Of course, many of those voices will be saying nothing useful but a few will be revealing truths that the powerful fervently wish to deny and hide.

It is a question of discerning the truth from the mad ravings of the usual crowd of nutters whose voices these days have been so magnified by social media.

Mr Cooper was, in his way, pointing to the blindingly obvious about the political future of Papua New Guinea as an independent state, but it did not suit the great and the good to acknowledge this.

His reward was to be labelled seditious and treated as a criminal.

The authorities resorted to the usual tactics of oppression and suppression, cloaking their activities in the sanctimonious rhetoric and illiberal laws of the time.

The situation today is not dissimilar, with the defenders of the socio-economic status quo being quite willing to resort to the same tactics.

These, they hope, will avoid confronting the grim reality that the neo-liberal orthodoxy is deeply flawed and producing perverse outcomes that, ultimately, will force either neo-liberalism’s complete repudiation or, failing that, major reform to redress the injustice and inequity it generates.

Of course, as a dissenter from this orthodoxy, I would say this, but I seem much more likely to be merely ridiculed and ignored than banged up for two months as happened to the hapless Mr Cooper.

If you want to read more about the Cooper sedition story, you can link here to WR Stent’s paper of 1978, ‘A Brief Biographical Account of Brian Leonard Cooper’


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Chris Overland

I think that Phil is right. At worst, Mr Cooper was guilty of tokim mauswara tasol or, as my children would have said, "dribbling shit".

Why prime minister Menzies decided to single him out as an 'enemy of the people' is hard to fathom. He was a junior grade officer shooting his mouth off unwisely, not a master spy or Soviet agent provocateur.

Why did all this come to Menzies' attention anyway? I assume that the local ASIO agent was desperate to report something and it took off from there.

As for the evidence, I find it incredible that any competent judicial authority would accept it as a fair representation of what Cooper or anyone else might have said.

Personal recollections of conversations are notoriously unreliable because, apart from anything else, the way we remember things means that, at best, we recall the general tenor of a conversation rather than specific details.

This is why we have Hansard, take minutes of meetings and write letters confirming what was agreed at meetings and so forth.

Throw in the fact that the conversations were of a casual nature and apparently took place in another language and it verges on wishful thinking to believe that a credible detailed record of what was said could be produced.

Then we can attack the whole notion of sedition being an offence. If it is sedition to criticise the established government of the day then most of us on this site would already have been banged up.

Charges of sedition or treason are the basic tool of trade for dictators and other authoritarians but are vanishingly rare in a democratic society.

There is a good reason for this: only a tiny handful of nutters even contemplate overthrowing the state, let alone act upon that idea.

It is ASIO's job to discover and monitor these clowns who, in truth, rarely act upon their pathetic ravings.

The very few who do or actively plan to do so are usually arrested, tried and banged up fairly promptly under the provisions of our terrorism laws. Less than a handful succeed like that fascist swine did in New Zealand.

It therefore beggars belief that someone like Mr Cooper, rabbiting on under a tree to a handful of people living in a country far away from Australia while scoffing his lunch, could be regarded as a serious threat to the state.

The whole thing stinks of fabrication and smells like a fit-up to me.

John D Conroy

On the case of Brian Leonard Cooper. In 1960s TPNG he became entangled in 'reds under the bed' paranoia.

Originating in Australia, this was our own sad echo of United States McCarthyism.

The paper was written by an old didiman, my mate Bill Stent. Thanks PNG Attitude.

[From Twitter]

Philip Fitzpatrick

It's worth reading WR Stent's paper to better place this story in context. With due respect, Peter Kranz's article probably over emphasises the intent of Menzies and the Australian government in presenting them as villians in the case.

There is also an interesting paper by Simon Pickering in the Queensland University Law Journal worth reading. Here is an extract from the latter that includes the stitched together evidence against Cooper.

"In 1960, on the personal instruction of Prime Minister Robert Menzies, a young officer in the Australian Administration in New Guinea (then an Australian Territory) was prosecuted for sedition, an offence criminalising criticism of the established government. His name was Brian Leonard Cooper.

"Over three days in 1960, Cooper sat under the shade of a tree with a number of New Guinean men during his lunch hours and discussed his recent travels through Southeast Asia while on leave.

"At some point, the conversation veered towards the governance of these countries and then towards the prospect of self-government for New Guinea.

"Responding to a question, Cooper outlined three methods by which the Territory could achieve independence, including one violent method he denounced.

"Translated from Pidgin into English, the indictment against Cooper stitched together the most sensational recollections relating to this method over three days from various
witnesses, who conferred before giving their statements. "He was ultimately charged with saying:

'You must have a new Government of your own. Often I’ve heard that some countries refer to Australia as an Imperial country and I’ve been very ashamed about this.

'Now the Menzies Government, I hate it very much all the time. He hasn’t done any good for Australia, and the Cleland Government is the same, it is very worthless.

'Now I don’t want a long delay. You must set a date and you must sing out for all the men and speak to them so that they will all hear. I don’t want a long delay. Set a Saturday, that’s a good day. All right then, I can send talk to some people so that they can come and help you.

'Me, I’m not afraid. All right if they want to do something to me later on I can go in the high part at the back of Amele and put headquarters there. Now some men can come and help me. You have heard that in Africa in the Congo, that they have got a new Government of their own, and they all stay contented.

'Now I want you people to get it within six months. It’ll be no good to leave this talk for very long because the District Office will hear of it and prevent us. Set a meeting and tell all the men so that they’ll hear, tell the Police who speak you same language to hear this now.

'Don't worry about the Native Affairs Field Staff. Consider only the Police Officer. First a group can go and take hold of the Police Officer and tie him to a post with a rope so that he’ll remain there.

'Some groups can go and break into the stores, into the place where the rifles are and get them all; some groups can go the big stores and break into them and take things such as beer, rum and food and they can all eat and drink.

'Expel all the white people and tell them they have to go back to their own place. Now all the men must go and occupy the places of employment so that they can’t come back. They must remain in their houses, board a ship and then they can go back.

'Now at the airstrip a group can go and cut some trees and throw them on to the airstrip, burn some aircraft and put them on the airstrip so that the Australian and American soldiers can’t come down.

'Your own army can get rid of all the Europeans so that they go back to their own place, Australia. If the Australians want to do something, if they want to come and fight with you, all the Russians and Chinese can help you.

'The Australians will be frightened if the Russians and the Chinese make threats. I can get a message to the Russians and they will come and help you.'

"Cooper wasn't the only one espousing such messages in PNG before independence, especially after the UPNG was established.

"In most cases the local kiap or the district commissioner would have a quiet word with them and tell them to tone it down and that would be the end of the matter."

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