PNG Power: Privatisation would mean exploitation
One in spirit with the Red Rock

Would it have been better? PNG as a state of Australia

Papua New Guineans
Papua New Guineans in Australia - always welcome because they fit in well and understand the Australian ethos


TUMBY BAY - In the years leading to self-government and independence in Papua New Guinea, a range of options were discussed about its future political status.

One of the least discussed was about Papua becoming the seventh state of Australia.

And until it was revealed recently, it seemed no one had taken this proposal seriously.

Although by 1966 the Menzies and Holt Governments had effectively dismantled the White Australia Policy, it still lingered in people’s minds, even after the Whitlam Government passed the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975.

The persistent racism that continued to permeate Australian people’s thinking despite changes in the law pretty much ensured there was no way Australia would accept a new state populated by Papuans.

It therefore surprised me when I learned recently that the possibility of Papuan statehood exercised the minds of politicians and bureaucrats in Australia in the period prior to PNG self-government.

In a confidential document circulated from Canberra in 1971, it was noted that, “Some expatriate members representing Papua electorates (e.g. Counsel [VB (Bert) Counsel, MHA for Gulf Regional]), appear to have a naïve belief that Papua might become the seventh state of Australia or that it is in some way entitled to something special because of its people’s legal status as Australian citizens”.

This was disclosed in a recent book, ‘Australia and Papua New Guinea: The Transition to Self-Government 1970-1972’, edited by Bruce Hunt and Stephen Henningham that I recently reviewed for PNG Attitude.

In the media and elsewhere it had been suggested that if Papua became a state of Australia it would only be natural for New Guinea to follow.

It is interesting to speculate not only what might have happened if independence in PNG had been delayed by another decade or so, but what PNG as a seventh state might have looked like.

Since the late 1970s, Australian immigration policies have promoted diversity, seen the country develop as a multicultural society and become one of the world’s major ‘immigration nations’.

Would all of the problems that have developed in Papua New Guinea, such as the breakdown of law and order, political corruption, erosion of infrastructure, and inadequate educational and health services exist if it was a state of Australia?

If the answer to that question is a qualified no, would Papua New Guineans have been happy to be part of Australia - or would such a goal have led to strong movements for separation?

This is all speculation of course but the way Papua New Guineans living in Australia seem to have seamlessly integrated themselves into Australian society, like other ethnic groups, suggests there might have actually been some merit in what was once regarded as a naïve suggestion.

And like those other groups, wouldn’t Australia have been enriched by the Melanesian presence as part of our society?

If it was an opportunity lost, is there anything redeemable from the idea?

Would a relationship of open borders and free passage, as is enjoyed between Australia and New Zealand, be a possibility?

We can only hope.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Like Port Moresby is a terrible place to live Corney, which is a lot of crap.

Corney Korokan Alone

Papua New Guinea has zero regrets about becoming an independent country.

There are voluminous unwritten and unspoken indicators that confer dignity and uncorrupted humanity status on its inhabitants compared with the so-called development indicators that personalities of commentators often read at face value.

Philip Fitzpatrick

You forgot something Chris:

Sixth, the Kumuls would be a dominating force in Australian Rugby.

We also might have had to modify Australia's name slightly to Austroneasia.

Chris Overland

Phil, I agree with you that PNG should have become a state of Australia.

If it had done, several predictable things would have happened.

First, there would have been a steady inflow of migrants from 'mainland' Australia, lured by the almost limitless opportunities in areas such as agriculture, mining, energy, tourism and so forth.

With this migrant flow would have come the capital required to make the large scale development of PNG a realistic proposition.

Second, there would have been an explosion in the number and level of public services demanded to meet the needs of the rapidly rising mainlander population, as well as the indigenous population.

Hospitals, schools, police stations and so forth would have appeared all over the country as the federal government embarked upon a long term plan to upgrade services to meet Australian standards.

Third, the flow of Papua New Guineans into Australia would have risen quite rapidly, firstly amongst the educated elite who would seek jobs on the mainland and, later amongst the less educated who would find work in low skill areas disdained by many mainlanders.

Fourth, the newly installed government of the State of Papua New Guinea would rapidly have begun to realise that it had potentially serious influence in the Federation, owing to its ability to send a significant number of people to Canberra via national elections.

Fifth, the new state would be recognised as an emergent economic powerhouse, with the business community very quickly pressing the national and state government's to create the legislative framework and public infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, etc) to enable this to happen.

The new state would rapidly have become the most dynamic and attractive in the Commonwealth.

Of course, there would still have been problems over land sales, tribal and racial tensions and law and order generally but these could have been effectively managed by a combination of the experienced former colonial officers, the emergent PNG bureaucratic and political leaders and, in particular, a much more tightly disciplined and well trained RPNGC.

The economic cost for mainland Australia of doing this would have been enormous but, as West Germany showed when it reabsorbed East Germany at the end of the cold war, this will eventually be more than offset by the gains.

Australia would, in fact, have had certain advantages over West Germany. For example, Australian currency was already in use in PNG, there was an established Australian run banking system, many Papua New Guineans spoke English fluently, the administration already operated as a quasi-state government and the constitutional arrangements could have easily been reconfigured to fit the Australian federation model.

In many ways, 1975 was a 'sliding doors' moment for PNG and I think that both countries missed a golden opportunity to do something remarkable, to the detriment of both.

Could my fantasy become a reality yet? Sure it could but it would take a level of foresight and determination that is entirely absent in both countries at the moment.

History shows that leaders who can imagine the impossible and then make it happen are vanishingly rare in public life. Charlemagne, Napoleon Bonaparte, the American founding fathers, Vladimir Illich Lenin, Helmut Kohl and a few others spring to mind.

Perhaps the moment may yet come when history brings forth a great champion of, say, a Federated Republic of Oceania? Who knows. Stranger things have happened.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)