One in spirit with the Red Rock
Pressure for Bougainville independence grows

What might have been could yet be


ADELAIDE - I agree with Phil Fitzpatrick who observed yesterday that Papua New Guinea should have become a state of Australia.

If this had been done, several predictable things would have happened.

First, there would have been a steady inflow of migrants from the Australian mainland lured by PNG’s almost limitless opportunities in 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 other services would have appeared all over the country as the Australian 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 rapidly, firstly amongst the educated elite who would seek jobs on the mainland and later amongst less educated people who would find work in low skilled occupations disdained by many mainlanders.

Fourth, the newly installed government of the Papua New Guinea state would rapidly realise it carried huge influence in Australia owing to its ability to send a significant number of people to Canberra in national elections.

Fifth, the new state would be recognised as an emergent economic powerhouse, with the business community quickly pressing the national and state governments 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 have been problems over land alienation, tribal and racial tensions and law and order generally, but these could have been effectively managed by a combination of experienced former colonial officers, the emergent PNG bureaucratic and political leaders and, in particular, a much more tightly disciplined and well trained Royal PNG Constabulary.

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

In fact, Australia would 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 colonial Administration had already operated as a quasi-state government and constitutional arrangements could have easily been reconfigured to fit the Australian federation model.

In many ways, 1975 was a 'sliding door' 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?

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.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

My original intention in bringing up the fact that statehood was a consideration in Papua New Guinea's future was to suggest that there was merit in a closer association between our two countries but that the level of racism in Australia at the time prevented this from happening.

Rather than seeking such a close association, Australia effectively abandoned Papua New Guinea to its own devices.

Australia has now changed and its people, if not our current racist government, would be far more inclined to accept a closer association that would result in mutual benefits.

Chris has simply taken that argument a few steps further.

No one is advocating statehood for Papua New Guinea. That is a ludicrous idea. It is almost as ludicrous as suggesting that the idea has something to do with white supremacism.

How many Australian politicians have you heard trot out the line that we have a special relationship with Papua New Guinea, when clearly we don't.

Maybe its time to turn the rhetoric into action.

Chris Overland

I am sorry that my comments have been interpreted as reflecting a white supremacist outlook or one of white privilege.

Although I freely admit to being both white and privileged I certainly don't assume that this confers upon me some special intelligence, wisdom or insight.

In my comments I was merely trying to point out that another future was always entirely possible in 1975 and, in fact, still is.

Nevertheless, I think that it is quite reasonable to argue that I am wrong for some of the reasons offered by Stephen Charteris.

History, especially if read through the prism of "woke" thinking, is not especially encouraging. A great deal of injustice, cruelty and greed is in evidence, much of it perpetrated by European imperialists, although such behaviours are a common feature of humanity generally.

That said, the future doesn't have to be an action replay of the past. It is perfectly feasible to create another future in which the very real evils of the past and present can be confronted and their harms minimised if not entirely eradicated.

Australia is one of the comparatively few countries in the world that has succeeded in creating a large and growing multicultural society where citizenship is based upon a commitment to the nation, not exclusively on common ethnic or linguistic grounds alone.

Is it perfect? Certainly not. It is work in progress that, over my lifetime at least, has created a better version of Australia than the one I was born into.

Large numbers of people of colour have now settled in Australia and most of them are grateful to have the chance to do so.

The circumstances of indigenous Australians have changed for the better although much more work needs to be done to overcome the legacy of colonial dispossession and genocidal behaviour.

Importantly, there is a significant amount of public support for indigenous Australians although this currently lacks focus, in part at least, because of the inability of the political class to develop and articulate a way forward.

So, there have been problems along the way and no doubt there will be more to come, but the trend is clear enough to see.

In that context, therefore, why not invite Melanesia to join with us, perhaps initially in a European Union type structure and, later, as member states of our Commonwealth?

The only certainty about the future is that the era of white privilege is over. We are witnessing its death throes in various ways, perhaps most obviously in the USA. It is clearly an idea that will die very hard indeed and I definitely do not wish to even inadvertently seek to prolong it.

Please view my speculations about PNG in that light.

Ed Brumby

Alas, it seems that notions of white supremacy still thrive. Have we not learnt anything from history?

Stephen Charteris

Wow, come in spinner! I conclude this article was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

My immediate interpretation of list of “advantages” is how jolly nice to be wearing a pair of glasses through which a western neo liberal view appears so attractive.

Not that, that model has caused any issues for Indigenous peoples or the planet of course.

No mention of the status of the first Australians. Of the reverence shown in the Australian Constitution for their land, language and culture and how that might have played out in the proposed seventh state of neo liberal Australia.

No mention of the highly skilled, informed and nuanced policy makers in Canberra who would have ensured absolute primacy of the wishes of the Indigenous peoples of the proposed new state.

Ah yes, I can see it now. Another west Papua, restive, seething with discontent and itching for the day they can hoist the rising bird of paradise flag.

East of the Wallace line, the Federated States of Melanesia - maybe. The seventh state of Australia - never.

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