ADELAIDE – Sir Bob Dadae (Dadae fears PNG disintegration may be ‘inevitable’) is pointing to what, elsewhere in PNG Attitude, I have described as a “truly wicked” policy problem.
The wickedness arises because there is not an obvious solution to pro-autonomy tendencies which can appease both determined separatists and those people equally determined to maintain Papua New Guinea’s current constitutional arrangements.
Sir Bob appears to be advocating a hard-line approach on resisting separatism, specifically in relation to Bougainville.
However well-intentioned Sir Bob may be in advocating this, it is an approach that is doomed to fail.
In the case of Bougainville, PNG lacks both the political and military capacity to resist or overcome the inevitable unilateral declaration of independence that would follow refusal to honour the outcome of the recent referendum.
The independent Bougainville Referendum Commission chair, Bertie Ahern, confirmed that the vote was conducted "in an environment that was conducive to a free, fair and credible process".
And the final result, after a huge turn-out, was that 98.3% of the people voted for independence.
Put bluntly, it seems that Bougainvilleans will, if necessary, resort to armed struggle to achieve this end and there is nothing the PNG defence force can do about it.
Perhaps it would be better for the Papua New Guinea government to bow gracefully before the inevitable day arrives (sometime between 2025 and 2027) than engage in a pointless conflict that, even in the unlikely event that determined Bougainvilleans could be subdued, would be a national disaster for PNG.
As I have written previously (Bougainville was not meant to be easy), a federal model, in whichever of its various forms, may be sufficient to avoid the disintegration of the country.
The political cost of this will be a significant devolution of power to the provinces or states that emerge, with the central government's role reduced largely to managing foreign affairs, immigration, customs and excise, defence and certain other functions such as banking and aviation regulation.
I am sure that prime minister James Marape will be well aware of all this.
And I suspect he may feel this intervention by the governor-general was at best unhelpful at best, perhaps even provocative.
Certainly, Sir Bob would be ill-advised to again make such comments on Bougainville.
Marape's advice to Sir Bob might well be to stick to the praising, predictabilities and platitudes that are stock-in-trade for vice regal figures across the world.
The former accountant for the Evangelical Lutheran Church should adopt those diplomatic side-steps that leave the political problems to those elected to manage them.