Ex-PM Namaliu dies suddenly in Rabaul
01 April 2023
NOOSA - Sir Rabbie Langanai Namaliu GCL KCMG PC died unexpectedly in Rabaul yesterday afternoon at the age of 75.
He was Papua New Guinea’s fourth prime minister, serving from July 1988 to July 1992 and held other important posts, including foreign minister, in a long career in politics.
I received news of his death from his friend Arthur Smedley, who told me he had last spoken to Rabbie about a month ago when “he was his normal self and bright and cheerful”.
This is the way I remember Rabbie, who I first encountered at the University of Papua New Guinea more than 50 years ago.
In 1970 he had been among the first graduates of UPNG and, in 1975 when we shared Professor Rex Mortimer’s politics honours class, he was kicking on with his higher degree - later completed in Canada at the University of Victoria.
Twice a week we sat in a small tutorial room with Mortimer. It was the eve of independence and Rabbie had a deep understanding of the complexities and demands to come. His interventions in discussion were brief, quietly spoken and always influential.
He had a sunny disposition and, along with an acute intelligence, it was clear his personality and capability set him up for important things.
Indeed, soon enough he was one of a small group known as the Gang of Four who at independence became high powered public servants.
Rabbie, along with Mekere Morauta, Anthony Siaguru and Charles Lepani, shaped and developed public policy and gave meaning to the changed administration requirements of the newly decolonised state.
He was to twice serve as foreign minister, from 1982-84 and from 2002-06, when he became finance minister.
He lost his seat of Kokopo Open in 2007 and moved on to a successful career in business.
Rabbie was a great and good man. I knew him well in those days around independence and the acquaintance regenerated at a distance when my son, Ben, went to work in PNG eight or so years ago, befriended Rabbie Jr and also came to know Rabbie.
In 1987 Rabbie had married Margaret Nakikus who headed PNG’s National Planning Office.
They had two sons (Isaac and Rabbie Jnr) and an adopted daughter (Joy) before Margaret died of leukaemia tragically young in 1992.
Rabbie, and people like Mekere Morauta, Anthony Siaguru, Paulus Arek and my dear friend Sam Piniau, had so much to offer the new nation, but even their capabilities, good values and classiness were not enough to leave a lasting impression on a land where the craft of good governance has been difficult to practice and impossible to maintain.
In another dimension, these men helped me gain a great love for PNG, a gift that I have maintained, and for that reason Rabbie’s death is doubly saddening for me.
The family told Arthur that Rabbie had not been well for a couple of days.
The illness worsened yesterday and an aircraft was chartered to take him to Port Moresby in the afternoon.
Rabbie was being assisted to board the plane when he died.
Forty eight years later, few of PNG’s independence heroes remain.
These are sad days.
Rabbie was a kiap too.
As John Christie reports on the exkiap website: "From memory Namaliu commenced as DC ENBP late 1974/early 1975, at the time I was DMO (certainly in the time of Vin Smith who was acting DC)."
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 12 April 2023 at 09:42 AM
Jean and I knew Rabbie when we worked in PNG in the mid-1970s.
We knew Margaret even better, in that circle of brilliant women including Josefa Namsu Kanawi, Meg Taylor, Christine Voutas etc.
Rabbie was one of the good guys in PNG politics. We’ll miss him.
Posted by: Steve Zorn | 02 April 2023 at 10:35 AM
Rabbie's passing brings great sadness. He has been a great friend and mentor since I first met him in August 1989 as a newly arrived New Zealand high commissioner to PNG.
He was a man of great integrity charm and intelligence. He wanted a peaceful outcome on Bougainville and secured New Zealand’s help.
Margaret’s cancer was discovered during an official visit to New Zealand.
He was a superb human being in every sense. It was always important to listen carefully. Sometimes his 'yes' meant 'no' as the Commonwealth Secretariat's anuyoku discovered.
A giant of the forest has fallen. Go well Rabbie
Posted by: John Hayes | 01 April 2023 at 05:55 PM
I had the great pleasure to know Sir Rabbie very well over the last 10 years as the Joint Patrons of YWAM Medical Ships PNG.
I first met Sir Rabbie when I was Speaker of the Queensland Legislative Assembly while visiting Port Moresby in about 2007.
We had a respectful and productive relationship working together with YWAM to deliver health service delivery to provinces in PNG.
He will be sorely missed by his family, friends and the people of PNG and his many friends in Australia. RIP Sir Rabbie.
Posted by: Honourable Mike Reynolds CBE AM | 01 April 2023 at 05:39 PM
The saddest news for his people for a long time. A great human being and a fine leader.
Posted by: Noel Pascoe | 01 April 2023 at 12:35 PM
I knew him well. He was a great friend.
Farewell Rabbie, PNG will miss you.
Posted by: Chips Mackellar | 01 April 2023 at 09:15 AM