“One of the most pointed, confronting, unapologetic and stimulating emails,” writes Bal Kama, a leading commentator on Papua New Guinea affairs. He had received the communication from a professor of politics, an expert on the PNG government system, who agreed that it be shared. “It’s healthy to hear the minds of radical thinkers from beyond our shores, however unsettling,” commented Bal Kama.
IT REALLY is a curious question. Where did Papua New Guinea’s majoritarian unicameral idea come from? There was simply no plausible model.
It was created in PNG in 1964 at the same time the former Legislative Council dominated by Australian members was abolished. Why?
When granting self-government to the Australasian colonies, the legislative councils were retained. If we had had a Labor government in 1964, this might have been explainable for it was Labor policy to abolish state upper houses. But Australia was very non-Labor in 1964.
It appears the PNG design was invented out of whole cloth. The same design was adopted in the Northern Territory in 1974. (Because Queensland was such a·success?) Also in the Solomons in 1976 and in Vanuatu in 1980.
I do not know what the explanation is. It cannot be a matter of thoughtlessness for committees have to sit around and design electoral boundaries.
Whatever the explanation, it was a colossal blunder and the people have been paying the price. At the sub-national level the governments have a federal check but at the national level it spells doom.
We have seen 40 years of research and bandaid ‘governance’·activity during which everything has gone backwards, 40 years of humanitarian disaster and ever-deepening exploitation of the people by their politicians.
Asking people to have faith in a new generation of leaders has not a shred of scholarly credibility. It also defies common sense.
The main reason almost no one agrees that the political structure is the problem is because they already have a long-standing, comfortable and complete explanation of why Pacific policies fail their culture.
It does not dawn on them that the problem is not the translation of the faulty culture into the parliament but rather the imposition of a faulty parliament on the culture.
The authors just assume the parliament - their own culture - is faultless.
There is nothing wrong with Melanesian culture, but if there were, does it make sense to foist a political structure on them which has never worked with any culture?
Pacific academics and bureaucrats constitute a fairly small group of people, mainly Canberra based. They attend the same seminars and read each other's writings and the ‘culture-is-a-problem thesis’ is something they agree on; a taken-for-granted truth.
The reason no counter-argument penetrates is not only because it requires admission of error and an inversion of thinking but because it would be breaking ranks.
This culture prejudice misunderstands that the very purpose of a political system is to deal with the culture. That is what it is there for: if men were angels no government would be necessary (Madison).
If the system isn’t working, it is not the victims' fault. If the design isn't working, it is not a satisfactory design.
PNG (along with the Solomons and Vanuatu) is afflicted with a political design that never works, that cannot deal with any culture.
As to having faith in leaders, I am unaware of any scholar who postulated that modern institutional change occurs because politicians are selfless, f ar-sighted and wise.
I have concluded their overall findings are: (a) that political actors seek change if they think they will be better off under the new system and (b) that what actually happens depends on the preceding circumstances These are rather weak findings.
So perhaps a starting point to reform discussions could be discussion of PNG 's dubious beginning.
When the PNG House of Assembly was formed in 1964, independence was far away. A few years later Australian attitudes reversed. In June 1972, under Australian pressure to prepare for independence, the Assembly under Chief Minister Somare created the Constitutional Planning Committee. Australia (Minister f or External Territories Andrew Peacock) refused to supply any Australian officials to participate in or advise the Committee.
The Committee set up 500 discussion groups, toured the country, held 110 public meetings, received 2,000 submissions and tabled its report in the House of Assembly in August 1974.
A run-down of the events leading up to independence can be found here.
The Whitlam government was in a hurry to be rid of the colony.
Whether or not the country’s dubious start is a lever to get a debate moving, somehow the notion of proportional representation’s introduction has to get legs and be pushed until it is introduced.
Is it time to revisit the suggestion of Sir John Guise that PNG needs a presidential system? Now is the time to ask the hard questions about the integrity and viability of the systems that were established in the beginning. Is the Westminster unicameral system suitable for PNG?