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22 October 2017


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Thanks Dave, I wasn't suggesting Duncan Kerr was in the Australian government at the time the PNG Constitution was drafted. My understanding is he was involved in the preparation of the draft when he worked in Moresby together with his friends at the Uni I believe.

KJ might know more about this aspect.

Duncan Kerr did not enter Federal politics until 1987 when he rolled Michael Hodgman for the Tasmanian seat of Denison. He was not part of the Whitlam government.

There's one other very important aspect in Australian politics at the time in the mid 1970's that may also have been prominent in Duncan Kerr's thinking.

His Labor government was being restrained by a seemingly hostile Senate controlled by conservatives. The debate over whether that was good or bad depends on one's political perspective.

It is a fact however that just a few months after Gough Whitlam boasted afterwards, 'It was I comrade, who liberated PNG', Senate obstruction over the budget eventually led to his dismissal by the Australian Head of State, the Governor General.

One can but therefore wonder what could have transpired in contemporary PNG if such a dramatic situation could or should have happened in recent PNG politics? Surely it was close to happening when there were in effect two PM's and whoever controlled the PNG GG had apparently a legal standpoint.

So a bicameral 'House of Review' is and should be just that, merely able to review but not govern. The similarity between Australia's founding fathers and PNG's is that the Australian model with an upper house allows for the potential for an unequal distribution distribution of resources to be countered or ameliorated by each state having the same number of Senators.

In the light of the current debate in Australia over GST distribution, perhaps that notion of fairness has now been superceded by party politics and States rights?

The whole imbroglio is academic anyway since PNG now has to cope with the parliamentary system it now has. As Phil correctly points out, a local solution should be worked out by local people.

No system of government ever lasts longer than it's use by date however.

Ah William, you may recall that's what the newspaper headlines said of Peacock when he first clashed with fellow avian Hawke. 'All feathers, no meat.'

Beare in mind that 'Peacock'was known as the show pony.

This relates to my argument in another article that democracy in PNG doesn't work and has never worked because it is incompatible with the PNG people (or culture as the professor says).

It also relates to my argument that most Australians at the coal face in the lead up to independence strongly felt that democracy in PNG would not work but given the pressure on them decided to take the gamble anyway.

If you take this pessimistic view into account it is not beyond the realms of possibility that those same people then thought that to give democracy its best shot in PNG something simple was required i.e. a unicameral system.

Of course that view was counter-intuitive and did not take into account the cultural context into which it would be introduced.

Traditional Melanesian politics, as we know, is based on consensus coupled with the bigman system. That is, everyone discusses an issue, comes to a conclusion and then presents it to their leaders for their approval - in short a bicameral process.

I don't agree with Dr Guise's idea of a presidential system (can you imagine President O'Neill at work for instance?) but a bicameral system where there is a check on what the lower houses proposes would work well, particularly since the idea of an opposition in the PNG parliament has never properly developed.

‘Where did Papua New Guinea’s majoritarian unicameral idea come from? There was simply no plausible model.’

Well in default of there being an historical document that answers that question, here is my hypothesis.

One of the major architects on the eleventh hour race to divest Australia of her colony by Gough Whitlam’s Labor governments was the Tasmanian Labor politician Duncan Kerr who at the time was conversant with Port Moresby reflections.

Nearly 40 years after Independence, he was to be the last stumbling block put up to delay any recognition by Australia of the work Kiaps did for PNG after many years of hard work by Chris Viner-Smith and others.

Many commentators, myself included, have suggested better political systems could and should have been introduced to and set up in PNG prior to self-government and independence.

A unicameral system is fraught with danger with the circumstances that existed in PNG in the 1970’s. The existing circumstances, we who were there at the time still vividly remember.

There was an obvious and gross discrepancy in the standard of development throughout PNG prior to independence. This was due to there being insufficient attention given to the development of PNG by conservative governments in Canberra in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

This was partially based on the concept of the long serving Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, who fervently believed PNG needed to develop slowly so that there would be a firm base to build the eventual independent nation upon.

There was also the pressing need for scarce resources to develop Australia after the Second World War when it had been made very clear that we needed to be more independent in the future.

Many of the essential parameters that helped protect PNG people from initial exploitation were due to Hasluck’s guiding hand.

That Hasluck wasn’t given the resources needed to properly develop PNG by his conservative governments is also possibly due to ignorance and the belief that PNG needed a long time to bring all its disparate peoples up to a common level of development.

When in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, it was suddenly realised that there wasn’t going to be a long period of self government and stability, the rush was on to set up anything that looked good on paper and would appease mostly African representatives in the United Nations and local members of the elite.

In 1972 the slogan that Whitlam rose to power on was, ‘It’s time for change.’ There was a huge pressure from many parts of the Australian electorate to get rid of the stodgy old conservatives like Billy McMahon and the newer and younger generation like the Territories Minister Andrew Peacock were swept aside in the change of government.

To my knowledge, Peacock did have a rapport with many PNGians and was listening to those who did have some practical knowledge of what it was like at the ‘kunai’ roots.

That wealth of practical knowledge was all thrown out in the desperate rush of Whitlam to be seen to bask in the glory of anti-colonial spirit then in vogue with ‘developing’ countries.

Those countries were then demanding to be heard in the corridors of power however those same corridors of power were also being actively fostered by the Communist powers as parts of the Cold War stand-off with what is known as the ‘Western Powers’.

Those at the kunai roots and who were in daily contact with the PNG people knew that while some areas were ready to progress forward, many other areas were not.

It would require the proverbial ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ to be able to juggle exactly when the time was right for a unified PNG nation to move forward. Unfortunately, even if there had been a Solomon hardy, he would not have been listened to.

As has been noted, as Queensland Labor got rid of their Upper House some decades ago, the substitute Committee system is a poor alternative brake on the existing Lower House.

Decisions under a later the Bjelke-Peterson conservative government may well have caused some Labor supporters to wish they hadn’t got rid of their previous Upper House.

The essence of the issue for PNG is that when those in power want to preserve themselves in power, they then set about creating the organs of government to assist this. No better example of this was demonstrated in the just held PNG General Election.

Could there have been a better system set up subsequently in PNG? I have previously argued that the Regional and Provincial seats should be excised from the Lower House and be formed as a bicameral Upper House of Review.

That would then provide a better system and allow regional concerns to be voiced and to be considered before government decisions were enacted and became law.

The historical record shows that Whitlam and Peacock (and their respective parties) were totally aligned on the question of the timing and nature of PNG independence - KJ

The buck stops in your own ball court.

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