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02 May 2018


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Jim Sinclair says on page 225 of his book 'Kiap': “The Public Service of an independent Papua New Guinea would have to be one she could afford.

In 1962 a difficult but inevitable decision was made by Paul Hasluck: the Service would have to be re-structured. The aim would be to transform it into ‘an essentially territorial service based on local conditions and rates of pay, staffed as fully as possible by indigenous officers and assisted by an auxiliary service staffed by expatriate officers’ (TPNG Annual Report 1961-62, p. 25).

This process would be gradual, but if the Public Service was to eventually become a PNG service, then Australians would have to be phased out.”

Seems like Hasluck knew what he doing but somehow the message was got lost between Canberra and Port Moresby.

Paul Oates

I suggest there are aspects about the times that have still not been discussed.

The first and foremost problem was and for that matter still is an almost insurmountable gulf that exists between Australia and PNG and it ain’t the Torres Strait I’m talking about.

Most Australians are informed about what they should be thinking about by the media who are hell bent on using any ‘angles’ to garner readership and so sell their articles. This aspect is nothing new and is hand in hand with our so called political leaders who try to manage their profiles and reduce any comment down to hyperbole and spin.

You only have to look at the content of the evening news to see what is deemed important enough to reduce to the proverbial and palatable ‘three second grabs’.

Papua was an Australian External Territory (i.e. we theoretically owned it) whereas New Guinea was a Trust Territory (we were only looking after it for the UN). Clearly it was impossible to conduct a plebiscite as to what many PNG people wanted as their future since the lines of ethnicity were hopelessly blurred as to who came from where. After the Second World War, it was always the eventual intention to treat all PNG as one country and Hasluck’s long tenue as Territories Minster was directed to that end.

I remember telling my local Australian MP at the time, who had interests in PNG and asked me for my views, that we had better ensure a Rhodesian situation didn’t develop.

That said, the issue of how PNG leaders should or could have managed their country after Independence still remains. In a previous post on this subject, I suggested that the Kiap system developed empirically by trial and error and was therefore effective while ever it was supported by a strong, centralist and accountable government. Therein lay an inherent weakness.

The second issue I suggest in one of the perspective of local PNG Kiaps. While ever they felt supported by the system and the framework of responsible leaders, they and their rural police detachments would have continued to work as an effective team. Leadership at the top was and is an essential part of any team.

Many PNG Officers were, as has been previously mentioned, swiftly promoted to senior positions that they were either unsuited for or had not yet had the necessary skills and experience to perform. This action was done without due regard for the system, those who were involved or the people they were expected to administer. This was really the crux of where the system basically collapsed from within.

I remember being in HQ in Moresby at the time and hearing of officers who to my knowledge were not trained or experienced, being sent to unsuitable postings without any concern about the subsequent outcomes. The overall concept at this time was convenience to both the new PNG leaders and those withdrawing overseas officers who were told to keep quiet about it.

Could things have been different? Only if there had been an effective amalgam of PNG and Australian leadership at the top. The fact that there was not clearly influenced the swift demise of the system and of those who tried to keep it going.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I have the same recollections as Keith, Ross. The Libs were hell bent on getting out of PNG as quickly as possible and made no secret about it.

But their reasons were not only based on criticism from the UN but also on economic grounds. I don't think the future of the PNG people figured much in their thinking.

I got to listen to John Gorton during his visit and he made it very clear that he wanted Australia out. Admittedly they were informal talks and he was pissed but he laid it on the line well and truly.

Whitlam's motives were a lot more complex. He was engaged in dragging Australia out of the dark ages and the long sleep under Menzies and instituting a whole range of social reforms, including ditching our role as a colonial power.

I cannot imagine Gough Whitlam being cowed by anyone from the UN or anywhere else. Critics of Whitlam always go to his economic management and forget about the massive social changes that he instituted and which have lasted ever since. I couldn't begin to imagine what Australia would be like now if it wasn't for Whitlam.

Maybe the boss kiaps just misread the politics. When I arrived in Mount Hagen as a CPO Tom Ellis told us that we had at least a 20 year career ahead of us.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I can't help thinking that if there had been more local kiaps in the system at a higher rank Somare might have reconsidered his objections to it and even considered beefing it up and retaining it, whether centrally based or provincially based.

With hindsight that might have meant the boss kiaps were lax in not recognising this and localising earlier and more vigorously.

It may be water under the bridge but it's an area worth researching.

When you look at the quality of the few local kiaps at ADO level such as Joe Nombri, Jack Karukuru, Posa Kilori et al it's obvious there was some considerable talent there whose potential was not fully realised.

Ross Wilkinson

A slight correction Phil. In 1971 the Libs were still the government of Australia and PNG Independence was talked about but still a distant target. In 1972 Whitlam's Labor Government was elected and the timetable was rapidly advanced. Accelerated Localisation began and Self-Government occurred on 1 December 1973.

The famous X positions were created for job advertisements whereby at least 50% of kiap jobs advertised were marked with an X against the Position Number. If an expatriate kiap won the position he would be sidestepped at the higher rank and a National promoted into the substantive position. Jobs then had to be found for the supernumerary expats.

By 1971, the Australian Liberal-Country Party government was pushing with great expedition towards a self-governing PNG. Indeed, then Territories Minister Andrew Peacock has always said that - along with Whitlam - he was a co-sponsor of independence, and Whitlam acknowledged this to me.

With Peacock's and Australia's support, the 1971 PNG Select Committee on Constitutional Development recommended the Territory prepare for self-government which, as you say was granted at the end of 1973.

Given the expectations of the PNG political class, the desire of both major Australian political parties, international pressure and upheavals in the Gazelle and Bougainville (not to mention the lively advocacy of Papua Besena), it was not surprising that the run home to independence from self-government was so brief - KJ

Paul Oates

Phil - Your conjecture raises a number of subsequent questions:

Was it the system that failed? Was it those in charge who failed or was it those outsiders who did not understand the system that caused its demise?

The system was empirically built up over a number of years of practical experience by those who graduated through the ranks.

At the same time, the metropolitan political environment was rapidly changing. Not so in the rural outstations however where the vast majority of PNG people lived.

There was therefore an disconnection between the perspectives of those like Whitlam who didn't want to know and strutted the world stage with an embarrassing whiff of a colonial power still hanging around like a bad smell.

There was the obstinate anger and natural ambition of local politicians who wanted to have political power now and who felt they were being inexplicably held back without clear reason.

Finally there were the local kiaps who were actually doing the work and were caught between the inevitable responsibility being thrown at them for reasons other than natural progression and practical training.

Hindsight is a wonderful method that unfortunately, none of us possess. We on the rural outstations at the time could see what was going to happen but were powerless to stop the process as no one in political power even thought to consult us.

Even if they had consulted us, the answers would have been ignored since they did not fall into line with the the thoughts of those in power or those wanting power.

Could the system be reinvented? The kiap system was by its very nature a centralist system. The power and authority was applied and enforced from a centralist power base of responsible government.

Until and unless you first start with a responsible and accountable government it is axiomatic that any attempt to recreate it will fail dismally.

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