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A Trial Separation

A Trial Separation: Australia and the Decolonisation of Papua New Guinea OPEN ACCESS

DONALD DENOON
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hdvs
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    A Trial Separation
    Book Description:

    When it came in September 1975, Papua New Guinea's independence was marked by both anxiety and elation. In the euphoric aftermath, decolonisation was declared a triumph and immediate events seemed to justify that confidence. By the 1990s, however, events had taken a turn for the worse and there were doubts about the capacity of the State to function. Before independence, Papua New Guinea was an Australian Territory. Responsibility lay with a minister in Canberra and services were provided by Commonwealth agencies. In 1973, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam declared that independence should be achieved within two years. While Australians were united in their desire to decolonise, many Papua New Guineans were nervous of independence. This superlative history presents the full story of the 'trial separation' of Australia and Papua New Guinea, concluding that — given the intertwined history, geography and economies of the two neighbours — the decolonisation project of 'independence' is still a work in progress.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-92-2
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-6)

    Independence in Papua New Guinea was marked by flurries of activity and stately rites, anxiety as well as elation. Formal celebrations were muted, even nervous, in Port Moresby. Hubert Murray Stadium commemorates a long-serving proconsul. There, on the eve of independence, the Australian flag was lowered with solemn respect. Michael Somare, Prime Minister-designate, hosted a dinner in a house above Fairfax Harbour, to watch the midnight fireworks. Speaking without notes and with rare passion, he paid tribute to his colleagues and his subordinates, then he turned to the Prime Minister of Australia. The two were at loggerheads over Australian aid...

  2. Part 1: Australian Rule
    • Like a handful of other Papuans and New Guineans in the 1950s, Miss Tessie Lavau of Iokea Village in Kerema District of Papua visited Australia as a nursemaid with her employers on their vacation ‘down south’. Most Australians in the Territory employed a servant, but few brought them to Australia. These household relations must have been friendly: when Miss Lavau moved on to be a public service typist, the family offered her a place to stay if she ever visited Australia. In 1958, she acted on their suggestion and made her application. That very ordinary action startled Australian officials on...

    • Tessie Lavau’s curiosity was widely shared but seldom satisfied until 1962 when ‘native leaders’, including nominated members of the Legislative Council, asked to visit Australia to see how government worked.¹ Their interest delighted the officials who were planning to create an elected legislature: a tour might produce ‘men who know what we are talking about when we ask them to consider further changes’. All official thinking accepted that Papua New Guineans must understand the workings of Australian government, not that Australians should understand Papua New Guinea society.

      Selecting a party was tricky. Each district should send one person and David...

    • After half a century of patrolling coastal villages and half a generation of police rule in the Highlands, government in the 1950s still relied on ‘native leaders’ to relay their purposes to isolated villages and report back. The middlemen could act as ‘traditional’ Big Men, such as Bin Arawaki from the Eastern Highlands and Kup Ogut from the Western Highlands (Chapter 2), or as ‘modern’ office-bearers such as Lukas Chauka in Local Councils.

      Less personal arrangements were in the wind. After a report by the Melbourne Law Professor David Derham in 1960, the new policy was to remove police from...

    • John Guise’s Select Committee was scarcely more democratic than Gunther’s. Not only did it contain three expatriate elected members of the House, but also three officials, one of whom (W. W. Watkins, the abrasive Law Officer) became deputy chair, while Fred Chaney was its secretary. Watkins argued for ‘certain matters to be the subject of talks between the Commonwealth Government and the Committee’.¹ As members were keen to protect the Australian connection, they consulted Canberra on the following agenda before they consulted the people.

      In the event of the people deciding that they wish Papua and New Guinea to be...

    • After 14 years as Administrator, Sir Donald Cleland retired in 1967 and used his final speech to take stock. Ted Wolfers glossed his address:

      Strong Australian control, the stress on the long distance still remaining before self-determination, the assumption that inter-racial cooperation was still a viable proposition, were the principal points of Cleland’s speech, as they had been the hallmarks of Hasluck’s career and policy.¹

      There was no sign of faster change. Cleland even suggested that constitutional matters would be better handled by lawyers than by political processes. When Hay took over, he accepted the glacial pace but wanted to...

  3. Part 2: Decolonisation
    • A generation later, it is hard to imagine a time when decolonisation seemed neither inevitable nor perhaps achievable. But, in 1969, the pace of parliamentary politics in Papua New Guinea was still leisurely. Weeks before Whitlam’s visit and Gorton’s U-turn, the Member for Ijivitari in Papua’s Northern District, Paulus Arek, took the initiative. A graduate of Sogeri High School, Arek was more articulate and more experienced than most members. When he proposed another Select Committee, the House agreed, expecting that this, like Guise’s Committee, would merely tinker with the status quo. Its membership reinforced that impression. Having proposed the Committee,...

    • Early in 1972, two political surprises changed the pace and the nature of devolution, bringing in new men, new vision and new energy. Prime Minister Gorton was alienating his Liberal colleagues. When they had passed over Hasluck and selected this little-known war veteran, they imagined him to be a hawk in the war in Vietnam and a conservative at home. His economic and cultural nationalism shocked any Liberals who were not already offended by his autocratic style. Opposition gathered behind the Treasurer, the conspiratorial Sir William McMahon (Whitlam mocked him as ‘Tiberius with a Telephone’). The feud reached its climax...

    • Keen to decolonise Australia, Whitlam assured Somare that he endorsed the timetable that would confer self-government on December 1, 1973, and independence as early as 1974. He allowed little latitude in the timing, and none in the shape of independence. His policy speech (‘It’s Time’) made ‘a secure, united and friendly Papua New Guinea’ a priority, an outcome essential to regional stability and Australia’s fulfilment of the UN Trust. Twice in 1972, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed the need for unity and policies for ‘discouraging separatist movements and promoting national unity’.¹

      Whitlam’s government believed that speed was essential. Given enough...

    • Self-government offered a rare opportunity to review and overhaul economic policy, hitherto decided in Canberra. Ross Garnaut describes the economy rather well as ‘a big lump of Australian public expenditure’. Public servants, the Panguna mine and service industries offered the only practical tax base.¹ Despite the misgivings of John Stone in the Australian Treasury,² the lump had grown since 1964 with the drive to create infrastructure. This spending deepened the Territory’s financial dependence and complemented an extraordinary reliance on skilled Australian bank tellers, shop assistants, drivers and even labourers. And years of Australian subventions entrenched dependent attitudes. Mark Lynch, as...

    • Decolonisation transformed a dependent Territory into a sovereign State, making people citizens instead of subjects. Sovereignty confers international equality and membership of global institutions. Some landlocked mini-states in Europe could leave it at that. Some insular mini-states in the Pacific and the Caribbean were experimenting with partial sovereignty, while Britain, France or the US continued to provide services.¹ Papua New Guinea was too large to behave like a mini-state and had opted for full independence so the new government had to provide schools and colleges, clinics and hospitals, roads and harbours, diplomats and soldiers, courts and police, agricultural, marketing and...

    • A new State must define itself, especially if its inherited shape owes everything to the convenience of colonial powers and nothing to cultural or economic compatibilities. Papua New Guinea’s borders were so arbitrary and its internal links so frail that national sentiment mingled with parochial passions — and with pan-Melanesian solidarities. The 800 spoken languages measured not only people’s isolation but the parochialism of each language community. English was spoken by a tiny elite of school-leavers; Tok Pisin was spoken mainly by men (and fewer women) who had lived away from home; hiri motu served as a lingua franca along the...

  4. Part 3: The Limits of Independence
    • Papua New Guineans handled the transition to independence with flair, despite their limited experience, the speed with which they had to act and the explosive agenda that they inherited. With great skill and some luck, they brought their country united to independence with new institutions, a new public service, a guaranteed income and a home-made constitution.

      The coalition that achieved these feats tottered in 1978 when Julius Chan took the PPP into opposition, and collapsed in March 1980 when the Leader of the Opposition, Iambakey Okuk, won a no-confidence motion, naming Chan as preferred Prime Minister. Chan had quit the...

    • John Guise held every high office except the one he most wanted. Speaker in the Second House, he was Somare’s deputy in the third. For the rites of independence, he was Governor-General. In that capacity, he declared:

      Papua New Guinea is now independent.

      We have at this point in time broken with our colonial past and we now stand as an independent nation in our own right.

      On the distinguished visitors’ platform, Gough Whitlam thought the same of Australia since ‘Australia was never truly free until Papua New Guinea became free’.¹ At this euphoric moment, when Australians celebrated the end...