A plea for more realism and understanding from Australia
By JOHN FOWKE
In days of old, in PNG, white men were generally addressed by non-English-speaking Papua New Guineans as “Masta.” Today this honorific is infrequently heard; where a foreigner is known well, his first name is universally used.
Where there is no bond of familiarity; say, in a shop or a taxi, a Tok Pisin speaker is likely to address a foreign man as “Boss” although “Mate” is also widely used in application to those obviously of Oz or Kiwi origin.
In the ‘eighties, a time when foreign personnel were being rapidly replaced with locals as managers on the coffee-plantations of the Wahgi Valley, there were daily enquiries regarding any upcoming vacancy for a “Blakmasta.” Today, in the wisdom generated by 30 years of increasingly bad public administration and the emergence of a cynical and manipulative political elite, the term is returning into common useage to describe this ruling clique of powerful men. “Ol Blakmasta ia!”
Thinking Australians on both sides of the political divide are concerned about their country’s relationship with
ECP was an expensive, ambitious and highly-publicised aid package agreed upon by the parties – and one which received a resounding knock-back when actually implemented. Within a very short time of their arrival more than one hundred specially-recruited Australian police officers together with families and support retreated in a forced and humiliating manner from
The total cost of this incredibly-badly-planned exercise can only be imagined.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the road to reform in PNG is through the enhancement of policing and the gaoling of a sufficiently exemplary number of those leaders proven as being corrupt; the first step, indeed, but a first step which has to be taken by Papua New Guineans regardless of any assistance which may be offered. The fact that the Australians underestimated the pressure elements of the elite of PNG is able to bring to bear, added with the already-mentioned lack of effective research and planning regarding legal and constitutional issues is a major indictment of those in charge of the ECP project. Is this the standard for all
It is a characteristic both of AusAid and its partners, the private consultancies which plan and execute projects, that the word “memory” is not in their vocabulary. If there are good summing-up or debriefing procedures for project evaluation these are not activated, and whilst one can understand why, one can also understand the great propensity which exists at AusAid for re-inventing the wheel. But perhaps the trouble is that summary briefings following completion are never asked for. In fact the whole sisterhood/brotherhood of the aid industry, the departmental bureaucrats and the consultancies concerned, is collectively very quiet about what it does. This begs the obvious question: why?
Australians in general together with the breed described in the media as “Pacific Specialists” really don’t understand just how different PNG society is from that which occupies
In 1964, in the first general election ever held in Papua New Guinea, -( that for the House of Assembly which paved the way for National Parliament and full independence in 1975)- the Australians introduced the Westminster Parliamentary system. In the sense that a “loyal opposition” provides checks and balances it may have been possible at the time to see a “party system” as desirable; but only for a moment. For where, in this society, were the natural “ parties” requiring representation? A simple, subsistence-based tribal society is one which defines itself on the basis of region, of “turf”; not by social class or by possession or by disparity in terms of wealth and opportunity. Whilst it was important for the Territory to begin to address the rest of the world as a nation after 1964, the needs of a rapidly-changing society were - and still are - visualized by the people in regional terms. Reason suggests that fair distribution and the empowerment of the people would best have been answered by a regionally-anchored system of representation; representation able to be controlled by the electorate. Nevertheless a caricatured version of Australian party politics was allowed to arise, more by default than with intent, or so it seems today.
The party system of representation was and is like a dollop of oil dropped into the pond of PNG society. There is no affinity, the one for the other. Here, in PNG in 1964, as opposed to
Today it is difficult to find any record of more than superficial discussion of alternatives. At least one was readily to hand, in the shape of a fully-democratized version of the former Legislative Council supported by the nineteen existing District Advisory Councils, democratized, and the network of well-established and democratically-elected Local Government Councils then numbering more than 100. This would have been governance anchored firmly at the roots of society, government answering the reality of regional needs and interests as opposed to non-existent social, class-based or occupation-based needs.
Those who administered PNG in that time were under the thumb of the irascible, intelligent, and idealistic Paul Hasluck, Minister for Territories, a man who bridged no objection from an underling. Whilst a forceful man, it must be said that Hasluck suffered opposition from the largely conservative bureaucracy in Port Moresby in the form of delayed responses and obfuscation; delays which may have caused him to be unduly testy and perhaps precipitate in some of his decisions. In the late’fifties one of the very few really clear-thinking and innovative officers of the post-war T.P&N.G Administration, the late David Fenbury, advocated “a common inter-racial franchise for direct elections to the Legislative Council…..”, and again in 1960 he reminded Hasluck of this in a personal communication. Fenbury was the principal guide and philosopher of the Local Government Council system introduced into the Territory in the early ‘fifties. Whilst respected by Hasluck as his equal in intellect, Fenbury may have been something of a bete noir as far as the Minister was concerned as he was probably the only senior officer in the Administration who would not defer to Hasluck in exchanges of opinion.
Hasluck and those in power in
As the twenty-first century opens, PNG is being forced through a process of massive social adjustment more intense than that experienced by almost any other nation. A simply-structured tribal society is becoming, willy-nilly, an incredibly more complex one. However, change occurs incrementally as far as an individual is concerned; few pause to analyze and understand what is taking place in terms of a movement towards hegemony. And in any case they know that their voices will not be heard in the forum provided by the party system. So people just put up with things until an issue such as Sandline galvanizes them into brief violence.
Noted Australian poet and friend of PNG the late James MacAulay once said something to the effect that what
©John Fowke 8.05.06 2723 words
John Fowke has spent most of the past forty-eight years living and working in rural
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Getting it wrong in Papua New Guinea
A plea for more realism and understanding from Australia