Politics

When Australia's first Labour Prime Minister in over twenty years, Gough Whitlam, stood by the promise to Papua New Guinea of independence by 1975 he inadvertently caused a fair degree of conflict and panic. Except for a tiny minority of extremists, no one, either inside or outside the country, considered it ready for independence.

But independence it got, starting with self determination in 1973 at which time a crash programme of training was undertaken against the impossible 1975 deadline. Suddenly lowly native clerks were pressure-fed through the system to emerge within a year as heads of sections. Natives in higher positions became heads of departments and politicians, who had done little more than agree or disagree with Australian guidance, found themselves forced to make decisions on which the future of their country depended.

While Australia did not leave them entirely on their own — it continued to grant Papua New Guinea something like 200 million dollars per year aid — the politicians, in my opinion, did a fine, responsible job. Under the leadership of Michael Somare, they rallied the inhabitants together with sayings like 'Bung Onetime' (loosely translated meaning 'let's get together'), and held their country together during a period of enormous doubt and confusion.

Michael Somare continued to rule throughout 1978 when this book was researched and he appears to go from strength to strength despite continual votes of no confidence being brought into the house by the opposition party.

Both parties have excellent platforms and appear to have the country foremost in their minds so it is reasonable to predict that the essence of democracy will prevail in Papua New Guinea regardless of which party rules in the future.

Frankly, I believe the government will slowly shed some of its Australian habits and adopt policies which are more pertinent to a tropical country whose inhabitants, not so very long ago, were eating each other. This is not to say it will revert back, but for example, certain Australian laws which just don't work in this country will inevitably be replaced by laws which take into consideration the tribal past of the people.

Meanwhile — and probably well into the future, Papua New Guinea enjoys political stability and the visitor should not be afraid to visit the country or to invest in it.

That thin white horizontal line in the middle of the photograph above is a column of protestors. Taken in 1966, it was the first organised protest in Papua New Guinea and, to their credit, one of the last.

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