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Australian Institute of International Affairs
Why is Papua New Guinea so Hard to Govern ?

Sean Dorney first went to Papua New Guinea in 1974 and has spent twenty of the last twenty-five years (seventeen of those as the ABC Correspondent) reporting on the politics, people and perplexities of Australia's nearest neighbour. He has written two books on PNG. The second, 'The Sandline Affair', published last year provides an in-depth examination of the Chan Government's 1997 aborted attempt to introduce mercenaries to the South Pacific to fight on the PNG Government's behalf in the war on Bougainville.

In preparing this address I trawled through the small sea of words I have spoken or written about Papua New Guinea over the past decade. Shallow waters they may be but amongst the items my net dragged up was the following from a lecture I was invited to give to my old university, James Cook in Townsville, in 1991 on the theme, Australia's Melanesian Future. I began my talk that night with a tragic tale to illustrate how we Australians and our neighbours often don't understand each other very well and how easy it is for signals passing between us to be misinterpreted. This was the tale:

On Monday, November the 19th, 1990, an Australian Defence Force helicopter practising high altitude flying in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea landed in the village of Ogelbeng not far from Mount Hagen to pick up a PNG Defence Force soldier from the village who had been dropped off there several hours earlier. One of the older village men, a father of four, strode towards the helicopter from the rear to welcome the pilot. The co-pilot, foreseeing tragedy, waved frantically in an attempt to warn him of danger. Apparently misinterpreting the warning wave as an enthusiastic response to the welcome the villager walked faster, thrust out his right arm for a handshake and died. The spinning rear rotor blade cleaved him in two. The blade sheared off from the impact. The Ogelbeng villagers impounded the disabled helicopter, built a wooden fence around it and demanded $135,000 compensation from the Australian Government for the man's death.

That sort of misunderstanding of what the other side means happens again and again in our relationships with Papua New Guinea, though of course not always with such shocking results. Over the years I have found that almost every assumption I have made when reporting in and about Papua New Guinea has been proved wrong. Further on in that B.J. Dalton Lecture to the James Cook University audience, I made an attempt at explaining why the misinterpretations continue and how differently the people in each country probably see the other.

The countries of Melanesia are not simple to understand. Especially not for we Australians, members as so many of us are of a migrant, transplanted, European culture. If over the past twenty years we have built up any mental picture of Melanesians at all it is probably one that classifies them as having barely emerged from the tribalised Stone Age; tending to revert at a moment's pretext to barbarism; susceptible to ravenous corruption; jealous of our Western, we would like to believe hard-won and hard-worked-for, lifestyle; and, the men amongst them anyway, rapists lusting after the poor, brave white women who foolishly dare to live amongst them.

To present the view from the other side let me try to describe how, I believe, we are seen by some of our Melanesian neighbours. In their eyes we Australians are land-snatching migrants from the other side of the world; lumbering awkwardly around a region that is not ours; money spilling from our pockets; soulless in the way we dispatch our aged parents into prison-like old people's homes; worrying obsessively about our individual safety and comfort; boring in our narrow work-related concerns; culturally vacant in our limited, mono-language world; and, to top off the arrogance, far too ready to lecture them about their incompetence and preach to them about how they should run their countries.

Actually, I could probably have saved myself a whole lot of trouble by simply reading out that whole address. There is not too much I would change eight years on. However, what I have committed myself to do this evening is to concentrate on Papua New Guinea and its problems of governance. And, in particular, to outline why we should not share the Howard Government's apparently wild optimism that PNG's new Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta, is going to bring about magical change - that he will, somehow, be able to undo all the damage inflicted by that terrible man, Bill Skate.

When I spoke to Sir Mekere a month ago he looked more worried than I have ever seen him. Harassed, perhaps, may be a better description. I was conducting an interview for a television documentary series on Papua New Guinea that the ABC has commissioned me to prepare for broadcast next year. It is going to be a program in which I will try to give Australian viewers something of a portrait of what our protege, our former colony, PNG, has evolved into during its first quarter-century as an independent nation. Because, although it may pass otherwise without much fanfare, on the day after the official opening of next year's Sydney Olympics, we will be marking the anniversary of another significant national achievement. On September the 16th in the year 2000, it will have been 25 years to the day since Gough Whitlam liberated Australia from the onerous moral obligations of colonialism.

I will speak in more detail a little later about how I view Australia's record as a colonial power but let me finish this anecdote about my interview with the disturbed man who is now Papua New Guinea's sixth Prime Minister. During one break in our video recording - and we had many breaks because we were using a brand new Japanese digital, wide screen camera which annoyingly took regular exception to the tropical humidity - Sir Mekere said, "Sean, these are very hard questions!" The comment intrigued me because what I was asking him was more conceptual than specific. And it had been on the conceptual level that PNG's new Prime Minister had been so effective in his own vociferous criticisms of his predecessors: first, Sir Julius Chan, and then later, Bill Skate. His oft quoted observation of corruption in Papua New Guinea having become both systematic and systemic being but one example.

I suppose I had made things a little awkward for Sir Mekere because, in a way, I was inviting him to absolve Chan and Skate (and Somare and Wingti and Namaliu) from some of the blame for Papua New Guinea's current problems by inviting him to describe how tough it is for anyone to deliver good governance in a country as diverse as PNG. However, it was not my interviewing technique, I hasten to admit, that was primarily responsible for the Prime Minister's discomfiture. If anything Mekere seemed a little too distracted to be thrown by any questions from me. And the reason for this distraction was explained to me after the interview was over by one of his staff members. "He's in the midst of preparing the budget," this fellow told me when PNG's Prime Minister had departed. "And Sir Mekere is horrified at the incapacity of the system to provide him with the tools he needs or with reliable information on even the most basic matters."

There lies Sir Mekere's and Papua New Guinea's dilemma. The things that once seemed to work do not any longer and the political forces at play in modern PNG will make damn sure they won't work efficiently again. It is particularly stressful for somebody like Mekere who was there at the beginning 24 years ago as a top bureaucrat. He was the first indigenous head of the PNG Finance Department (what in Canberra is called the Treasury). And he had some extremely capable people around him including Ross Garnaut, now Economics Professor at the ANU, and Alan Morris, now head of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Back then, the PNG Finance Department seemed right on top of its brief. It had devised the Hard Kina Strategy - a strategy which saw the value of the PNG currency, the Kina, steadily appreciate against the Australian dollar - and it was responsible for managing PNG's early, and much remarked upon, solid macroeconomic stability.

One of the advantages that the Finance Department and the first Somare Government had in the mid 1970s was, paradoxically, inheriting the aura of colonial administrative authority. Autocratic, authoritarian rule is far easier for administrators in a developing country than is democracy. And it was a little while before Papua New Guinea's politicians and the general population learned just how much freedom and just how many individual rights their Constitution guaranteed them. If there is one thing upon which almost all of the senior political figures in PNG I have interviewed for this documentary agreed upon it was that their country suffers from too pure a form of democracy. Nobody concedes anybody else the right to tell them what to do and almost every Member of Parliament believes he or she is destined for the top job in the country.

Papua New Guinea is not an easy country to govern under any circumstances. Sir Paul Hasluck made that abundantly clear in his book 'A Time For Building' which dealt with his tenure as Australia's Minister for Territories for thirteen years. Sir Paul said that whereas he looked with pride upon what he achieved in the other responsibilities within his portfolio - the Northern Territory and the smaller island territories - Papua New Guinea 'was a task for Sisyphys'. Sisyphys was the character in Greek mythology who was punished in the underworld by having to push a boulder to the top of the hill only to have it roll down again and no matter how much he tried he could never succeed in getting it to stay at the top. 'I think I did just as well as Sisyphys did,' Sir Paul said sardonically, 'and certainly got just as tired.'

Australians who despair of present-day PNG public administration would do well to read Hasluck's book. Sir Paul wrote that on his first trip to PNG, the Acting Public Service Commissioner in the Territory, Mr E.A. Head, told him 'a disheartening story' about the state of the then Australian dominated service and the incompetence of some of the key men. Head summed it up for Hasluck by suggesting that if the Australian Commonwealth public service was taken as a yardstick to be 100 per cent efficient, it would be 'an optimistic view' to think of the PNG service as being twenty-five per cent efficient. That comparison was made at a time when PNG's Independence Day was considered to be at least a century away. In fact it was nearer to 1975 than we are now. Nobody could even conceive of it in 1951 but PNG was then only 24 years away from independent nationhood. I am not an absolute critic of Australian colonial rule but the truth is we never woke up to the realities of decolonisation until we had fewerthan five years to get PNG ready for it. And, of course, by then we concentrating a good deal of our attention on getting out.

It is nostalgic rot to suggest that we Australians left behind a fully functioning, well established and effective bureaucracy. The comments that Australian visitors often elicit from some Papua New Guineans about how good things were when the Australians were in charge bear an uncanny resemblance to the way the people in the former German territory of New Guinea used to refer to the German reign (1884-1914) as the 'gut taim bipo' - the 'good times before' the Australians took over. Our colonial touch was very light indeed. In 1970, just five years before Australia granted PNG its Independence, an area of some 170,000 hectares was still classified as not being under any Australian administrative control. When self-government and independence finally came with a rush there was an understandable scramble by many Australians in the Territory's public service to leave. This was, of course, encouraged by the rapid 'localisation' policy adopted by the first PNG Government (formed in late 1972) led by Michael Somare. Too few Papua New Guineans had been trained to do the jobs they were quickly promoted to fill and some government departments have never recovered.

Of all the agencies which Australia handed over to PNG in the mid-1970s, the most crippled was the police force. Most of the country was still nominally under the care of patrol officers ('Kiaps'). In the year of independence, 1975, police responsibility covered only ten per cent of the land area and forty per cent of the population. A PNG policy document produced just one month after Independence by the Finance and Planning Department stated that the force had 'major problems' because of inexperienced and untrained staff. 'Of a total force strength of 4400,' it said 'there are 239 commissioned officers, 96 below establishment strength.' The shortage of senior non-commissioned-officers (NCOs) was even more debilitating at less than half strength. There were only 149 sergeants, for instance, instead of 324. It was hardly the type of law-enforcement agency that one might wish upon a new nation with PNG's complexity of problems.

Another aspect of Australia's administration that is regarded with enormous nostalgia is the system we had up there of patrol officers, Kiaps, working for the Department of Native Affairs. As an aside when I first arrived in PNG in 1974, the tucker-box I used to frequent to buy hamburgers had pinned on its wall, 'Licence to deal with Natives'. That was the year before independence. 'Bring back the Kiaps,' is a cry you often here from those disillusioned with the consequences of independence. But Kiap Rule, fine for the period of initial contact, was never going to last. If you are going to have democracy then you cannot have individuals who perform the jobs of arresting officer, judge, jury and jailer all at the same time. We imposed a system that worked for a time and for us but we had the distinct advantage of being a colonial, authoritarian power. The Kiaps never had to answer to PNG politicians. Democracy is ever so much more difficult a system to administer. It is especially so when the people being governed speak an average of eight distinct languages per electorate. Of all the statistics that can be reeled off about Papua New Guinea the most vital for any real understanding of the place is the fact that Papua New Guineans speak 867 languages. That is one third of the world's languages still in use. The population is about 4.5 million. So you have upwards of one thousand indigenous ethnic groups, most quite small in number, who have been thrust together as a nation for less than a quarter of a century.

One hundred years ago most of these tribal groups still did not know any of the others existed apart from those who were their immediate, usually hostile neighbours. This rapid transition from a thousand tiny society-states to a modern nation-state has its political ramifications. Yauka Liria, one of PNG's best modern writers, put it succinctly in his remarkable book, 'Bougainville Campaign Diary', about his time as a Defence Intelligence officer in the early years of the Bougainville conflict. 'The Papua New Guinean's loyalty is firstly to his parents,' he wrote, 'then in order, the clan, the village, the tribe, the district, the region, the occupational identity such as the Defence Force, and the nation-state of PNG comes last. That's right, last of all!'

The absence of a popular perception of the primacy of the State - and the reality of the obverse of that, the general belief that your family and tribal group, your wantoks (Pidgin for 'one-talk' - people who speak your language) come first - is fundamental to what many outsiders see as some of PNG's biggest problems: political instability caused by shifting loyalties in Parliament; corruption and the diversion of public money to benefit one's wantoks; poor land utilisation (ninety-seven per cent of the land remains in the hands of its traditional owners); gang crime; and a generally ineffective public service.

However, there are some positive aspects to PNG we often overlook. More than eighty per cent of the people still live in their villages on their own land, many of them engaged in the informal economy in a state of what some have described as 'subsistence affluence'. Also the wantok system of social obligations provides a safety net for tribal members, including those who have migrated to the towns, which saves the state from huge welfare payments it could never afford anyway.

And then there is this huge enthusiasm for democracy. The combination of the multi-fractured nature of PNG society and the Constitution adopted at independence - a stunningly liberal document that emphasises the rights of the individual over those of the State - mitigate against the emergence of any despotic ruler. But equally they combine to inhibit the exercise of tough, single-minded leadership. A Prime Minister has to constantly shore up support in Parliament and disciplining Ministers can imperil continued survival. Bill Skate's recent resignation in the face of certain defeat if a no confidence vote had been brought against him was just the latest example of how transitory the job of leading any PNG government is.

In their determination to avoid dictatorship the framers of the PNG Constitution, and they were the greatest nationalists of the day, made certain that the Parliament would be more powerful than the Prime Minister. One result is that if a Prime Minister is facing a challenge in Parliament he has no option to go to the people, no option to call an early election. Only the Parliament itself can vote to end its five year term early and that has never happened yet. And it is not likely, to as no ordinary Member of the PNG chamber wants to face the voters before it is absolutely necessary.

This is because of the extremely precarious nature of political life. In the 1997 elections fewer than half the outgoing Members were returned (just fifty-three). This high attrition rate has been a feature of all elections since independence (in the 1992 poll the turnover was even higher - 65 of the 109 Members voted in had not been in the previous Parliament). Fewer than one-fifth of the current Members have won more than twice (only twenty of them) and fewer than one in thirteen have been successful at more than three elections (just eight). Thereason for the flushing out of over half the sitting Members at each poll is more complex than just voter dissatisfaction with performance, though undoubtedly that is a factor.

Political parties, though important in the Parliament, have been unable to establish much credibility in the electorate. Few have any grassroots structure. Those that have tried to build up party support at the provincial or local level generally have given up in frustration and left the party's branches to wither between elections. In 1997 forty independents were elected. The best any political party could do was sixteen seats. That was Sir Julius Chan's Peoples Progress Party (PPP) which had gone into the election with twice that number. Chan was amongst those to lose and, after his demise, his PPP split, twice. The only other party to win more than ten seats was PNG's most enduring party, the Pangu Pati, now led by Chris Haiveta which won just thirteen, its worst performance since it won eleven in its very first election in 1968, seven years before independence. Ten other parties won seats but some of those parties quickly disappeared. At least three new political parties were created on the floor of Parliament in the nine months following the 1997 elections. One of those, Prime Minister Bill Skate's PNG First, was formed out of the remains of several others including his own Peoples National Congress which had won only six seats in its own right.

One reason for this inability of political parties to take root is the very fractured nature of a society made up of so many language groups. That and the first-past-the-post voting system combine to encourage a proliferation of candidates. As the number of candidates has increased with each election the proportion of the vote the winner needs to secure victory has kept falling. Democracy is rampant but the results show that it is becoming ever less representative. In 1997, several new records were set. 2372 candidates nominated for the 109 seats. This was a forty per cent increase on the record set five years before despite the doubling of the already hefty nomination fee to K2000 per candidate. More than half the members (sixty-one) were elected despite getting the support of fewer than twenty per cent of the voters in their electorate. Throughout the country the average winning vote was just twenty-two per cent. In round terms, therefore, four out of every five voters in PNG backed losers.

The tenuous nature of a Member's hold on his seat contributes much to the way the Parliament operates. PNG's former Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, claimed to an audience in Brisbane some years ago that the bewildering nature of politics in PNG becomes logical if this lack of security is taken into account. 'Our politics [is] still regionalistic and tribally based,' Chan said. 'Each Member has a strong commitment to directly benefit his immediate electorate - much more so than in, say, Australia, where only a minority of seats are considered 'marginal'.'

Sir Julius claimed that commentators who bemoaned the lack of ideology in PNG political debate simply did not understand. 'Ideology is a luxury marginal members cannot afford,' he claimed. 'It becomes a case of delivering the goods - a pragmatic approach, just as in marginal seats in Australia before election day with both sides offering election bonuses. The Australian parties play Santa at every Federal and State election. For us it is a full-time job!' This need to deliver to those who voted for you led to the establishment of the notorious Electoral Development Fund (known popularly as the 'Members slush fund') under which Members get huge grants to disperse in their electorates as they see fit. This is the fund the World Bank and the IMF want abolished but any Prime Minister who moves to get rid of it is courting his own demise.

During the 1997 elections I took an ABC TV Foreign Correspondent crew up to the Highlands to the electorate of Lagiap-Porgera where there were 53 candidates. I chose that electorate not only because of the extraordinary competition that broad field promised but also because it includes the Porgera gold mine. One of the candidates, the eventual winner, Opis Papo, was vigorously attacking the record of the mining company, the Porgera Joint Venture. Incidentally the company had put Opis through university. Opis Papo won the election despite polling just 9.1% of the vote. So in Lagiap-Porgera 90.9% of the voters were presumably disappointed with the result and had wanted somebody else to be their member. The man Opis Papo won the seat from, Anton Pakena, had been victorious in 1992 with a similarly paltry percentage of electoral support. Nine out of ten had not voted for him then either. And even though Mr Pakena handed out huge amounts of money during his five year term - more than one million dollars from his slush fund allocation alone - his vote in 1997 declined to 6.6%. I asked Anton Pakena to take us to one of the so called 'electoral development projects' he had funded from the public purse. Astoundingly, he took me to one that had failed completely. It was an egg production business. Together, with the camera rolling, we walked into and through an enormous shed containing row upon row of empty chicken batcheries. There were empty egg cartons strewn about the floor and discarded bags of chicken feed piled up all over the place. Anton told me he had spent the equivalent of $270,000 helping a village business group set up the egg business. But it had collapsed because of poor quality control and inept management. I asked him if the money had been wasted? 'Wasted,' he agreed, nodding. Then added, 'Not only this project but other projects too in this area.' Incredulously I asked him if he found that frustrating? 'It is not embarrassing for me,' he replied, 'but [it might be] for the villagers.' He was not worried though because on his reasoning he had done his part as a leader and the people, now in his debt, would have to vote for him!

I also did a revealing interview with one of Mr Pakena's campaign organisers. Sol Taro was hardly a man in desperate need. He owned two shops and had four wives. In the 1992 election he had delivered his village to Anton and was showered with money from Mr Pakena's share of the budgeted slush fund. He was given $100,000 worth of vehicles, money for a church and $10,000 in cash to start a new business. In the interview Sol told me that he had tried to interest the Porgera Joint Venture [gold mine] in helping him out with contracts for this proposed new business but gave up when the mine's business development office turned him down. 'So, after I failed to get my proposals through,' he admitted with the disarming frankness that makes being a reporter in PNG so interesting, 'I used up this money buying drink, buying beer . I have a big family and that 10,000, I couldn't hold onto it.' Sol told me he had promised Anton Pakena 600 out of his people's 820 votes and that he'd be directing the rest to other candidates to keep them sweet.

'Members hold the key to the money,' Sol Taro went on as he tried to explain why he was an Anton Pakena man. 'They guarantee our business ventures and support us. For this,' he went on, 'I supported Anton last time. I supported him and he bought me a truck. It's over there - a big Dyna. He gave it to me. Whenever we are short of money to buy a car or whatever, he will help us.' In his interview with me, the soon to be defeated sitting Member, Mr Pakena, told me he had put twelve new vehicles on the road for his campaign. 'And you've got to feed the people,' he said, 'tinned fish, packets of rice, coffee, sugar and so on. You've got to give them money and so many things.' I asked, 'You've got to give them money or they won't support you?' 'Right!' he replied. 'If you don't give them the money they won't support you.'

Once a Member does get into Parliament he becomes virtually a free agent trading his vote for what he can get for himself and his electoral supporters. On the floor of the House party discipline is paltry because loss of endorsement and expulsion is no real penalty. All of this elevates the power of the ordinary Member. As one Somare staff member put it to me in early 1985: 'PNG suffers from the dictatorship of the backbench.' Keeping Members onside is an endlessly absorbing task. During his first term as Prime Minister (1980-1982) Chan told a constitutional workshop that the PNG Constitution 'encourages corruption because a Prime Minister has to continually buy parliamentarians' support.' He said the system was a recipe for weak, unstable governments. 'People would be surprised if they knew how much of my time as Prime Minister was spent coping with requests for special favours of all kinds from individual politicians,' he said. In 1981 Chan told a University of PNG student audience that as Prime Minister he regularly had to deal with political blackmail and that it was more sorrowful than amusing for him to relate that on several occasions Members had expressed loyalty to three political parties at the same time.

Of the eight changes in Prime Minister since Independence, three have come through votes of no confidence, one, the most recent, through Skate resigning when he was certain to lose a vote of no confidence, and one resulted from an aborted attempt by Paias Wingti to secure himself a second eighteen months in power by resigning in secret and then putting himself forward again. That backfired badly when the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Only three of the eight changes at the top had anything to do with an election. And even then the voters had very little say in who got the top job. That was decided by the elected Members. I can tell you that there was considerable public disenchantment at Bill Skate's winning the Prime Ministership after the 1997 elections when so many Papua New Guineans thought they had voted against corruption.

Smooth flowing, no nonsense government is a difficult proposition under the present system when no Prime Minister can ever be certain of the loyalty of any government backbencher or even, as has been proved repeatedly, members of his own Cabinet. Attempts at reform have been made. But the problem is that while constitutional change in PNG requires the overwhelming support of the Parliament, most of the changes seen as vital are aimed at limiting the freedom and power of the very people who would have to vote those changes through - the backbenchers. Most constitutional amendments need either a two-thirds or a three-quarters majority, depending on the section, at two separate votes taken at least two months apart. This has to date stymied all efforts to overhaul the system.

There is an attempt now being made in PNG to introduce laws to try to strengthen political parties. But I am afraid I do not see Sir Mekere succeeding in making significant change. If the proposed Integrity of Political Parties proposals do get through, one result could well be that we will have almost everybody standing for the next elections in 2002 as independents so they won't be encumbered by any rules limiting their freedom as it would be if they were elected as endorsed party members.

The other area where Morauta has a monumental challenge before him is in depoliticising the public service and making quality appointments to the management of the government's statutory authorities. Giving jobs to the boys has been a feature of PNG political life for a long time but Bill Skate outdid all his predecessors in the extravagant way he went about hiring his mates and firing those who weren't. Heads of Departments went rolling every few months and many workers in what was an already thoroughly demoralised public service gave up hope. This regular sacking of those at the top had its side benefits for some and it has led to one of worst rorts now going on in PNG. The trick is to get an appointment as Departmental boss or as Managing Director of one of the government's corporations. You don't have to do any work. All you have to do is wait for your dismissal - the sooner the better - and get paid out for your full contract. If your Minister gets the chop then all the better - your sacking and your big golden handshake payout will come even quicker.

During the dramatic days leading up to the recent change in government in PNG, much was made of the alleged briefcase full of money that was confiscated from one of Bill Skate's senior advisors, Utula Samana, at the Madang airport. Morauta, amongst others, claimed the briefcase contained payments to Members of Parliament to encourage them to switch sides. The evidence produced to support these claims, however, in my opinion, did not amount to proof of much more than the sort of rort I have just referred to. Mr Samana's briefcase contained pay slips revealing that he had been given K70,000 a few days earlier as termination pay. In fact he told us that's what it all was - his payout for having been removed as Secretary of the Agriculture Department. Interestingly he had only been Secretary for a matter of months when Bill Skate announced he'd been promoted to a new job as a Prime Ministerial advisor. Not bad - getting the equivalent of more than a year's pay as a Departmental Head in PNG in one hit while being given a better, presumably higher paid job on the Prime Minister's staff.

Sir Mekere has already made a number of his own jobs for the boys appointments. Some of these people are closely linked to the political party Sir Mekere heads, a party in which the influence of the party's founder, Paias Wingti, still looms large. Please do not get me wrong. I am a great admirer of Mekere Morauta. But his ability to win battles on every front is severely limited given the nature of PNG's political system. He's had to make accommodations and will continue to have to compromise. I would just plead that the Australian Government understand what the limits to his scope for positive action are. There is great suspicion of Australia in Papua New Guinea and the worst curse we could put upon PNG's new Prime Minister is to reinforce the belief that already has some currency up there - that Morauta is Australia's choice for their country's leader. We certainly made it abundantly clear we wanted Skate dumped, and antipathy to Australia amongst many of the MPs is one of the reasons Skate was almost able to keep his government in power.

While the Australian Government may find the way things are done in Papua New Guinea and the attitudes of Papua New Guineans frustrating, I do think that, far too often, we Australians are expecting them to be a bit more like us. Rather than accepting them as Melanesians coming from an extraordinarily complex set of societies unlike ours we assume that Papua New Guineans, and Papua New Guinea, would be far better off if only the people were, damn it, more Australian. Papua New Guinea will never be what Australia wants it to be despite the amount of aid and support we might pour in. It would do well for us all to remember the words Captain Belden Nama whispered into the ear of Sandline's boss, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, as he lay pinned to the floor of the PNG Defence Force Commander's office on the night of the soldiers revolt against the Chan Government's hiring of mercenaries in 1997: 'Welcome to the Land of the Unexpected!'

Monday, November 15, 1999
Copyright 1998 Australian Institute of International Affairs.