Papua New Guinea – timing of independence

Thank you Tavurur  for your comment on my earlier post on the timing of PNG self-government and independence. Here is a little more detail on the issue.

Whitlam, the Labor leader, visited Papua New Guinea in early 1971. On the 3rd of January, he delivered a speech in Port Moresby (entitled Labor’s Plan for New Guinea: Statement by the Leader of the Australian Labor Party) in which he made clear his position that the movement to self-government had been too slow and that he favoured early independence. He foreshadowed the possibility of a unilateral action by Australia. His ground was that colonialism was morally untenable and that Australia could not be forced against its will to remain a colonial power. It was an extreme reaction to the Hasluckian approach of deferring self-government and independence until PNG was ‘ready’.

His threat along these lines was rendered redundant  because:


Published in: on June 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Papua New Guinea — timing of independence

It is sometimes said that Australia granted independence too soon and should have deferred it until Papua New Guinea was ready.

This is quite wrong — and is so at various levels. First, it assumes that independence could be delayed until all the various strands necessary for Papua New Guinea to be ‘ready’ — political, economic, administrative and social  could be set and determined by Australia. What this overlooks is that the ‘political’ strand in the evolution of the colonial state necessarily has a life of its own. Being ‘ready’ means there are political leaders sufficiently experienced by involvement in government to be able to assume leadership. But that very process naturally leads those indigenous leaders to make increasing demands for further involvement in the leadership of the country and hence for it to be granted self-government and independence.


Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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The problems of decolonisation — pre-state societies

I think the observations of Pruniere which I referred to in an earlier post apply equally to all pre-state societies, including Papua New Guinea. That is, the central difficulty is that decolonisation is predicated upon the right to self-determination which implied freedom of the nation state from colonial domination. But there was no nation-state and, aside from the elites, the people of those societies had no conception of a nation state; that is, of the nation having the exclusive claim to loyalty and of the state having the exclusive claim to authority.


Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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The problems of decolonisation–Africa

“In 1885, at the heyday of European imperialism, Africa was a continent apart. It had no nation-states, no caliphate, and no empire. It did not even have the crude military dictatorships that at that time passed for states in Latin America. It was a continent of clans, of segmentary tribes and of a few sacred  monarchies. Societies were what mattered, and the state was a construct many could live without. Boundaries did exist, but not in the European sense. They were linguistic, cultural, military or commercial and they tended to crisscross and overlap, without the neat delineations so much beloved by western statesmen since the treaties of Westphalia. Colonial European logic played havoc with that delicate cobweb of relationships. New borders were drawn not so much in violation of preexisting ones but according to a different logic. African borders had been porous membranes through which proto-nations were breathing, and the colonial borders that superseded them were of the pre-1914 cast-iron variety…”

Gerard Prunier, Africa’s World War, p.1

Published in: on May 9, 2010 at 4:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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Papua New Guinea — Village Justices

Michael Goddard’s Substantial Justice is an accurate account of the pre-independence consideration of a Village Justice system, except for a curious understatement of Hasluck’s views. He says, on a number of occasions, that Hasluck ‘did not favour’ Village Justices. In fact Hasluck was and remained intensely opposed to the whole idea of Village Justices. This is of some importance because Hasluck’s strong opposition carried through into Australian policy for many years after he had departed the Territories portfolio. Indeed, the Inquiry which Curtis and I were asked to carry out was, in the first instance, to relate to the Local Courts (that is the establishment of lower courts applying western introduced law but presided over by PNG magistrates) but was extended as a result of a request by the Administrator, Les Johnson, and some pressure, to Village Justices ( that is, ‘courts’ in rural areas applying custom, and, importantly mediatory methods to resolve disputes).

For the rest this is an interesting book but I am, as yet, to find any analysis as to whether the village justice system has moderated ‘payback’ violence. My impression is that, contrary to our hopes, it did not, but, in one of the few comments thus far (page 74) a Village Magistrate is recorded as saying in 2004, “the government talks about a law and order problem but if we village court magistrates stop doing our job, then you’ ll see what a law and order problem really is!”. [There were about 1100 village courts in PNG by 2004]

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Origin of village justices in PNG

 I am interested in the village justice system in Papua New Guinea and, in particular, in the effect the village justice system has had in moderating payback violence in the Highlands.

On 5 March 1971, the Minister for External Territories, Charles Barnes, agreed to a request by the Administrator for a fresh inquiry into Village Justices in PNG.The Inquiry was to be carried out by Lindsay Curtis, the then Secretary for Law in the Administration and myself. I was then head of the legal area in Territories.

I had joined the Department in August 1970 but came to this particular issue with some background. I had become very interested in the legal problems in the ‘soon to be independent’ Papua New Guinea and in July 1967, on a visit to PNG, had flown to Rabaul to see how the first Local Courts were functioning. Paul Quinlivan, the Stipendiary Magistrate, took me out to see one of these Courts in operation. To understand the background to the Inquiry Curtis and I undertook, it is necessary to recognize that, at this time, opposition to Native Courts or Village Justices in any form whatsoever had become doctrina definita in Australian Government policy, largely because of the strong views held by Paul Hasluck when Minister. But Les Johnson, the Administrator, and others  were becoming increasingly concerned with rising law and order problems. Supported by John Guise, a very prominent Papua New Guinean politician, he asked for the issue of Village Justices to be re-examined.

[The system of Village Justices is to be distinguished from the Local Courts mentioned above.The Local Courts substantially applied the ordinary law and, in that respect, were similar to other Courts. They were established before independence to be presided over by indigenous magistrates. The localisation of these courts was the result of a terrific effort of training at the Administrative staff College and one of the first of those courts was that visited by me at Rabaul in 1967. The proposed Village Justices were  not only indigenous but were to apply native custom by mediatory processes. The proposal to consider establishing a village justice system was, unlike the establishment by Local Courts, relatively controversial.]

Published in: on January 14, 2010 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)