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I want to recognise the His Excellency Governor General Dadae, Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister Hon. James Marape, members of the Diplomatic Corps, my brother Governors and MPs, my family and friends, and Paias Wingti, Sir Rabbie, Sir Mekere, Peter O’Neill and all my colleagues from a fifty-year political career. Welcome and thank you.
I must say that I am of two minds tonight. First, I am incredibly humbled by the presence of so many friends and colleagues from so many years. I am honoured you have all taken time to mark my 80th birthday, and that this is being done in Parliament, the House of the People.
But there is another side to all this. The truth is that your presence here, this ceremonial feeling, is a bit…..unsettling. Somehow, hearing all these kind words, everyone talking about the good things I have done…..
Well……I mean, these are the kinds of things people say when someone has – well, when they have……you know what I mean? I just feel like I have to keep checking to make sure I am not lying down in a box in the middle of the room, with a wreath of flowers on my chest……
So, I just want everyone to know, I am alive and well. I just pinched myself, and it hurt – so this is really me standing here, talking to you, and when all is said and done, maybe that is the thing I am most thankful for.
Because it has been a long road, a long journey. And an unexpected one. When the journey started, I had no idea at all where it would take me.
Just look at the facts. I was born on the island of Tanga, in the middle of nowhere, just before World War II. My mother Miriam Tinkoris was a native New Irelander. My father, Chin Pak, a Chinese migrant from Taishan, Guangdong China. I was the fifth born of seven children.
And my word, what a world I was born into! I was born on August 29, 1939. Three days later – just three days later – Hitler invaded Poland and started World War II. And, of course, within another two years the war came to the Pacific when the Japanese attacked America at Pearl Harbor.
And, believe me, we felt that war in Tanga, Anir and New Ireland. I was two and a half when the Japanese invaded New Britain and New Ireland. Suddenly there were soldiers, with rifles and warships and tanks. I remember my youngest brother – just a baby – died of fright from the constant bombings nearby. And they forced us all into a labour camp in Namatanai. My father’s brother, Captain Chin Him, was put in the Duke of York Camp, where he was tortured.
Somehow we survived, and we sailed to Rabaul. I remember it was an Australian skipper named Robinson took us on a boat from Namatanai to Rabaul – he was the first Australian I ever saw, and he was a hero to us.
In Rabaul the family, including uncle Chin Him, all lived together. Chin Him and my father started a small cargo carrier, shipping goods around the islands region. From an early age, I learned there is only one way to succeed. You have to work. Work hard.
I never attended school until I was ten or eleven. I had to really work at the Rabaul Sacred Heart Catholic School. School is the first place I ever spoke English – until then I spoke only Cantonese, Tok Pisin and Tok Ples from Susurunga.
In early 1954, when I was just fourteen, my father sent me and my cousin, Joe Chan, to boarding school at Marist Brothers, Ashgrove, in Brisbane. It was a long trip to a foreign land, a trip both exciting and frightening.
I found schoolwork tough because I had to jump from sixth grade to eighth in Australia – Scholarship Grade, they called it, when you qualified for secondary school. Luckily I was good at sport, especially rugby. I represented the First XV for three straight years. Later, at Queensland University, I was up for selection to the Australian Under 19s Colts to face the All Blacks, but fate intervened. I had an accident riding a motorbike on a rainy day in Toowong, Brisbane. I was in hospital for several months and had to abandon my studies and rugby career, and return to Rabaul.
That was probably a blessing. I applied for a position as cooperative officer in the public service in Port Moresby, where I learned basic accounting and business. I also spent six months FAO Cooperative Training at Nasinu Teacher’s College in Fiji.
And I had an interesting experience in Moresby. One night I was taken to the Kone Club by an Englishman and we were asked to leave. Even though my friend did not tell me, I knew the real reason as I had experienced being kicked out of Four Mile Donga when I had first arrived.
I made an appeal to my boss, J. K. McCarthy, the Director of Native Affairs. After the Club refused to have me as a member, McCarthy and several others resigned their membership in protest. Though it was disturbing, it still showed me that in the late 1960s things were changing. Many Australians supported Papua New Guineans having a more equal place in their own country.
I soon returned to Rabaul to help my father in the shipping business. I had every intent of being a businessman for the rest of my life, but in Rabaul I met Ray Lacey from Anir, a former Australian coastwatcher and plantation owner. For some reason Ray thought I should stand for election to the House of Assembly – maybe it was the grog. I hadn’t thought of this myself, but Ray got the local chiefs to pressure me, and the next thing I knew I was a candidate. And the next next thing I knew, I was elected. That was 1968. I was 29. And my life was changed forever.
Those were crazy years. All the talk was about Self Government and Independence. Administrator Les Johnson appointed me Minister for Internal Finance and suddenly I was in the engine room. I was the Chief Engineer keeping the Ship of State on a true course for Captain Somare.
Since Papua and New Guinea were UN Trust territories, we had to go to the United Nations to get endorsement for self-government. Sir David Hay, then the Administrator, asked me to go, and suddenly, there I was. In New York City. Talking to the UN Trusteeship Council. I told them we were ready for Self-Government; soon for Independence. And the World heard me! The World agreed!
Back in Moresby, I met with the Administrator Les Johnson who told me bluntly “You have a long way to go to catch up. We have to move; we have to move now.” He said the key was establishing a strong economic base. We had to create a Central Bank and set up a commercial banking system. I had no idea how to proceed, but that didn’t stop me.
And the next thing we knew, the pace quickened even more. Gough Whitlam decided to fast track Self-Government, and suddenly, on 1 December 1973, Papua New Guinea became a Self-Governing Territory. Now Independence was looming, and there was still a huge amount to do.
To create a Central Bank and banking system, I put together a core group from Finance, and in less than a year we drafted the Central Banking Act, and it was passed by Parliament. We established the PNG Banking Corporation and took over the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
We needed to become part of the international financial community. So, with a team of Harry Ritchie, the Treasurer, and Mekere Morauta, Secretary for Finance I travelled to London, Switzerland and Germany. We got a loan of five million Swiss Francs from the Swiss Bank Corporation. Not much, but it felt like a billion dollars! It meant we were trusted. We could tap into international financial markets! I remember we had a payback period of five years. And guess what: We paid in full in three years! Two years early!! PNG’s credibility was boosted even more.
Launching the new currency before Independence was our biggest public relations challenge in history. I set up a Currency Working Group chaired by Henry ToRobert and including Mekere Morauta. Working non-stop we managed, against great opposition, to launch the kina on 19 April 1975, on the very day my fourth child was born. He was actually named by Sir John Guise and Michael Somare. That was Toea.
People felt the Aussie Dollar was the only “real” currency, so we introduced a dual based currency at first. But after six months I insisted on raising the value of the kina by five percent against the Australian dollar. When people saw they could get more for a kina than a dollar, guess what? They all became patriots! Everyone loved the kina! Australian dollars came out of hiding and were changed into kina.
And there were other challenges. Not everyone wanted to be a part of a new country called Papua New Guinea. Papua wanted to go its own way – Papua Besena, under the leadership of Josephine Abaijah, wanted a separate Papua. The Mataungan Association, with people like John Kaputin was talking independence. And, of course, Bougainville was already declaring independence with Father Momis in the lead.
But somehow, we all managed to come together when we had to. And then, before we knew it, it was Independence Day, ready or not! I’ll never forget Sir John Guise saying just after midnight, in the first few minutes of September 16th, 1975, that “Papua New Guinea is now independent. The Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea is now in effect. We have at this point in time broken with our colonial past and we now stand as an independent nation in our own right.”
But there was still so much to do. We needed to get membership in international lending and aid organisations. Before Independence I had arranged PNG’s membership in the Asian Development Bank, and within six months of Independence we gained entry to the IMF and World Bank. On July 12, 1976, I travelled to Manila and made PNG’s inaugural address to a joint meeting of the Bank and IMF.
The first years of Independence were intense. In five years, I was Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Primary Industry. Primary Industry was the most challenging of all. I dealt with agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries. I gained a deep appreciation of how important those sectors are to our people and the prosperity of our nation.
Then, on March 11, 1980 I took over the reins from Somare and became the second Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. The little boy from Tanga was now facing challenges he had never dreamed of.
And in just four months I faced a challenge few Papua New Guineans had ever faced before. The New Hebrides was a condominium ruled jointly by Britain and France. It was both French speaking and English speaking, both Francophone and Anglophone. And it was scheduled to become the Independent Country of Vanuatu on July 30, 1980. But there was a separatist movement on the largest island, Espiritu Santo, led by Jimmy Stevens. Father Walter Lini, who had been designated the Prime Minister, asked Britain and France for help in quelling the rebellion. But France did nothing. Britain did nothing. Both Australia and New Zealand declined to help.
Just at this time I was to attend the South Pacific Forum in Kiribati. I had heard that Father Lini was going to attend to get support from Pacific Countries for the suppression of the rebellion, and he wanted to meet a Melanesian Brother – I arranged to meet him.
In preparation for the trip, one of my staff took my luggage down to Jackson’s Airport. At the airport there were two planes – a Fokker, going to Kiribati, and a 707, going to the Philippines. My staff insisted that my bags be put on the big plane – the 707 – and not on the little one. No little plane for the Prime Minister! So, guess what? My bags ended up in Manila, and I ended up in Kiribati.
When I got to Kiribati I did two things. First, the night I arrived – it was July 11 – I met with Father Lini and his Chief of Staff, Barak Sope. We agreed that I would try to get PNG to assist a Melanesian Brother.
The other thing I did was to contact Ted Diro, Commander of the PNGDF. I asked Ted to come to for two reasons. First, I wanted him to come to Kiribati to meet with Father Lini and Barak Sope. Second, I wanted him to pick up my bags, which had taken their own trip from Manila to Australia, then Port Moresby, and bring them to me in Kiribati.
So Ted brought my bags to Kiribati – and in Kiribati, in Tarawa, there were no real hotels in those days, so we had a single room with only one bed in it. Well, I was the Prime Minister after all, so I got a bed. But all my staff, including Foreign Affairs, Defence Department and the Commander of the PNG Defence Force, had to sleep on the floor. No Hilton. No Sheraton. I guess you’d call it the Budget Inn.
After the meeting in Tarawa, I sent Ted Diro to Vanuatu to conduct surveillance on the ground. When he came back to PNG I said to him that we should help Father Lini, but that I needed him to guarantee we would not lose a man. Ted said “I cannot guarantee that, but I can say that we are the best jungle fighters in the Pacific.” That was good enough for me.
So, we went to Parliament and, despite some strong opposition, we got a 55 to 40 vote to send the Kumul Force, under Colonel Tony Huai, to Vanuatu. Colonel Huai and the Kumul Force put down the rebellion and ensured the Independence of a united Vanuatu. And, thanks to Ted Diro and Tony Huai, we did it all without the loss of a single soldier.
To this day the Kumul Highway in Port Vila is named for our Defence Force because, as a Vanuatu Daily Post reporter said, “Vanuatu’s children tomorrow must always remember that if it was not for the Kumul Forces, the struggle for self-determination would have been painted in blood.”
My second time as Prime Minister, from 1994 to 1997, was also an eventful period. Less than a month after I became Prime Minister Tavurvur erupted in Rabaul, and the entire town – including my home and the homes of many of my friends – was buried under tonsdict of volcanic ash. Rabaul was completely destroyed, and would never be the same. That was a devastating blow. And just a month after that, Dad passed. Not a good time.
And, of course, the currency problems were also serious. After very costly efforts to shore up the kina, I finally decided that the wisest course was to let the kina float and find its own level. So in October 1994 we floated the kina. The kina fell, but then stabilised, and we were able to weather the economic storm.
Probably the most profound problem I faced in my second time as Prime Minister was the Bougainville Crisis. At first I committed to finding a peaceful solution to that conflict. We tried repeatedly to get the Bougainville Interim Government to the negotiating table, but they consistently refused. We encouraged the formation of the Bougainville Transitional Government, under Theodore Miriung, but it was not able to bring the factions together. The BRA continually resisted serious talks, and soon began to fight for independence, after which they were very resistant to negotiating anything.
After two years of trying, and two years of frustration, I came to believe that only a military solution would work. I asked Australia for additional help, but John Howard would not provide it. So I took another approach. I wanted to minimize casualties – on both sides – and that was the reason I turned to an outside military force – Sandline. I believe to this day that had the press not sensationalised the arrangement with Sandline, and had Australia, and particularly John Howard, not opposed it so strongly, we might have brought the entire Bougainville saga to an end at that time.
I remember meeting with Howard at Kirribilli House in Sydney. It was just the two of us. He just said “get rid of those people. They should not be there.” I said we were an independent country, and I was taking steps to end a conflict that had caused thousands of deaths and untold damage. But he would not listen and he would not help. And the Australian commentators, led by Ray Martin, kept up a non-stop negative barrage against the plans. Ultimately, it was just not possible to proceed, so we had to abandon the plan.
But I did not shirk responsibility. It was my decision and I stood by it. A motion was made in Parliament to call on me to resign, but on 25 March, 1997, the motion was defeated by 59 – 38. However, I then did what I considered the right thing, and resigned to await the court ruling. As you also know, I was cleared and resumed office in June, 1997. That was a difficult time, but I tried to act with integrity and honesty.
I thought it was interesting that in a ruling in 2011 concerning official misconduct the PNG Supreme Court said that leaders in public office should voluntarily step down when they are subjects of allegations and investigations. And in their opinion the justices said that a good example was “Sir Julius Chan, who decided to step down as Prime Minister during the Sandline crisis. That was a public and national event. It attracted both national and international interest and attention through all forms of media. The fact of Sir Julius Chan’s stepping aside calmed down a lot of anger, frustration and public anxiety.”
There is much more that has happened in my time, but I am not going to bore you tonight with too many stories. But I do want to point out that I have recently taken another position very seriously – Governor of New Ireland. I am doing this because I think by developing effective programs at home, New Ireland can show the rest of the country the path to a future where all the people – not just the rich and powerful – benefit from the great wealth of our country.
In New Ireland, we call this the Song of New Ireland. The Song of New Ireland has two main parts. The first is that we insist the great wealth of our nation leads to real progress and benefits for our people. We all know that billions of kina worth of resources flow out of the country every year, but our people remain poor. We are working to revise the Mining Act to give ownership of all mining activities to the landowners and the people of New Ireland, and PNG. And the same is true of Oil and Gas, Forestry and Fisheries. Our people are being ripped off. It is up to us to stop it.
The second part of our Song is greater autonomy for New Ireland, for all provinces. Not autonomy to separate us from our country, but autonomy to make us an even more effective part of our country. Some of the greatest and most powerful democracies in the world have shown that federalism – the granting of significant powers to the states or provinces – is a system that provides the greatest benefits to the most people. We need to learn this lesson. And the sooner the better.
So, that is my mission now. We must share the wealth of our country. And we must give greater power to Provincial and lower levels. That is our future.
You know, sometimes it is still hard to believe what we have done, that we are actually an independent country with control over our own destiny. It was so hectic, so fast and furious while it was happening that most of the time I couldn’t even grasp what was happening. But occasionally I got it.
In fact, I still remember the exact moment it really came home to me we were an Independent Country. It was April 24, 1981. As Prime Minister, I had just opened the PNG Chancery in Canberra with Malcolm Fraser and Foreign Minister Peacock. I was sitting in the Government executive jet – the Gruman 1 – on the runway of Canberra Airport. I heard the Control Tower calling our cockpit, saying “Kumul One, come in Kumul One. You are cleared for take-off.” And our Pilot replied, “Control, this is Kumul One. Roger that. Kumul One is ready for take-off.”
“Kumul One!!” At the airport in the CAPITAL of Australia! THAT is when I really felt like the head of an Independent Nation! When we took off that day I felt, in my gut, for the first time that I had finally broken free of the colonial yoke. THAT is when I knew we were free!!
And here we are today. How quickly the time passes. And if there is one lesson I have learned in the course of this journey, it is that no man is an island. The people I have had the privilege of working with have blessed my life. Sir Michael, Father of our country, Sir John Guise, Sir Albert Maori Kiki. Our former Prime Ministers – Paias Wingti, who will always be my boss. Sir Rabbie and Sir Mekere, fellow islanders. Dame Josephine, Sir John Kaputin, Father Momis, Ted Diro, Tony Huai. And so many more. All I can say is thank you.
And of course, most of all – to my wife, Stella, brother Michael, Sister Louissa and family – for their patience and support – my children for their sacrifices of not having a father many times. It has not been easy. There have been ups and downs but together we have weathered the storms, together we have persevered – and we came out in the end.
And finally, thank you again my friend, Speaker Hon. Job Pomat for the kindness and graciousness in hosting such a grand occasion for an old man. I am honoured and blessed.
In concluding I just want to say that life is a mystery, always a surprise. And I cannot help but wonder, if I had not listened to Ray Lacey, to the chiefs on Anir, who is to say what road I would have taken? It could have been very different…..decisions we make when we are young have consequences we can never foresee.
I am reminded of a wonderful poem by Robert Frost, the American poet who spoke at John Kennedy’s Inauguration. He wrote about coming on two roads that forked in the woods when he was a youth, and having to choose which to take. One was well travelled and would have been the easier walk. For myself, I think of that as staying in Tanga and going into the shipping business. The other road was less travelled, overgrown, a bit rough, but somehow more interesting, more challenging.
The poem concludes, saying:
In my Youth I came on two roads
Two roads that diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference……
I, too, took the one less travelled by. I listened to Ray Lacey. To the chiefs. And that has made all the difference.
Thank you all for sharing the journey. But don’t think you can rest yet! Because I can assure you the journey is not over. I just pinched myself again, and I am still very much alive. And still fighting.
So, I have a suggestion. Visit us in New Ireland and hear how we are singing the Song of New Ireland. It is a song of hope and progress the entire country could learn to sing.
One day soon I hope we can all sing together.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.