After 49 years representing the people of the East Sepik Province in the Papua New Guinea Parliament, the man who led PNG to Independence, the Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare, has retired. In this interview, recorded after Sir Michael’s farewell address to the Papua New Guinea Press Club, Sir Michael speaks of the failings of Australia in PNG before independence, mistakes he made immediately after independence, and discusses the controversial payments given to MPs to distribute in their electorates.
Sir Michael says the Australian Administration never really understood the people of PNG and discussed the racism he faced in his early career as a school teacher. He says he got on well with his fellow Australian teachers in the classroom, ‘but when we get out of the classroom I’m treated as a different person!’ He says: ‘the Australians, the mistake they made when they were administering the place … they created hatred between the indigenous people and themselves’.
Nevertheless, Sir Michael believes Papua New Guinea should have kept more Australians working in PNG on in jobs such as teachers. He believes they were replaced too rapidly by inexperienced Papua New Guineans. And he takes responsibility for that rapid ‘localisation’ policy, saying: ‘I wanted to see them go out but I didn’t look at education and health and consider (it more deeply) myself. I should have considered that area and keep Australians in that area, for example.’
Fast forward to the present day and Sir Michael says much of the money going to individual Members of the PNG Parliament is not well spent. Each year, MPs get Kina 15 million (A$6.35 million) to spend in their electorates under a range of programs that are supposed to support education, transport, health and other services including administration. Sir Michael said that while he has never been questioned on his use of these funds, others are not spending the money the way they should. ‘The way they spend it; the way they throw money around is not the right way to do it’.
However, Sir Michael defends the concept. And he believes that if more Members spent the funds wisely they could have long careers in politics – just like he did.