House debates

Monday, 16 November 2009

Private Members’ Business

Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary: 1949 to 1974

7:31 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government) Share this | Hansard source

This motion recognises the services of those Australians who were employed as field constabulary officers, known as Kiaps, in the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary between 1949 and 1974. A number of them have joined us here in the chamber this evening with their families. It is wonderful to have them here for this occasion. Earlier this year when I was preparing for the Kokoda Mateship Trek with my good friend and colleague the member for Blaxland, Jason Clare, I had no knowledge of the Kiaps. But a very good friend of mine, Mike Douglas from my electorate, brought the role of the Kiaps to my attention. Mike has also been a keen servant of the Liberal Party for the last 30 years. The Kiaps were an extraordinary group of young Australians who performed a remarkable service for the people of PNG. They were some of our nation’s finest. Their adventurous spirit was matched only by their commitment to the wellbeing of the people of Papua New Guinea. Their story remains largely untold. More Australians need to know the story of the Kiaps. It is deserving of recognition and much greater awareness.

Kiap is a word originating in New Guinea. In pidgin, it largely means captain. The best estimate of how many men served in these roles is around 2,000. The Kiaps undertook their service in Papua New Guinea between 1949 and 1974, after the end of the Second World War when the territory today known as PNG became an Australian managed territory known as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. It gained its independence in 1975. From my limited experience during the Kokoda Mateship Trek, I found PNG to be a country of large impenetrable jungles, high mountain ranges and wide and wild rivers. The terrain makes it extremely difficult to move between places, resulting in the isolation of PNG’s tribal groups and more than 700 languages among those tribes.

It was the job of the Kiaps to bring order and stability to a largely lawless and tribal land. The role of the patrol officer comprised many official functions and just as many non-official ones. The official duties included acting as a representative of all arms of the government for a particular area which was their domain, the exploration of new territory and bringing the rule of law to the country, not to mention brokering peace between warring tribes. They were the law. If they did not uphold the law then there was no law. In addition to district administration duties, the Kiap had to become familiar with the villages and the country under their control, undertake patrols and court work and have a broad range of knowledge. They were indeed jacks of all trades. They also sought to assist the economic development and the general wellbeing of the villages. The Kiap’s ultimate aim was to build an orderly, prosperous and unified people living in peace and harmony. The work was often dangerous and the conditions were genuinely primitive.

In Philip Fitzpatrick’s book he describes the kiaps as men with dogged perseverance who helped bring the emerging nation of Papua New Guinea to independence. During their patrols kiaps could have been killed by poison tipped arrows or spears or axed to death. They could have suffered from accidents or sicknesses like malaria or been exposed to snakes, crocodiles, large bush pigs and millions of mosquitoes. Patrols were certainly not glamorous; rather, they were hard, dirty uncomfortable work.

Although the job of a kiap was hazardous, it was not always in police work that kiaps encountered danger. Other aspects of the job were equally hazardous. Ross Wilkinson from Victoria served as a kiap and tells of the dangerous ancillary duties connected with the job, such as flying in light aircraft on search and rescue missions and the use of explosives for road and airstrip construction. A kiap was also expected to destroy unexploded ordnance from the war.

Kiaps were armed. Each was given a Lee-Enfield .303 rifle for police work and revolvers and shotguns for non-police work. Some died in drowning accidents. Others were murdered while on official police business, such as the East New Britain District Commissioner Jack Emmanuel, who was killed by disaffected landowners on the Gazelle Peninsula when he attempted to intervene in a land ownership dispute.

This motion seeks recognition for our kiaps. Points (3), (4) and (5) of my motion suggest that this recognition be provided by eligible service counting towards the National Medal. Point (9) of the motion calls for the service of kiaps to be counted towards the award of a Police Overseas Service Medal. This would require the amendment of the Police Overseas Service Medal Regulations 2007.

The Police Federation of Australia has given support to this initiative to formally recognise former kiaps, fully understanding the roles they performed as commissioned officers, which were very demanding and quite different to traditional policing functions, and the similarity of those roles to the ones currently performed by its members in areas of the South Pacific such as the Solomon Islands.

It is great to have our kiaps with us here this evening. I particularly want to thank Chris Viner-Smith, who is here tonight; Philip Fitzpatrick, who assisted with this motion; and Mike Douglas, my good friend from the shire.

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