House debates

Monday, 16 November 2009

Private Members’ Business

Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary: 1949 to 1974

7:36 pm

Photo of Duncan KerrDuncan Kerr (Denison, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I recently stood down from my position of Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, but in that role I took the position, after receiving representations from those representing the former patrol officers, that our government should look at some way of appropriately recognising their service. I would hope that some means of doing so evolves that properly recognises the breadth of service. I know there is some discussion, even among those who served as kiaps and patrol officers, as to whether the mechanism that has been proposed by this motion is the appropriate one. It certainly puts a considerable degree of emphasis on the policing role that kiaps had, but I think it is fair to say that kiaps were far more than police. Whilst it is true that they were all sworn officers, equally they represented the civil authority in the widest range of possible services. They were, in many ways, the face of government in the districts for which they had responsibility. I, like many who spent some time in Papua New Guinea, have the privilege of knowing a number of people who served in that role and I think that their service to Australia is something that should be properly recognised.

I note that in the recent PNG affairs newsletter that is produced by Keith Jackson, who has a long history of involvement, there is a discussion between Phil Fitzpatrick and Paul Oates about whether the particular mechanism that is proposed in this motion is appropriate—the reservation being the overemphasis, perhaps, on the policing function. Nonetheless, it is important for Australians to recognise the importance of the work of a few thousand young men—principally; there were a few women—who took these patrol officer roles at a time when our nation was yet to see that the country would evolve finally to full independence, although the kiap roles did continue right up to independence. Indeed, one of my close friends in Tasmania, a man called Rick Giddings, transitioned from working as a kiap to working as a magistrate resolving land disputes in Goroka. I am sure that a number had a similar history, moving from working within the administration as part of the Australian Public Service into administration roles with the newly independent government of Papua New Guinea, some perhaps even taking up citizenship in Papua New Guinea.

I commend the mover of this motion for bringing this issue to the parliament. In expressing reservations about whether this mechanism is right I do not mean to denigrate the principle. I think what is being sought is to use an existing form of recognition, to squeeze that very broad service that kiaps undertook into an existing form of recognition. It may be that a new model needs to evolve to properly recognise the range and depth of that service.

Finally, all Australians would benefit from greater exposure to and understanding of the work that was undertaken in Papua New Guinea preceding its independence. The ABC has produced a wonderful pictorial representation which was on television and I think it is available in DVD and in book form now as a publication called Taim bilong masta. There is a wide number of other representations of that work in published literature. It is an area of Australia’s history which is underrecognised and the service that has been given to our country by those who provided the leadership on behalf of the Australian government during the period between the end of World War II and Papua New Guinea becoming independent is something that is insufficiently known. It is certainly true that in a number of instances people did serve in quite arduous circumstances. On the one hand, some lost their lives. On the other hand, I know that some served in circumstances that they remember most fondly. I know it is true that many people who served as kiaps came back to Australia saying that the period they served was the most memorable, most significant and most rewarding part of their lives, so it is not entirely a story of adversity and hardship. It is both a story of difficulty in some circumstances—and, as I said, regrettably some kiaps lost their life in the service of their country—and equally a story of a remarkably rewarding experience that they share now with those that served with them as they recall the service they gave to their country and to the now-independent state of Papua New Guinea.

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