Tuesday, 16 March 2021
Somare, Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas
I rise this afternoon privileged to acknowledge the extraordinary life of Papua New Guinea Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, who sadly passed away last month. My community and those that call Cairns and Far North Queensland home have very strong and deep ties with Papua New Guinea. In fact, we have the largest population of Papua New Guineans outside of Papua New Guinea, and we are very proud of these wonderful citizens. In fact, the most northern island of the Torres Strait, Saibai Island in my vast electorate of Leichhardt, is literally four kilometres from mainland Papua New Guinea. You can stand on the foreshore of Saibai and you can see the smoke rising from the villages in Sigabadaru and in the wet season you can see the deer swimming from the mainland of Papua New Guinea onto Saibai Island and retreating back to Papua New Guinea when the surface water dries up. That's how close and interwoven our two nations are.
Sir Michael Somare was a towering figure in the history of Papua New Guinea. He was a driving force in the development of Papua New Guinea's national constitution and was the nation's first and longest-serving Prime Minister. He was Papua New Guinea's longest-serving member of parliament and represented his East Sepik constituency for 49 years. I suspect that's almost a record here in Australia as well. He also served as foreign affairs minister, Leader of the Opposition, and local governor of the East Sepik province. To his fellow countrymen, Sir Michael was affectionately known as the Chief and as father of the nation. He was one of only two people in Papua New Guinea to be given the official title of Grand Chief. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990.
Sir Michael was a person that deserved and commanded the respect of his community, its people and the nation—and rightfully so. Sir Michael holds an unparalleled place in the history of Papua New Guinea. He was the driving force behind—and led Papua New Guinea into—independence from Australia in 1975. His five decades of public service will be a long-lasting legacy for the nation, and especially its people, that he loved so much and cared so deeply about. Sir Michael once said:
PNG is a melting pot of tribes, clans and families that were never meant to be the same. But despite all this, I have found that it is not a difficult nation to unite.
Wise and profound words; words that we all can learn from.
I had the privilege of meeting Sir Michael in 1975, when I was in the Air Force and based in Papua New Guinea. I was in Papua New Guinea at the time of independence. That was the first time I met him. I met him a number of times over the years. Sir Michael was a true statesman in every sense of the word.
Finally, on behalf of my community, I would like to pass on my deepest condolences to Sir Michael's wife, Lady Veronica Somare, to their five children, to their grandchildren and of course to the wider Somare family. Rest in peace, Sir Michael.