House debates

Monday, 16 November 2009

Private Members’ Business

Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary: 1949 to 1974

Debate resumed, on motion by Mr Morrison:

That the House:

recognises the service of those Australians who were employed as field constabulary officers (Kiaps) in the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary between 1949 and 1974;
acknowledges the hazardous and difficult conditions that were experienced by the members serving with the Royal Papua and New Guinea constabulary;
notes that former members of the Regular Constabulary of the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary may be entitled to long service and good conduct medals, such as the National Medal, subject to meeting eligibility criteria;
supports moves to allow former members of the Field Constabulary to count their service towards the National Medal;
notes that qualifying service to meet the eligibility criteria for the National Medal must include at least one day of service on or after the medal’s creation on 14 February 1975;
expresses concern that many former Kiaps may not meet the eligibility criteria for the National Medal, as eligible Kiap service ceased on 30 November 1973;
recognises that the Trust Territory of New Guinea, under the terms of the Papua New Guinea Act 1949 and the Trusteeship Agreement for the Territory of New Guinea, held sovereignty unto itself and as such, was at law an international country (and foreign to Australia);
recognises that the Governor-General’s assent of the Papua New Guinea Act 1949 and the signing of the “Trusteeship Agreement” for New Guinea by the Australian Government, prescribed service activity whereby the service was carried out by members of the Australian Police Force and the service was undertaken as part of an international operation; and
calls on the Australian Government to change the eligibility criteria applying to the Police Overseas Service Medal so as not to prevent the award of the medal to those:
Australian public servants who were employed through the Australian Government and served in the Australian administered United Nations Trust Territory of New Guinea between 1949 and 1974; and
individuals serving in Papua New Guinea as sworn and armed Commissioned Officers of the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary (at the time an Australian External Territorial Police Force).

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.

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.

7:42 pm

Photo of Luke HartsuykerLuke Hartsuyker (Cowper, National Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion moved by the member for Cook. It gives me great pleasure to speak on behalf of my constituents who served as patrol officers in the territory of Papua New Guinea. In particular, I wish to recognise the ongoing efforts of Bowraville resident Robert Cruickshank, who continues to campaign for official recognition of the kiaps. I welcome former kiaps and members of their family who are here in the Main Committee chamber tonight.

Kiaps were multiskilled field officers who often filled over a dozen roles within the remote Papua New Guinean communities they served. A note written by a kiap in 1955 describes the challenges of being a patrol officer. He said:

Changing times have necessitated field staff officers to have further qualifications. Now he must also be a typist, storeman, mechanic, radio operator, driver, agriculturalist, coroner and undertaker, police investigator, anthropologist, security agent, hotelier and diplomat; stevedore, shop and factory; hygiene, labour, industry and prices inspector; airfield, wharf and bridge construction expert; census taker, electoral returning officer, economist, re-afforestation officer, social surveyor, defence counsel, departmental liaison officer, electrician, mayor and social organiser, local authorities propagandiser and organiser.

That is quite a list of responsibilities indeed. He went on to say:

In addition to these normal qualifications, for an officer to remain in the service, he must practice monastic celibacy … he must be prepared to live in sub-human habitation, give his undying, unquestioning, unrecognised, unreciprocated loyalty, and for any hope of promotion possess certain academic qualifications, and to remain sane, possess a sense of humour.

I rely on the words of others in that regard. Every kiap’s duty statement contained the traditional bureaucratic proviso at the end that said that on top of all those other duties they were required to carry out ‘any other duties that may be directed to be carried out from time to time’.

The kiaps lived a dangerous existence. There was an ever-present threat of attack from hostile tribes and locals, and many kiaps were murdered on patrol. The harsh conditions on the frontier also proved to be very dangerous, with accidents and illness claiming the lives of kiaps. The list of kiaps killed in boating and aircraft accidents is extensive and I think it is fitting that these men and their surviving comrades should be officially honoured by the Australian government.

There is no doubt the kiaps played a valuable part in the development of Papua New Guinea in the period after World War II. When peace returned to PNG after the war, many of the towns and other signs of progress had been destroyed. Gardens and villages had been ruined and the plantations were damaged or neglected. The kiaps were usually representative of all arms of government in a frontier area and they often brought the first trickle of European civilisation to that area. The extraordinary efforts of these men and, as we have heard, a small number of women ought to be officially honoured by the Australian government because their stories make up a valuable chapter in our nation’s history. They have achieved amazing results with limited resources and in the most inhospitable conditions.

I will close with a statement from Norm Richardson, an ex-kiap, who appropriately described the efforts of his kiap comrades by saying:

They went where others feared to tread and did so without unnecessary bloodshed or disruption of the life of the people, frequently to the detriment of their own health and well being.

The country was changed from a state of constant fear and predation, village upon village, to one of free travel, cooperation across language groups and peace between long standing tribal combatants.

I pay tribute to the amazing achievements of the kiaps in New Guinea and offer my wholehearted support to this motion. I should also say that it is unfortunate that bureaucracy can get in the way of appropriate recognition. The time has now come to strip away that bureaucratic impediment and to allow proper recognition of the kiaps, which they most justly deserve.

7:46 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the member for Cook for bringing this very important motion to the House. In addition, I would like to say that it is very appropriate that we give recognition to the role the kiaps played in PNG. Furthermore, I would like to put on the record that I know that this has been a long campaign—it has gone over six or so years—and that you are getting towards the end of the road now. I truly believe that there is going to be some form of recognition in the very near future.

I have recently been to PNG with the Standing Committee on Health and Aging and we visited a number of remote villages. We were looking at the delivery of health services, Australia’s relationship with PNG and how we work with PNG to deliver those services. Whilst I was there, I became very aware of the role that kiaps played, not only in law and order and protection which I will touch on in a moment and the other issues that the member for Cook mentioned in his motion, but also in the actual coordination and delivery of health services in those very remote areas. I think that is a role that is not widely recognised and, when it was no longer played after 1974, it left quite a gap in the provision of health services in those areas. It has been a long road since then to get to the stage we are at now, where we are probably coming to terms a little with just how difficult it is to deliver those services in those areas. We visited a number of the Torres Strait island villages and we also went to Daru and spoke with the governor of that area and of the gulf area. They explained to us the sheer logistics that are associated with delivering those services. The kiaps were there; they coordinated it and without them there—I know that some of you are kiaps who worked there—that service would never have been delivered.

PNG is very different to Australia. We have remote areas in Australia, but our remoteness is different. The issues we have around keeping peace and harmony within the community are very different. The role played there by kiaps—and some of you are here tonight—was of vital importance. You kept those communities together. You kept those tribes together. You kept villages and districts functioning. And it was not just the villages that you lived in; it was also an area, a district, a region. You had just such enormous responsibility—as the member for Cowper detailed previously.

I have spoken at some length with the previous parliamentary secretary about the role that you played, and he really brought home to me how big the gap was that was left—particularly in the delivery of health services—when you were no longer there, and I concentrate on that because it is an area that I am particularly interested in.

I know you have met with Senator Faulkner and I know that negotiations are taking place in relation to recognition and how that recognition should be tangible. I know that the government is working to see that formal recognition is given for the vital role that you played from the Australian perspective and from PNG’s perspective. I conclude by thanking you very much and congratulating the member for Cook for bringing this very important information to the House.

Photo of Mal WasherMal Washer (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.