The National, Tuesday 10th January 2012
THE article “A Constitution too detailed – Chaos a Legacy of Whitlam’s haste to force PNG into Independence” (The National, Dec 21) is not only condescending, it actually questions the ability of PNG as a people and a nation to make decisions for the well being of the present and future generations.
Gough Whitlam granted independence to PNG because he may “have been far too eager to comply with the demands of the Russian communists, and against so-called Australian colonialism”.
No doubt there are far reaching consequences of decisions by Western leaders against communist and colonialism in Asia-Pacific after World War II.
John F. Kennedy’s compromise with Suharto’s wish for all Indonesian islands to remain as one territory remains a direct threat to PNG’s Independence because of the West Papua issue. On the other hand Whitlam’s grant to Michael Thomas Somare (as he was then) wish for Independence was, in my view, the greatest gift to PNG.
The day, Sept 16, 1975, has to be the day that should make every Papua New Guinean stand tall and be proud of their origin and political freedom.
The PNG Constitution is an autonomous Constitution, or a home-grown Constitution. It begins with words “We the people … similar to the constitution of the United States of America. We the people means the people of PNG collectively agreed to their home-grown Constitution.
The people participated in making their Constitution through the Constitutional Planning Committee by visiting the country extensively and seeking the views of the people. The Constitution of PNG was therefore made “by the people for the people” of this country.
People of PNG made the Constitution and they have also decided that their parliamentary representatives can change it by absolute majority on the floor of parliament. The theory of constitutional monarchy is therefore subject to the power of the people vested in their elected representatives
The theory is also subject to the principle of separation of powers, especially the independence of the judiciary in interpreting the Constitution. Each judge of the National and Supreme Court has the freedom to hand down judgements based on his or her view of constitutional provisions, of course subject to legal precedents.
The issue of the crown and the vice-regal and their powers are clearly defined in the Constitution of PNG under the heading “Head of State”. The office of head of state, or governor-general, is only ceremonial in terms of its function. The head of state can only act on the advice of the parliament, the National Executive Council or a minister exercising his power provided under legislation.
David Flint suggests, as I understand, that the Westminster system of government practised by Australia has, inherent in it, the reserve power to correct a situation such as the current political impasse in PNG and this should have been introduced by the Whitlam government.
This assertion has serious implication in its application to PNG and, for that matter, many developing countries. The exercise of the “reserve” power by John Kerr to dismiss the Whitlam government did not cause serious political and social disorder in Australia because the exercise of discretionary power is not so much an issue in Australia as it would be in PNG.
The exercise of discretionary power vested in one person already is a very serious issue in PNG, so much so that very clear safeguards are required if the Constitution is to be amended to introduce the reserve powers inherent in the Westminster system of government. Such powers should and have been exercised by vice-regal only in exceptional circumstance in developed countries which have adopted the Westminster system of government.
It is wrong to say “What a pity Whitlam did not pass on some of that constitutional wisdom to our former trust territory”. The codification approach to PNG’s constitutional system was not a mistake. It was the wish of the people of the self-governing country of PNG to have a home-grown Constitution, as we had attained self-government by 1973, well before the adoption of PNG’s Constitution by the Constituent Assembly on Sept 16, 1975.
Our Constitution has, and will, no doubt undergo changes; such changes must and should, as stated by the famous jurist Jeremy Bentham, be for the common good of the majority of the people. Such changes must not be made merely to suit political agendas. It is important that laws are made for the common good of all or majority of the people and must have universe application.
Joseph Gabut OBE