Papua New Guinea proudly celebrated its twentieth Anniversary of Independence on September 16th. 1995. The Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Sir Julius Chan, G CMG, KBE, MP gave the following speech at the opening ceremony.
This is a special day; a special day for all Papua New Guineans. It is a day for pride in having come this far, and for all we have achieved in the 20 years since gaining our Independence.
We are in the company of special friends today, and many distinguished guests – His Majesty, the King of Tonga, five Presidents, nine Prime Ministers and three Secretaries-General – of the Commonwealth, ASEAN and the ACP – and the Queensland Premier, a Church representative from the South Pacific and many of our friends from the pre-independence era. This alone is a recognition that there are many people who wish to share our celebrations with us. Today is also a day for reflection – to measure the goals we set ourselves 20 years back into our history, and to see whether achievements matched aspirations.
I cannot help remembering this day 20 years ago – in fact, I am flooded with memories. On the 16th day of September 1975, we lowered the Australian flag with great dignity and with sadness – and then raised the new Papua New Guinea standard in its place. It has flown proudly ever since.Foremost in my memories are, of course, those I stood side by side with, on that day. Without them Papua New Guinea could not have achieved its Independence. Sir Michael Somare, our first Prime Minister, Sir John Guise, our first Governor-General – and our generation of fellow politicians.
How united we were then…. We all had the one goal, and we were pushing for it with equal vigour. We were then just plain Michael, John, Albert, Pita, Ebia and Julius. We didn’t seem to separate into opposing camps.I also cannot forget all the other Members of Parliament, led by Mathias Toliman and Tei Abal, who ensured the stability of our new State even though they had strenuously opposed the onset of Independence. They helped from the most loyal and most responsible Opposition our Parliament has ever seen.
We must also remember all the public servants who, although they had been brought up in and had been totally loyal to the Australian Administration of the Territory of Papua New Guinea, became on that day most loyal and hard working officers of the Public Service of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.But our independence was not won by politicians and public servants alone. It takes the collective will of a people to win independence for a State, and it was the people of Papua New Guinea who chose their leaders and accepted their leadership along a different path.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to all our founding leaders, and to the people and public servants of our new nation. Just as we owed then, we still do today, an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the people of Australia, and as a nation and as a people, we are truly appreciative of Australian generosity.I remember the country that was born this day 20 years ago, and we were a country in a hurry. We still are. There was much to be done and there still is. We knew that we had to come together as one people.
Many of us still remember the cry of “AHEBOU” and “BUNG WANTAIM”. Maybe the essential goal is not yet achieved, but no- one should believe that it won’t be. We are nearer to it than we were 20 years ago.
We are closer to becoming true Papua New Guineans than ever before – we are beginning to see ourselves as a people.
Not just an amalgamation of separate groups – not just as Engans, Tolais, Toaripis, Dobuans, Bougainvilleans, Sepiks and Morobeans and as members of all the other diverse groups in our land – but as proud citizens of the one country.
But the process of building a nation does not happen overnight and to this day, clan, tribal and regional sentiments at times threaten our bonds as true Papua New Guineans.
As a nation we must address this issue, and the correct place – the only place – to do it is in the heart of each and every one of us. Until this challenge is taken on, we can never fulfil our potential for greatness.
Change never comes without some pain and achievements can’t occur unless there is some honest sweat. By any measure at all, Papua New Guinea has indeed experienced pain and shed much honest sweat. More pain, more sweat will be needed if we are to fulfil our own hopes.
We cannot just manage our affairs, we must make sure we manage them well. Why live in a dirty run-down house, a broken wil-wil and producing sloppy work? What is to be gained from rejecting criticism when that criticism could be deserved?
These attitudes are not rare and we cannot be proud of them.We have experienced several shocks in recent years. Some of these have been external imports and many have been unwanted but home-made.
By no means are we in an unsalvageable position. We are in the process of forcing ourselves out of a mess, but it would be grossly foolish to say that all is well with one society, our economy and particularly with some of our attitudes.
It is in the latter area where we possibly face our greatest danger. We tell ourselves we are a resource rich country but we fool each other if we continue to think that these resources represent riches if they still lie in the ground.There is no doubt that Papua New Guinea has been doubly blessed, in its people and in its natural resources. Yes, we are potentially rich but we will only realise that potential when make sustainable use of what God has so generously given us.
We tell ourselves that we have many proud traditions and customs forming a unique and proud Papua New Guinean culture. This is true, but we would be naive to continue retaining those which don’t sit comfortably with our legitimate desire to be part of a modern and increasingly complex international economy. Sometimes the two can’t sit well together.We must accept that there is still room for more change and adjustment.
We have come a long way since 1975. A lthough it has sometimes been a case of three steps forward and one step back – or sideways – we are ahead. We have always managed to take corrective action, although sometimes perilously close to the last moment.
In 20 years we have built a nation and brought it to the point where it not only has a growing confidence in its own ability to set and correct its own course – to be Papua New Guineans – but also in its maturing relationships with the other nations in its region and indeed, in the world.Today we are committed members of a number of international bodies – regionally in the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the South Pacific Forum – but also in the Commonwealth… in APEC, ASEAN and the United Nations.
We have selectively and strategically established 21 embassies and consulates in 16 countries, to develop international relationships and to uphold and promote our interest.
Among all the nations of this world, there would hardly be another that has had to journey so far on so many fronts in the past 20 years. We have done well. We have achieved much and our country shows the potential to achieve so much more.Yes, we have had our ups and downs on this journey, but every nation does, including those who have thousands of years of experience behind them, as the media shows us every day.
The greatest barrier to realising our potential sometimes seems to be ourselves – some of us must stop condemning every move for change that is made, blocking every turn away from the past and demanding too much without being willing to offer enough back in return.
We have made mistakes. There is no doubt about that, but we are learning from them. What we Papua New Guineans need to remember is that leaders too are human, and leaders can and do make mistakes. They are not celestial beings, but lie somewhere between being saints and sinners. Sometimes they are a mixture of both.
It is too easy to be over-critical – and many people are, both within Papua New Guinea and overseas. We should never lose sight of the fact that our journey has taken some of our people from an isolated tribal existence into the modern world in less than a lifetime.
In that context what we have achieved is quite remarkable. I pay tribute to the fathers of our nation, among them my peers, the three former Prime Ministers of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, Rabbie Namaliu and Paias Wingti.One of the most telling measures of the success of our journey is the skills of our people. In a generation we have gone from essentially a zero-skills base in terms of the modern world to today where we have doctors … lawyers … engineers … pilots … agriculturists … geologists … and many other skilled people.
Today they are coming to the fore. And in the next 20 years, their numbers will increase dramatically and drive this country ahead. In this, they will be assisted by the millions of our people who are the essential backbone of Papua New Guinea – those who live away from our cities and towns, where they have lived for many thousands of years.
In the huts and villages on the coast, in our valleys and in our highlands. They are the wellspring of our national life. They are our strength. They always have been and they always will be.
I cannot forget the poor, the hungry, the sick and the disadvantaged. It is shameful that they exist in such numbers at this stage of our development. They must get a higher place on our ladder of priorities.
To achieve this – to provide an even spread of services – dramatic structural changes have taken place over recent months, and the systems applied for delivery of services to the rural areas have been improved. The effects of these changes have already taken hold, but it is still early days.
Change is nothing be frightened of. It is a sign of life, and we need it if we are to grow as a nation. But the keyword is consultation and the password, adaptability.
Key among any changes made are the ones that will help solve law and order problem. It has been a problem that has dogged our young nation and done considerable damage – to our county’s peaceful men, women and children and to our reputation on the international stage.
The vast majority of Papua New Guinea people are friendly, decent and peace-loving, but a small minority of violent, criminal lawbreakers are draining our lifeblood away.
The causes of crime and violence are many and complex. While increased police activity – and my Government moved on this earlier this year – will go some way to dealing with it, the real answer to the problems will be found only when we, as a nation, tackle their root cause.
Here we are talking about education and employment opportunities. We are talking about young people who have left their villages and who no longer have traditional support and discipline. While essential values remain constant in our towns and villages, it has been the method of control that has changed.
Sometimes there is no control at all.
We will always have law and order problems until we can fully involve our young people in a modern society. We must give them the opportunity to mould meaningful lives, to have the dignity of work, to earn a decent living. When that happens, our crime levels will fall.
This is a challenge for all of us – not just for the Government, but also for all the people of this country and for the private sector. It is a challenge we must meet head-on.
We have to look at the education system and how it can better meet the needs of a growing population, and provide a workforce for our country’s future growth.We need to continue with the positive new direction of our health services, where there is now a National Plan in place to take our country to the year 2000 and beyond.
The life of this country lies in the immunisation of our children, and the overall health of mothers and their babies.
To our newer generations – and you are the hope and lifeblood of our nation – I urge you never to accept or offer second-best. Second-best in the services you receive from the State, or second-best in what you yourselves offer to your nation – no matter what you do.Do not fall into the trap of simply blaming your leaders, bosses or your co-workers for everything that may be wrong. Look into yourself. Blaming others is most often just fooling ourselves and our nation.
We need to take that critical look inside ourselves and admit that large sections of our society have become experts at the game of supply and demand – or demand and supply. They demand and the Government is expected to immediately and automatically supply.
They have gotten it all wrong. The State is you – the people.
Papua New Guinea has been a society of selfsufficiency in the past, where everyone survived by their own efforts and those of their families. We have to recapture that attitude. Unless and until we do, then we will never achieve progress for ourselves and our society.
Papua New Guinea has to be a partnership between the State and the people.My fellow Papua New Guineans, let us enter our second 20 years with a commitment to do better … to work harder … and to give more of ourselves than ever before.
I say this to all our people , but especially our leaders, politicians and public servants. I say it to all Papua New Guineans.
We are the nation that has survived the Bougainville crisis. We are coming out of it with more compassion, strength, determination and unity thanever before. We are the nation that has survived floods and famines, earthquakes and volcanoes.
Natural disasters and those that are man-made – we have survived them all and we are stronger for them. We are more resilient and better equipped for the future. In twenty short years – and they have gone pretty fast – this nation has known more than its fair share of suffering.
Through it all we have grown.
Part of the reason we have dealt so well with adversity is the inherent strength of our many ancient cultures – the desire to tend to each other’s needs, the willingness to share. However, it is also the strength of our “newer cultures” that has seen us through – our churches, our workers, our academics, our business sector, our multi-cultural society.
Yes, we have much to be proud of and a strong foundation on which to continue building our nation. But – remember that this country can only be as good as we ourselves make it. So why don’t we all strive to make it great?
That is my commitment, and the commitment of my Government to make Papua New Guinea great.
Today we renew that commitment. We refocus ourselves on what it is to be Papua New Guinean. We focus again on all the things that make Papua New Guinea so special.
I praise the hard work done by the National Events Council – its Chairman Joe Tauvasa and all the council members. They have done great work to organise the celebrations throughout our land, they have done great work to bind our people together as celebrants for this special day.I say thank you also to all the representatives from nations near and far, for your time and effort in sharing with us this most memorable day in our nation’s life, and also to all my fellow Papua New Guineans.
To you I say, be proud to be Papua New Guinean. One People. One Nation. One Country. And as I ask God to bless Papua New Guinea, I also remind all of us that on this planet, God’s work is really our own. We are the ones who have to translate God’s wishes into reality.
And in working for that reality let us share our vision for Papua New Guinea.
Let us see the Bird of Paradise fly towards the stars. Let us know that Papua New Guinea can keep on rising, and let us continue to work for a future in which all Papua New Guineans will…
Unite on the basis of respect for all other people…
Never forget that people come first, including the interests of children and future generations…
Develop our load and other resources for growth, improved quality of life and capacity-building for selfreliance…. and
Uphold the law, including the National Goals in our Constitution.
Let the Kundu or the Gaba sound out the news of our commitment to Papua New Guinea’s future.
Ahebou. Bung Wantaim. Unite and Good night.