Torres Strait Islands – a government to government matter.

By Susan Merrell

O'Neill - Championing the rights of the people in the villages bordering the Torres Strait
O’Neill – Championing the rights of the people in the villages bordering the Torres Strait

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has instructed cabinet to appoint an eminent persons committee to conduct a review of the Torres Strait Treaty with Australia.  He says:

…for 40 years no government has ever stood up on behalf of Trans Fly villages.

Indeed they haven’t Prime Minister, although there are some who have been pointing out the inequities for quite some time. 

In 2011, I opined that only a government to government solution would work (litigation had already failed). 

At last (and bravo!) a PNG government is seeking to effect a more equitable solution for the people of the Trans-Fly villages by seeking the co-operation of Australia and other stakeholders in a government to government solution.

Here’s what I wrote in 2011 ( as published in The National (Friday, June 24, 2011)

Torres Strait Islands – a government to government matter.

It was with some interest that I read the letter to Australian Prime Minister, reproduced and published in the National, June 1 (2011) from Mr Peter Sawabarri representing the Masaingle People from the Western Province of PNG on the shores of the Torres Strait.

Torres strat senate JpegThe letter was in protest about the findings of the Australian ‘Senate Committee Report on Torres Strait: Bridge and Border’ (dated November 2010) that had effectively closed the borders to him and rendered his people without a means to carry on their traditional way of life in the Strait.

The preamble to Mr Sawabarri’s letter says he’s been campaigning for his peoples’ pre-sovereignty rights over the Torres Strait and Islands for the past ten years. Within the letter, Mr Sawabarri presented compelling evidence supporting his peoples’ position as long-time custodians of the Strait and Islands. Continue reading Torres Strait Islands – a government to government matter.

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Democracy, custom and the Melanesian Way.

By Susan Merrell

This is an article I wrote almost three years ago.  Inspired by a conversation with a learned PNGean, I am republishing – the thesis has not aged although the cast of characters has.

Is there a democratic Papua New Guinean nation – or is it merely an arbitrary state built on a shaky, crumbling foundation of disparate traditional customs and the ‘Melanesian Way’? Has the system of government become a hybrid of concepts that fail to work on any level – a bastardization of both democracy and custom?

melanesian_wayBernard Narokobi in his book ‘The Melanesian Way’ refused to define the conceptt:

According to Narokobi, those posing the question are “cynics”, “hypocrites” and display “spiteful arrogance.”  The concept is “cosmic” making a definition “futile” and “trite.”  He failed to explain how so.

Apparently, if Moses didn’t ask God to define himself then the messianic Narokobi should not be required to define the Melanesian Way – notwithstanding that he was writing a book about it, making one wonder what the rest of the book is about.

The idea of belonging to the ‘insider’ group that carries the knowledge of the Melanesian Way is so emotionally charged and identity defining that it usually provokes wide-eyed head nodding – but no conceptual challenge.

Yet, concepts only defy explanation when they are not widely understood. Given the nebulous nature of the ‘Melanesian Way’, it has become an exploitable idea. Continue reading Democracy, custom and the Melanesian Way.

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