Gary Juffa: The myth of PNG’s ‘Middle Bench’ – don’t be fooled

Outspoken MP and Governor of Oro province Gary Juffa ... advice for fellow MPs in Papua New Guinea, "don't be a puppet". Image: Gary Juffa FB

OPINION: By Gary Juffa

My advice for Papua New Guinea’s new MPs and their staff, minions, hangers on and supporters …

Some words about the middle bench.

It’s a myth.

I should know. I was there believing that myth for the first two years of the last term of Parliament.

The middle bench IS government.

I attended government caucus from time to time and made critical reviews of government decisions. If you are allowed to attend government caucus…you ARE government.

Why did I not choose the Opposition at that time?

Because I believed the myth of the “Middle Bench” …

Little difference
And I saw little difference in either side at that time…with the government seeming to be a slightly better option. I hoped I could do more to influence government decisions for the better. How wrong I was. The benefit of hindsight has since proved otherwise.

Well at that time both government and opposition seemed like bad choices, just flipsides of the same coin, and I honestly thought there was a special place in Parliament for neutral ground or a Third Way from government or opposition.

Well, I was wrong. I was naive.

FACT: “There is no neutral ground”.

Surprise surprise, there is no middle bench!

Anyway my continued critical review of the decisions made by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s People’s National Congress (PNC) government were pissing many off … so eventually I was removed.

That’s right, by the ruling party PNC. As I said, some of their members resented the critical review I provided. They despised my outspokenness on national issues and questioning their self interest in most decisions.

They lobbied hard and when the ruling party met and decided unanimously to kick me out. That’s right. They can do that. Which means they are in control of that part of Parliament.

‘Don’t make trouble’ message
Which means the middle bench is a myth!

Soon after I was quietly asked by a government MP to inform the government I wished to remain and would not make trouble.

If I could do this, I could stay but must remain mute and support all government decisions..good or bad.

So I decided to move to Opposition.

See I felt I was elected to speak for my people. All of Papua New Guinea. Not be a puppet and follow others blindly even when they were wrong.

So I left.

It now dawned on me that the middle bench … was only in my head … not in reality … so if you are there…you are in government..

And if they hold control over that area, they own that territory. You are their territory. You can pretend and be quiet and they will allow that pretence to be projected to the people. But speak up too often … then you will see who has control over that area and you will soon see that you are there at their will and whim.

All the best.

Gary Juffa is an Opposition MP in the Papua New Guinea Parliament and Governor of Oro province. He contributes occasional articles to Asia Pacific Report.

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