Chris Overland: O’Neill’s ‘monstrous’ plan trashes traditional land legacies

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Rainforest for palm oil land clearance ... new PNG land plan "a licence for banks and others to progressively expropriate traditional lands in the name of "development"'. Image: PNG Attitude

OPINION: By Chris Overland in Adelaide

Recently, Keith Jackson’s PNG Attitude has been publishing a discussion on some of the unhappy events that occurred as the colonial regime extended its control over the tribes of Papua New Guinea.

However, one marvellous and positive legacy Australia left to Papua New Guinea was that it did not allow the alienation of more than a very small area of land.

Even then, the land remained the property of the government as distinct from private individuals, who could only lease it.

The first Administrator of the then Territory of Papua, Sir William McGregor, insisted that only the government could buy land and that the policy of the colonial regime should be to restrict this to very small parcels.

My recollection is that he got this idea from his time in Fiji, where the policy had been put in place when Fiji first became a Crown Colony.

McGregor and his successors realised that, in a subsistence economy like that of Papua (and later New Guinea), land was a precious resource upon which people relied to live.

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The administrators believed its alienation could lead to profound and very damaging socio-economic consequences as had been all too graphically demonstrated in Africa.

Ruthlessly dispossessed
Anyone familiar with the history of, say, Kenya, South Africa or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) will understand that the native peoples were ruthlessly dispossessed of their land and suffered greatly as a result.

Now, amazingly, the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has developed a “cunning plan” articulated by minister Justin Tkatchenko.

This plan must, by its very nature, result in the loss of control over communally held land for those Papua New Guineans foolish enough to allow its use as collateral for a loan.

This is a scheme that I think would never have seen the light of day in the colonial era.

It would instantly have been recognised as what it is: a licence for banks and others to progressively expropriate traditional lands in the name of “development”.

Wake up Papua New Guinea. Dr Clement Malau is right. This is a monstrous con job dressed up in the language of development and investment.

Please do not effectively throw away your ancestral heritage for the sake of money.

Republished from Keith Jackson’s PNG Attitude website. Chris Overland is a former PNG patrol officer and civil service administrator.

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