Resign call to PNG’s foreign minister over his ‘primitive animals’ slur

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"Sack him!" call over PNG's Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko . . . how the PNG Post-Courier reported the furore today. Image: PNG Post-Courier screenshot APR

By Caleb Fotheringham, RNZ Pacific journalist

Papua New Guinea’s opposition has called on Foreign Affairs Minister Justin Tkatchenko to resign after calling critics of his trip to London for King Charles’ coronation “primitive animals”.

Minister Tkatchenko made the comment on ABC when addressing critics of his daughter’s TikTok video about attending the coronation in London last week.

The Prime Minister has waded into the controversy by saying he was offended by the comments, but has asked people to forgive his minister.

Tkatchenko has now reportedly apologised through the PM, James Marape.

The video — tagged #aussiesinengland — showed Savannah Tkatchenko enjoying expensive meals and going to first class airport lounges.

“We did some shopping around Singapore Airport at Hermes and Louis Vuitton, those of you who know, Singapore Airport shopping is honestly so lit,” she said in the video which she has since taken down.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Belden Namah said he was “calling on the Foreign Affairs Minister to confirm or deny that he uttered those descriptions of citizens of Papua New Guinea which has been kind enough to offer him naturalised citizenship”.

“If he has indeed uttered those despicable words then I am calling on Justin Tkatchenko to immediately resign as Foreign Affairs Minister and as Member of Parliament and further renounce his citizenship,” Namah said in a written statement.

“The ‘useless people’ and ‘primitive animals’ of this country have ensured he grew his business, gave him a wife, offered him citizenship, elected him into public office, made him a minister and sent him and his daughter to London.”

Tkatchenko is originally from Melbourne and was naturalised as a Papua New Guinean citizen in 2006.

Namah was also critical of the TikTok video and said it revealed the “disregard for Papua New Guineans” that the minister must have “inculcated in his family”.

“The name of the video says it all: #aussiesinengland. Send them to Australia if that is who they are.”

‘Very offensive to many people’
RNZ Pacific’s correspondent Scott Waide said the words “primitive” and “animals” were offensive slurs in PNG.

“They [the public] were annoyed with the TikTok video by his daughter and now the fact that the foreign minister has gone on the media and responded in that manner has been very offensive to many people.”

Waide said there was talk of a protest and pressure was mounting by the hour against Tkatchenko.

He said the video showed Savannah was out of touch with the realities of Papua New Guinea.

“The fact that the foreign minister’s daughter was allowed on an official trip and she was able to flaunt the expenses that were made on that trip has triggered quite a few people.”

The Commonwealth Students Association’s Pacific regional representative, Dr Bradley Yombon, said the comments were “disgusting”.

“He should hang his head in shame, apologise and not only apologise, but hand in his resignation as the Foreign Affairs Minister,” he said.

“He’s just thrown a blanket over all of Papua New Guinea and he’s not a native of Papua New Guinea which makes the situation a lot worse . . .  we’ve obviously got him into office, he should be grateful, and represent us to the best of his capacity.”

Minister ‘apologised to PM’
In a written statement Prime Minister Marape said Tkatchenko had apologised to himself and the country.

The Prime Minister said he was also offended by Tkatchenko’s comments but pleaded with the public to forgive him.

“We should not be labelling our citizens as ‘primitive animals’ even if they have wronged us,” he said.

“We are a unique blend of ethnic diversities, and as Christians, we can forgive each other.”

According to Human Rights Watch almost 40 percent of the country lives in poverty.

“Nobody’s come out and said anything about the exact number of people or how much they’ve actually spent,” said Waide.

According to the the Post-Courier, in 2021 the government sent a 62-member delegation to Glasgow to attend the COP26 Climate Change conference at a cost of K5.8 million (NZ$2.6 million).

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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