Sea Ports in Papua New Guinea

PNG sea ports provide a vital link between PNG and the world market, with more than 80% of exports shipped from ports. PNG has 22 declared international ports, but only 16 are operational. A number of publicly and privately operated minor wharves, jetties, and landings also exist around the country. In 2004, PNG ports handled slightly more than five million tons of general cargo and 195 000 twenty-foot equivalent units of containerised cargo.

The most important port in PNG is Lae, at the end of the Highlands Highway (Figure 6.9.1). Lae has no natural harbour; its port is constructed on land that is geologically unstable and the berths require continual dredging. In 2004, Lae port handled 51% of the general cargo and 56% of the containerised cargo that passed through PNG ports. About 50% of PNG exports and 90% of coffee exports are handled through Lae. The port also serves a major mine at Porgera in Enga Province, the gas and oil fields in Southern Highlands Province, and three gold mines in Morobe and Eastern Highlands provinces. Lae is also the main hub for coastal shipping to the smaller ports of Kimbe, Kavieng, Rabaul, Madang, Wewak and Kieta. Much of the sweet potato sold in Port Moresby’s urban markets is grown in the highlands and shipped through Lae on coastal ships.

Figure 1 Roads and ports in PNG. Source: PNG Road Asset Management System.

Port development and maintenance has not kept pace with the growth in cargo. Since 1995, container cargo at Lae has grown at 5% per year and general cargo at 2.5% per year. The current cargo volume and vessel types calling at Lae require at least four international berths with a total length of 800 m. Lae has only two berths suitable for international shipping with a total length of approximately 300 m, but the main wharf was being extended in late 2006. The storage and cargo marshalling areas are not sufficient to handle increasing cargo volumes and ship sizes. As a result, port congestion at Lae is frequent and imposes high costs on port users. Delays of 3–5 days have become common and cost international shipping companies about US$20 000 per day. Some companies are refusing to call at Lae and others are considering imposing congestion charges, which will translate into higher costs for importers and exporters (including village coffee growers). Port congestion also poses health and safety problems, and the issue of non-compliance with the International Shipping and Port Security Code. The wharf and shipboard facilities for handling fresh food are poor and much food is lost from damage inflicted during shipping from poor handling and unsuitable containers.

Port Moresby, despite being the capital city and having a magnificent harbour, is a less important sea port than Lae, particularly for agriculture. With no road connections to other regions in the country (Figure 1), exports from Port Moresby are mainly transhipped from coastal ships to international ships. Hence Port Moresby has a number of berths for coastal vessels but only one for overseas vessels. Copper concentrate from Ok Tedi mine is loaded on ships at Kiunga on the Fly River and transhipped to large international ore carriers in Port Moresby harbour. Crude oil from Kikori is loaded at the Kumul Platform in the Gulf of Papua. Some is shipped to the Napa Napa oil refinery in Port Moresby harbour where it is processed for domestic use and export.

Other main ports are:

  • Rabaul. An important port for the export of cocoa and coconut products, with three international berths, one being a bulk coconut oil-loading berth. Rabaul is also an important coastal shipping focus. The 1994 volcanic eruptions did not damage the port facilities, although dredging is required.
  • Madang. An excellent harbour, but with more difficult and less reliable road connection to the highlands and thus overshadowed as a port by Lae. However, if further port development at Lae proves technically too difficult, Madang could be developed to take over some of Lae’s trade.
  • Wewak. Serves East Sepik and Sandaun provinces via the Sepik Highway, but is restricted in the size of ships that can be handled by the depth of water at the single berth.
  • Kimbe. On the north coast of West New Britain Province; is the main palm oil export point. In the last year, volcanoes to the east and west of Kimbe threatened to cause significant disruptions to this coastline, but a major eruption has not yet occurred.

Of the minor ports, Alotau, Kavieng and Oro Bay export palm oil, Lihir services the gold mine in New Ireland Province, and Kieta on Bougainville Island was the main port for the copper mine before the mine was closed by the civil war. Other minor ports include Aitape, Daru, Lorengau and Vanimo (Figure 1).

Maintenance on navigational aids has not been adequate and the situation has become critical. A joint venture project with the Australian Maritime Service began in 2004 to rehabilitate maritime navigation aids. The project will provide more lighthouses, day markers and buoys. The first phase began in Milne Bay and Port Moresby in 2004 and in the Islands Region in 2005.

People in the maritime provinces, such as Milne Bay, are especially dependent on marine transport. The infrequency, unreliability and slowness of domestic shipping in PNG is a major constraint to further
agricultural and fisheries development as well as to delivery of services.

Mining Agreements in Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a mining agreement is the social contract entered into when a tribal people grants permission for mining on its land. The three basic elements of an agreement are:

  • Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)—the decision to allow mining and the negotiation of mining agreements are arrived at in a fair manner, following the principles of FPIC.
  • Stakeholder identification—customary owners and other stakeholder groups are properly identified and written into the various sections of an agreement with accuracy, clarity and safeguards to ensure that recognition shifts do not occur over time.
  • Agreement governance—processes are specified, and their costs underwritten, that ensure: benefits (royalties, compensation for loss, lease payments, employment, business spin-offs, improvements to local infrastructure, commitments to social programs) will be appropriate and divided fairly among stakeholder groups; beneficiaries receive what the agreement says without hidden transaction costs throughout the mine life; there are appropriate protections for vulnerable people; monitoring and evaluation is carried out to professional standards; and reviews are held following an agreed timetable and to the same standard as used in the original agreement-making process, or better.

A local innovation to try to achieve parts of the above is the ‘development forum’, first used in the negotiations for the Porgera gold mine in 1988–89. Today, the Mining Act 1992 lays out the specifications of a forum and sets out a list of parties the mining minister should consider inviting.

At Hidden Valley, a forum was launched on 4 August 2004. The provincial administrator, Manasupe Zurenuoc, praised the cultural appropriateness of the talks, saying that ‘in a country such as PNG the Melanesian approach was the secret to success’. However, the participants were not the six sets of communities, labelled Stakeholder Groups A–E, in the impact area that were identified in the company’s social impact assessment, the document that should have guided the minister. Only Group A—represented by the mine lease landowners’ Nakuwi Association—participated in them.

The process ceased to be referred to as a ‘forum’ after two weeks. Sporadic media reports referred to ‘talks’ until a year later, when the Hidden Valley memorandum of agreement (MOA) was signed. After the mine construction period, emergency negotiations had to be held with Group B, an omitted stakeholder group made up of the Watut River communities, when their land was impacted by the discharge of waste rock.

On these counts, the process cannot be described as a ‘forum’ or, for that matter, be said to reflect an inclusive, ‘Melanesian’ approach. What in fact happened was that decisions were made over the interests of the unrepresented stakeholder communities without their consent.

A surprising inclusion in the MOA was that the six local-level governments (LLGs) surrounding the mine in Bulolo District were allocated royalty shares amounting to 20 per cent of the total. But, here again, the body created to plan the expenditure of funds by LLGs under the Organic Law on Provincial Governments and Local-Level Governments, the Joint District Planning and Budget Priorities Committee (JDPBPC), was excluded from the agreement-making process.

In short, the MOA process was deficient: in respect of stakeholder identification because it did not properly represent the parties that should have been involved; in respect of FPIC because of the closed-door nature of the talks; and in respect of agreement governance because it handed money to government entities in a way that bypassed the coordinating body established to guide district development.

This was evident at the time, but it was not until 2015 that any agency reported on the effectiveness of the MOA. This was in the form of research privately commissioned from the PNG National Research Institute (NRI) by the Bulolo District JDPBPC. The NRI’s report authors concluded that, while the financial flows to MOA parties were largely as set out by the MOA, the systems in place for managing them were ineffective and their impacts on development were ‘minimal’. The Nakuwi Association, the ‘link between the mine and customary landowners’, was described as ‘defective’ and its business subsidiary had not submitted a tax return for ten years (ibid.: 48). This is not a surprise: the pathologies can be traced back to the 1980s, when a previous business subsidiary delivered little to its community owners.

These things flow on to agreement governance as a whole—the technical work of seeing that what agreements say is actually implemented. The former Department of Mining noted the ‘isolation of the development forum from the process of planning for sustainable development’ more than a decade ago, and we can widen this to say that the more the state leaves most of the work of agreement-making to local parties, the less likely it is that attention will be paid to agreement governance, frustrating the broader national and international objectives of poverty reduction.

Bougainville-Papua New Guinea Relations

Bougainville’s population in 2016 is approximately 300,000 (less than 4 per cent of PNG’s total population). Its 9,438 square kilometres is roughly 2 per cent of PNG’s total land area. Pre-colonial Bougainvilleans were organised mainly around tiny stateless societies involving great diversity in language, culture, and identities. Despite major social and economic changes since colonial ‘rule’ began in the late nineteenth century, the most significant social groups today continue to be nuclear and extended families, the localised clan-based landowning lineages to which those families belong (typically containing 50–150 members), and flexible groupings of such lineages.

While under nominal German colonial control from 1884 to 1915, the first administrative centre was only established in 1905, and Australia took control from 1914 to 1975. Under colonialism, interactions with people from elsewhere in PNG contributed to a pan-Bougainvillean identity, with the dark skin colour of most Bougainvilleans as the primary marker. Identity politicisation occurred after World War II, when:

because of the natural affluence of their village life and the coverage of the [Bougainville] district by Christian missions (mainly Catholic and non-Australian), the administration neglected to play a conspicuous role in development almost until copper was discovered. Bougainville was known as the ‘Cinderella’ district not because it was poor but because it was ostensibly neglected (Griffin et al. 1979: 150).

Identity politicisation was intensified by resentment of colonial racism and by development of the mine, which was seen as something imposed to benefit the rest of PNG with little regard to detrimental impacts on Bougainville itself.

A major manifestation of change since 1905 has been the expanding range of groups or organisations to which Bougainvilleans belong or relate (churches, women’s groups, local governments, economic enterprises, political parties, etc.). Nevertheless, the autonomy long enjoyed by local lineages and other pre-colonial social groupings remains the default position for Bougainvillean understandings of how to relate to these new social phenomena. This expectation of autonomy helps to explain the extent to which the diverse groups involved in the origins of the conflict expected autonomy from one another, as do groups involved in contemporary debates on the future of mining.

For most rural Bougainvilleans, PNG remains remote. This was even more so in 1963, when PNG-wide politics first developed around the election of TPNG’s first representative legislature, which included just one Bougainvillean representative. Concerns about national representation of Bougainville probably had little effect on voters in the 1963 and 1968 elections. However, rapid changes associated with development of the mine led to much wider understanding of such matters in the 1972 elections, contributing to the election of a young Catholic priest from Buin, John Momis, a critic of the mine and the administration, who continues to be a key political figure in Bougainville.

Growing agitation for a special political and financial status saw an interim Bougainville Provincial Government established in 1974, and disputes over its mine revenue share precipitated Bougainville’s attempted secession from PNG on 1 September 1975, just before PNG’s Independence Day. The crisis was resolved in mid-1976, when the PNG Government agreed to constitutional provision for provincial government and guaranteed that the new North Solomons Provincial Government (NSPG) would receive all of the royalties from the mine aside from the 5 per cent already payable to some of the Panguna mine lease landowners. Many Bougainvilleans concluded that only intense confrontation with PNG brought results, and that the little understood process of secession and status of independence would remedy many problems.

Following the 1976 agreement to end attempted secession, Bougainvilleans had high expectations of the NSPG. In 1977, John Momis became the PNG minister responsible for the new provincial government system established under the agreement. Strong support for autonomy of the NSPG was now expected from the centre, and these expectations were reinforced by establishment of the Momis-led Melanesian Alliance (MA) party in 1980. The MA soon dominated both NSPG politics (especially from 1984) and Bougainville’s four seats in the PNG Parliament. But neither Momis nor his party had a significant impact on PNG policy towards Bougainville. By the mid-1980s, the NSPG’s lack of expected powers over areas of growing concern, such as mining, land and internal migration, was a source of widespread disappointment. For many, the failure to pursue secession appeared to have been a mistake.

Lukautim Pikinini Act

In 2009, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government passed the Lukautim Pikinini (Child Welfare) Act (LPA), which was informed by the CRC and written and sponsored by Carol Kidu, now Dame Carol and still then the Minister of Community and Development. Children were granted their constitutional rights as well as the right granted in domestic laws and the CRC, upon whose principles the act was based. The child was defined as anyone under 18 instead of under 16, as in previous legislation. It gave responsibility for enforcing the law and protecting children from abuse (verbal, physical and sexual) to newly established Child Protection Officers and Community Development Officers, mandating them to provide guidance and counselling to families in support of their parental responsibilities, to investigate allegations that a child is in need of protection and to provide that protection, and to identify, raise awareness, and work with communities ‘to change harmful social, economic and customary practices’, among other responsibilities. It criminalised child abuse, including emotional and psychological harm, imposing a fine of K2,000 ($US800) and/or imprisonment for the offence. Also, it put in place a system of councils and committees: a National Lukautim Pikinini Council to oversee the enforcement of the law; Lukautim Pikinini Councils in every province; and Lukautim Pikinini Committees in every district, to ensure the enforcement of the LPA at all levels. The intention of the LPA, with its system of councils and committees, was to make community participation in ‘ensuring the protection of children under the law’ mandatory and to encourage all citizens to take ownership of this mission. Importantly, ‘Village Courts would have no jurisdiction under the law to hear child abuse [cases] or other matters relating to children’ but were expected to refer such matters to a national Lukautim Pikinini Court.

A revised LPA was passed in parliament. It renders marriage of a male and/or female under the age of 18 illegal. The primary motivation for revising the LPA was an alarming increase in orphans and ‘street kids’—homeless children or children who remain in the family but are neglected there and who beg and steal and who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Like the original Act, the revised LPA emphasises children’s rights (to protection from abuse and neglect and to equal opportunity and education) but also parental responsibilities and duties. Children who are neglected or abused in their family situation may be removed and placed in the care of the Office for Child and Family Services, which the Department of Community Development will create to implement the revised LPA. Provincial-level child and family service committees will be formed to assure children’s welfare throughout the country.

HIV in PNG: Epidemic, Epidemics, Endemic?

HIV contributes to Papua New Guinea’s difficult mix of challenges for health and development. In mid-2010, PNG was home to roughly 6.7 million people, speaking some 800 languages and living mostly in small, dispersed communities, heavily dependent on a mix of cash-cropping and subsistence activities. About 85 percent of the population is classed as ‘rural’. On the United Nations’ human development index, PNG ranks 145 out of 177 listed countries and is the least developed of the Pacific Island states and territories. Despite PNG’s great wealth of natural resources, the gulf between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is wide and widening; and much of PNG’s population is poor, and growing poorer. Roads and government services have deteriorated. About 40 percent of men and 50 percent of women are illiterate. Life expectancy at birth is the lowest in the Pacific: 54 years.

PNG’s first notified case of AIDS was in 1987: a policeman who had been serving in Bougainville; his wife and child were subsequently found to have HIV too. But the virus was probably in PNG before that date and in the 1990s spread rapidly. HIV nevertheless remains difficult to track or quantify because surveillance, while improving, is still weak. At the end of 2008, cumulative notifications numbered 28,294 and estimates of prevalence, as this volume goes to press, seem to range between 1.5 percent and the projected figure of roughly 3 percent for 2010, though some informed observers ‘feel’ this range, particularly the bottom end, is too low. Whereas injecting drug use (IDU) and sex between men are important means of HIV transmission in many south east Asian nations and in Australia and New Zealand, IDU is negligible in PNG, while sex between men seems to play a small, but perhaps underestimated role. The main mode of transmission is heterosexual, with secondary transmission from mother to child. For ages 2-29 years, cumulative notifications are higher for females than males and Papua New Guinea is experiencing the ‘feminisation’ of HIV and AIDS—with respect both to transmission and impacts.

HIV is also believed to be ruralising. AIDS has always been most noticed in the National Capital District, other urban centres, along transport routes such as the Highlands Highway and, more recently, in the vicinity of development enclaves. But in 2007, for the first time, rural HIV prevalence was estimated to have surpassed urban and very high prevalence has been found in some localities—for instance, 40 percent of 15–45 year olds sampled from Tari in the Southern Highlands. This ruralisation and feminisation pose a double challenge for the response to HIV—of reaching the most disadvantaged members of what are many of the most disadvantaged communities in PNG.

Among the conditions favouring the spread of HIV is PNG’s predominantly youthful and rapidly growing population, poor and in many parts of the country deteriorating health services, and the co-presence of other sexually transmitted infections that can assist transmission. High levels of rape and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and multiple sexual partners have contributed to HIV’s spread. The relationships between development and HIV are complex. Sizeable urban populations and uneven development, conducing to migration, social stress, widening disparities along axes of location, class and sex, and the commodification of female sexuality have shaped environments and patterns of human interaction in which the risk of infection is heightened.

PNG has been routinely described as experiencing a ‘generalised’ epidemic, meaning that prevalence has reached or exceeded 1 percent and HIV has spread beyond so-called high-risk groups and settings. In the wider Asia-Pacific, PNG is one of only two nations currently so classified. (The other is Thailand, but its estimated prevalence is marginally lower than PNG’s). Among the member states and territories of the South Pacific Community, PNG accounts for 95 percent of the total reported cases of HIV and AIDS. Among PNG’s neighbours, the Indonesian province of Papua, comprising the western half of island of New Guinea, comes closest to PNG in the scale and prevalence of HIV. In 2006, among a population of roughly two million, prevalence was calculated to be 2.4 percent, perhaps 15 times higher than Indonesia’s national average.

But is ‘generalised epidemic’ the best description? As indicated above, while PNG’s national epidemic may be described as ‘generalised’, subnationally it has ‘concentrated’ and ‘micro’ epidemics within certain networks and locales. Some connotations of the word ‘epidemic’ can be misleading too. Consider speed and infectiousness, two qualities often implied. Epidemic HIV however, unlike for instance epidemic influenza, is not so easily passed from one person to another and is even less infectious than most common STIs. Consider transience. Unlike, say, the 1918-19 ‘flu, which swept across the globe in several rolling waves and then completely petered out, HIV is now deeply rooted in the world and in PNG, embedded in the very means by which humans reproduce. Finally, ‘epidemic’ triggers fight or flight. This reaction can be useful in the immediate response to HIV, but we also need to tackle HIV’s ‘non-epidemic’ qualities, to prevent and mitigate, in the very long term, a disease that is difficult to dislodge.

Some researchers have tried to epitomise the non-epidemic characteristics of HIV in new metaphors. Barnett and Whiteside have described HIV as a ‘long wave’ and ‘multi-wave’ event. De Waal has pictured it as a structural and structuring component of our social and biological evolution. But a catchy formulation that counters some of the misleading connotations of ‘epidemic’ seems elusive. In this article, though the conventional parlance of ‘epidemic’ is used, as editors we prefer, following Barnett, to describe PNG as experiencing an ‘HIV endemic’. This reminds us that HIV is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

Several studies have modelled the medium- and longer-term social and economic impacts of AIDS on PNG (e.g., CIE 2002; Hauquitz 2004; HEMIS 2006). These studies depend on underlying projections of AIDS-related morbidity and mortality, in turn dependent on calculations of HIV prevalence. According to recent projections, HIV will stabilise around the year 2012 at a prevalence of 5.07 percent. While certain impacts on the formal sector—on hospital beds, gross domestic product, salaried labour force and so forth—can be relatively easily calculated, the harshest damage affects individuals, households, and the informal sector, with repercussions for possibly generations. This damage is difficult to track and quantify. Indeed, some of the human costs of AIDS—such as grief, or a parent’s love that orphans may never know—are unquantifiable.

The national response to HIV has many achievements. These include the formation of the National AIDS Council and a network of Provincial AIDS Committees, a series of public education campaigns, national strategic planning and policy development, workplace reforms, and the passage of the HIV/AIDS Management and Prevention Act in 2003. In recent years, the contribution of churches, non-government organisations (NGOs) and the private sector—through such bodies as the PNG Business Coalition Against HIV and AIDS (BAHA)—has strengthened, as has leadership at national and subnational levels of government. Since 2004, care and treatment services have also rapidly extended, and at the end of 2007, close to 35 percent of people who need antiretroviral therapy were estimated to be receiving it. Great weaknesses in the response remain, some indicated by recent scandals engulfing the National AIDS Council Secretariat and in reasons for the Global Fund’s rejection, in 2009, of PNG’s application for continued financial assistance. Nonetheless many recent initiatives appear to have answered to the call ‘for renewed energies and directions to contain a fast spreading epidemic’, guided by ‘the rights of all PNG citizens, as enshrined in the national constitution’.

Finally, this short survey of HIV in PNG would be incomplete without some reflection on the term itself. As many readers will know, since 2006 UNAIDS has discouraged the usage ‘HIV/AIDS’. Either ‘HIV’ or ‘HIV and AIDS’ are preferred. With some regret, this article uses HIV very elastically, depending on context, to refer to: stages 1–3 of HIV disease; stages 1–4 (that is, including AIDS); the HIV endemic; the broader historical, social, cultural, and political phenomenon centred on HIV and AIDS; and finally, to imply specific issues associated with the progress of the disease through individuals and collectivities. But the retention of ‘HIV/AIDS’ is warranted in some contexts.

The PNG Church Community and Its Networks


Some 130 years ago, the first missionaries arrived in the coastal areas of contemporary Papua New Guinea (PNG). They came as part of the expansion of the British Empire on the southern shores of the main island, and with German rule in the northeast. In the context of French colonial activities in the Pacific, there had been attempts to bring Catholicism to the country as early as 1845, but these failed due to logistical problems and the hostility of local tribes. It was only after a second attempt in the 1890s that French missionaries were able to establish a presence through permanent missions. This first missionary wave, which lasted into the early years of the 20th century, thus had a British-Anglican and Methodist, a German-Lutheran and a French-Catholic character.

During the second wave,which terminated with the end of World War II, many conservative evangelical and fundamental Christian missions penetrated, along with the established churches, the more remote parts of the country, along with the established churches. The Highlands region, with more than one million ‘pagans’ or ‘lost souls’ (as they were perceived in those days),was explored by Australians and missionaries only in the late 1920s, and became a fierce battleground for different denominations competing for religious followers. The third wave, after 1945, brought many Pentecostal churches to the then UN trusteeship under Australian control.

The stronger presence of Evangelical-Lutherans in the east, and of Anglicans, Baptists and United in the south, can be traced back to colonial times. Catholicism spread throughout PNG between the 1920s and 1950s, facilitated by a hierarchical church structure and support from Europe. New or smaller church communities, such as the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) or some Pentecostal groups, took advantage of the inaccessibility of the country, and the many ‘blank areas’ to be explored, and from the traditional regular splitting or breakdown of communities due to conflicts or tribal disputes. The new fragments of these communities then took on new beliefs and helped to nestle the newly arriving church groups within regions that had already been converted by the main churches, such as the Catholics, the Anglicans or the Lutherans. Information about the economic base of earlier missions and today’s churches is scarce, but it is known that some missions purchased or acquired customary land and set up plantations. Some of these covered huge areas of land, such as in the Gazelle peninsula in East New Britain. Today, PNG is a Christian nation; the preamble to its Constitution pledges ‘to guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now.’

A Myriad of Church Communities

PNG has a very diverse landscape of religious communities. Some 96-99% of the population identify themselves as Christians, and the rest belong to a handful of other religions, including Muslims and Baha’i. According to the 2000 census, Papua New Guineans belong to a wide range of religious communities.

ReligionPercentage of the Population
Roman Catholic29%
Evangelical Lutheran20%
United Church12%
Seventh Day Adventists10%
Evangelical Alliance5%
Salvation Army<1%
Other Christians9%
Other religions1%
Source: PNG Census (2000)

According to Gibbs (2004) the church sector consists of four separate blocks. He distinguishes the larger, ‘mainstream’ churches, including the long-established Lutheran, Catholic, United and Anglican denominations, which are reasonably well organised and pro-active partners of the government in social service delivery. They also speak out on issues relating to good governance in PNG society and influence external relationships, such as those with the government. While they cooperate amongst themselves in many areas and constitute the base of a modest ecumenical movement in PNG, they are themselves composed of different streams. The United Church, founded in 1968, for example, builds on the work of the former Methodist missionaries, the London Missionary Society and the Presbyterians. The current Lutheran Church represents the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Gutnius Church and the Lutheran Melpa Church, founded in 2000.

Second, there is the Evangelical Alliance with missions and churches such as the Baptist, Liebenzeller, the Nazarene and the Salvation Army, which are all part of the larger Evangelical Alliance of the South Pacific Islands. The Evangelical Alliance is a member of the Churches Education Council (CEC) and a number of Evangelical groups are active in the Churches Medical Council (CMC). However, while they subscribe to the principles of good governance, the Evangelical churches are not active participants in debates,movements or advocacy activities supporting good governance in the country.

The third group is made up of the growing number of Pentecostals that function under the National Council of Pentecostal Churches (Wagner et al., 1989). According to Gibbs (2004), they do not appear as a formal bloc in public discourse. The group includes relatively smaller entities such as the Christian Revival Crusade, Christian Life Centre and Four Square Gospel Mission. Some Pentecostals are members of the CMC. One of their churches, the Assemblies of God, is a member of the Community Coalition against Corruption (CCAC).

Fourth, the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church constitutes a separate block as they have kept a distinct profile throughout their nearly 100-year-presence in PNG. They did not join the former Melanesian Council of Churches, founded in 1965 (now known as the PNG Council of Churches, PNGCC), out of a concern that they would be drawn into political debates and have to adopt positions not in accordance with their faith. While they have joined the CMC (for funding reasons, as one observer assumed) they are still not a member of the PNGCC. They run their own primary schools and do not participate in the CEC. Gibbs (2004) sees the SDA as a church with political influence in PNG. Stein-Holmes (2003) suggests they have some political influence in Parliament since one-third of MPs are members of this church (1998 figures), but this research did not reveal any evidence in support of this contention.

Despite this diversity, there is an ecumenical movement among a number of the larger churches, which has led to mutual agreements and joint initiatives such as the PNGCC and the Melanesian Institute at Goroka, a research institute supported by Catholics, Lutherans, United and Anglicans.

Key characteristics of the church sector

Regional division: As noted previously, the Catholic Church is the largest church community in PNG, with some 1.5 million members in 19 dioceses. No other community is so well represented throughout the country. Approximately 50% of church-run health facilities are operated by the Catholics. Other churches have a strong regional focus with a substantial presence in particular provinces. In the southeast province of Milne Bay, for example, 62% of the population are members of the United Church, while in the province of Morobe in the Momase or Northern region, 72% are Lutherans.

Organisational structure: Church communities also differ significantly in terms of organisational structure and the location of their headquarters. Some – like the Catholics and Anglicans – have national representatives in Port Moresby, while others – such as the Lutherans, and the SDAs – run their affairs from Lae, the capital of Morobe, PNG’s largest province. The bigger churches – in particular the Catholics, the Lutherans and the SDA – have relatively strong coordinating offices. Contacting the diverse and widely spread group of Evangelicals and Pentecostals, despite their grouping into alliances, is not an easy task, so less is known about their structure and organisation.

Different development agencies and divisions: Another factor that distinguishes the churches is the form and function of their development and service delivery agencies. Some have a variety of related entities, while others carry out functions, such as social services, through a single organisation. The Catholic Bishops Conference, for example, works through Caritas PNG, which engages in justice, peace and development activities. The Catholic Church also has agencies for education, health and family life. The Anglican Church, for its part, has the Anglican Health Service, the Anglican Education Division, the Youth Ministry and Anglicare – a trust of the Anglican Diocese of Port Moresby that engages in HIV/AIDS-related activities. The SDA operate through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA PNG), which sees itself as a development agency operating independently of the church (Nichols, 2003). Other churches, like the United Church and the Lutherans, provide services directly under their own name.

Weak management: Church-based organisations are valued for the reliable services they provide, primarily in health and education, and they enjoy a solid reputation for high standards and efficiency compared with those provided by the government. However, church-based organisations now recognise that they need to address internal management and organisational issues, in particular since they started to accept funding from external sources that require meticulous progress reports and financial accounts. In response, churches have started to strengthen their capacity with management and policy manuals for use in training sessions, meetings and day-to-day operations. But they have a long way to go to improve on this front, partly because performance-based management is still not part of their organisational culture. As one respondent commented during an interview: ‘We are not professionals,we are church workers and our strength comes from faith and motivation’.

Secular versus spiritual orientation: The character of the churches’ involvement in social development varies widely, from spiritual and gospel activities among some of the Pentecostal communities, to spiritual, community development and social service provision by the more established congregations. The Catholic Church, which has the largest presence and breadth of initiatives, is engaged in spiritual work, social and community development, training of lay and professional leaders, peace and reconciliation, as well as anti-corruption and other advocacy campaigns. The role of church leaders in politics is another issue. During the 2002 elections, the churches tried to maintain their neutrality by banning all types of support that might suggest political ties. Priests who campaigned for a seat in parliament were suspended, but attempts at neutrality have not always been easy to sustain (Gibbs, 2004).

Attitudes towards Melanesian identity and culture: The churches have worked intensively in and with local communities for many years. This has led to the ‘localisation’ and indigenisation of their operations, or, as theologians refer to it, to ‘inculturate’ their work. Similarly, PNG cultural traditions have been adapted to include Christian values and beliefs, resulting in a synthesis of ‘PNG and Christian ways’ that is reflected in prayers, mission statements, songs, religious music, etc. On the other hand, and despite broad acceptance of this dualistic approach, some ‘old practices and behaviour’ continue to exist. Baloiloi (2001), for example, notes that ‘negative attitudes towards indigenous cultures still remain in some churches in PNG today, who still hold on to outdated modernist beliefs which view western ways as superior ways. Many see indigenous values as unchristian and paganistic’.


Churches and church-based organisations interact through a variety of formal networks and informal consultative mechanisms. This section highlights some of the most relevant exchange and networking mechanisms.

The PNG Council of Churches (PNGCC): Formed as a national ecumenical council in 1965, the PNGCC includes seven Christian churches: the Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelical Lutheran, Gutnius Lutheran, Catholics, the Salvation Army and the United Church. In 2003, a resolution was passed mandating the PNGCC to promote development and to engage in activities to foster peace and justice. Despite its potentially strong role in facilitating coordination among church organisations and promoting policy dialogue, the PNGCC still has to prove itself as a viable mechanism in these areas. The PNGCC is also a member of the Community Coalition against Corruption, but there is little evidence that it has adopted a particular stance on ‘peace and justice’, corruption or policy dialogue with government or donors.

The Churches Medical Council (CMC): The CMC was established in 1972, and now has 27 members. The Council was set up to coordinate the health work of the different churches and to ensure that while maintaining their individual identities, they speak to government with one voice. The CMC is an important mechanism, as churches run about half of the country’s health services, as noted above, as well as six of the nine training schools for nurses and 14 training schools for community health workers. Most of the financing for church-run facilities originates from the state. But churches and church-based organisations manage health facilities on their own in terms of financial and human resources management, and regularly engage with the government on policy and operational issues.

The Churches Education Council (CEC): The CEC functions under the umbrella of the PNGCC. The member churches are the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Evangelical Alliance, Four Square and United Churches. The CEC constitutes a platform to discuss education issues of concern to church-run schools (most of which are financed by the state) and teacher training colleges. It provides an interface with the National Department of Education (NDoE), but it does not have a secretariat in the NDoE, as the CMC does in the National Department of Health (NDoH). The CEC is discussed in more detail in section.

Christian women’s associations: Of the various Christian women’s networks, the United Church Women Fellowship, founded in 1968, and the Catholic Women’s Federation, formed in 1984, are the most prominent national bodies. Both are part of the PNG National Council of Women. While their original goals were to promote Christian ideals and values, they have incorporated issues such as women’s rights and social development.

Consultations and informal exchanges: There are a number of consultation circles on church and religious affairs (not related to governance), as well as various informal exchanges amongst PNG church leaders. A more regular mechanism is the Ecumenical Dialogue, in which Catholic and Anglican leaders participate (the Lutherans are gradually joining the dialogue), and the Ministers Fraternal, where the Pentecostals have taken a stronger lead.

The Climate of Papua New Guinea

The temperature of the ocean surrounding Papua New Guinea has a strong influence on average monthly air temperatures. Changes in the temperature from season to season are small but more marked around Port Moresby than further to the north.

Papua New Guinea has a wet season from November to April and a dry season from May to October, but these seasons are only noticeably different in Port Moresby, where about 78% of the yearly average rainfall
comes in the wet season. Due to their location in the West Pacific Warm Pool, islands in the north of Papua New Guinea experience rain throughout the year. As a result, Kavieng’s average annual rainfall (3150 mm) is much higher than Port Moresby’s (1190 mm).

Seasonal rainfall and temperature at Port Moresby and Kavieng

Most of the rainfall in Port Moresby comes from the West Pacific Monsoon. Large differences in temperature between the land and the ocean drive the monsoon, and its seasonal arrival usually brings a switch from very dry to very wet conditions. In the north of the country rainfall is more consistent year-round, although the peak in rainfall corresponds to the monsoon season.

Rainfall in the north of Papua New Guinea is also affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone and, to a lesser extent, the South Pacific Convergence Zone. These bands of heavy rainfall are caused by air
rising over warm water where winds converge, resulting in thunderstorm activity. The South Pacific Convergence Zone extends across the South Pacific Ocean from the Solomon Islands to east of the Cook Islands,
whilst the Intertropical Convergence Zone lies across the Pacific just north of the equator.

The average positions of the major climate features in November to April. The arrows show near surface winds, the blue shading represents the bands of rainfall convergence zones, the dashed oval shows the West Pacific Warm Pool and H represents typical positions of moving high pressure systems.

Papua New Guinea’s climate varies considerably from year to year due to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. This is a natural climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean and affects weather around the world. There are two extreme phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation: El Niño and La Niña. There is also a neutral phase. Generally in Papua New Guinea El Niño years are usually drier than normal while La Niña events are usually wetter. La Niña-associated prolonged rainfall has led to flooding and landslides, whilst El Niño-associated droughts have also taken their toll on Papua New Guinea. During El Niño events the monsoon season also starts later. The dry season at Port Moresby is cooler than normal in El Niño years and warmer than normal in La Niña years, while the wet season tends to be warmer and drier than normal during an El Niño event.

Banking and Financial Services in Papua New Guinea

PNG’s banking system

The PNG banking system is comprised of the Central Bank and various commercial banks.

Central Bank

The Central Bank was established under the Central Banking Act. Its objectives are to:

  • formulate monetary policy for price stability;
  • formulate financial regulation and prudential standards for stability of the financial system;
  • promote a national and international payments system;
  • promote macro-economic stability and economic growth in PNG.

The Central Bank’s functions include:

  • issuing currency;
  • acting as banker to the Government;
  • regulating banking, credit and other financial services;
  • managing gold and foreign exchange.

Other banks

The Bank of South Pacific is the largest bank in PNG with 35 branches throughout the country. It also has branches in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited established a subsidiary in PNG in 1976 known as Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (PNG) Limited. However, ANZ has had branches in PNG since
1910. There are 12 branches located throughout the country.

Westpac Bank-PNG-Limited operates in PNG as a subsidiary of Westpac Banking Corporation.

Westpac has been providing banking services in PNG since 1910. Today it has 16 branches across the country.

Kina Bank is PNG’s fourth commercial bank after recently completing the acquisition of Maybank’s PNG business operation.

Port Moresby Stock Exchange Limited (POMSoX)


The Port Moresby Stock Exchange Limited (POMSoX) was established and registered as an organisation under the Companies Act. It was granted a license to operate a stock market under the Securities Act.

The PNG Securities Commission (Securities Commission), a subsidiary of the IPA, monitors and regulates the POMSoX, including by monitoring trades and approving listing and business rules.

Buying and selling on POMSoX

There are currently 19 companies listed on POMSoX, a large number of which have been admitted as ‘exempt foreign entities’. Companies admitted as exempt foreign entities are generally subject to minimal
continuing obligations under the POMSoX Listing Rules.

Stocks listed on the POMSoX can only be purchased or sold via a broker. Currently, there are only two licensed stockbrokers – BSP Capital and Kina Securities.

The Judicial System of Papua New Guinea

The Constitution provides that the national judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, the National Court and other courts established by Acts of Parliament.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the ultimate appeal court in PNG. It has original jurisdiction in matters of constitutional interpretation and enforcement. It also has appellate jurisdiction in appeals from the National Court, certain decisions of the Land Titles Commission and those of other regulatory entities as prescribed in their own Acts.

The Supreme Court is convened as a bench of at least three National Court judges.

National Court

The National Court also has original jurisdiction for certain constitutional matters and has unlimited original jurisdiction for criminal and civil matters.

The National Court has jurisdiction under the Land Act in proceedings involving land in PNG, other than customary land. The National Court also has jurisdiction in appeals from Local and District Courts and from certain administrative tribunals.

District Courts

The District Courts generally have jurisdiction for some criminal matters, and civil matters up to K10,000. The District Courts are constituted by one or more Magistrates.

Village Courts

In addition to the courts mentioned above, there is also a system of Village Courts established under the Constitution and the Village Courts Act. Matters involving customary law claims are likely to arise at the Village Court level. However, as the Constitution adopts custom as part of the underlying law, there is no reason why customary law arguments cannot be raised in the appropriate circumstances in other courts in PNG.

Other information

There is no jury system in PNG.

Lawyers operating in PNG are governed by a number of Acts of Parliament. The PNG Law Society is the profession’s regulator and only lawyers registered with the Law Society and admitted to practice
in the National Court of PNG are allowed to practice as lawyers in PNG.

A Brief History of Papua New Guinea

The first humans in the area arrived from Asia some 60,000 years ago, settling the coasts and lower elevations of the Highlands. Around 9000 years ago, Papua New Guineans began cultivating local crops, becoming some of the world’s earliest farmers. The first Europeans arrived in the 16th century; Portugal named the area, while Spain started several colonies that ended in disaster. Due to hostile territory and fierce natives, Europeans weren’t very interested in the region, though in 1660 the Dutch claimed sovereignty over unexplored parts to help protect its Dutch East Indies Empire.

In the 18th century the British and French explored various parts, though it wasn’t until the Germans arrived on the scene in the late 1800s that the Brits got serious, ‘claiming’ most of New Guinea as an official British protectorate in the 1880s. In 1906 the Australians took over colonial administration and later cemented their power by driving out Germany during WWI.

The discovery of gold brought a rush of settlers to the north coast in the 1920s. The following decade, expeditions to the interior led to the jaw-dropping discovery of more than a million Highlanders living unknown to the outside world. In WWII the region formed the backdrop to horrific battles on sea and land, particularly when Australian forces repelled the Japanese advance along the tortuous Kokoda Track.

Following the war, New Guinea marched slowly towards self-rule, finally gaining independence in the 1970s. From the 1980s onward, developers exploited Papua New Guinea’s huge gold and copper deposits. Mineral riches, however, did little to eradicate poverty, and indeed helped fuel resentment at Bougainville’s Panguna mine, leading to a bloody war on the island. Meanwhile, the 1990s also saw tragic natural disasters, including a volcanic eruption that buried Rabaul.

The 21st century began with promise: the brokering of a state treaty with the newly formed Autonomous Bougainville Government finally brought peace (and the future possibility of self-rule) to the island. Sir Michael Somare retained power for a third term as prime minister of PNG, promising electoral reform. However, after years of Somare rule New Guineans seemed ready for a change, and parliament voted to remove him following a five-month absence from the country in 2011. The power struggle continues.

The First Arrivals

Archaeological evidence suggests humans first reached New Guinea, and then Australia and the Solomon Islands, by island-hopping across the Indonesian archipelago from Asia at least 60,000 years ago. The migrations were made easier by a fall in the sea level during the Pleistocene period, or Great Ice Age, and by a land bridge that linked PNG with northern Australia. The descendants of these people speak non-Austronesian (or Papuan) languages and are today called Melanesians.

The World’s First Agriculturalists

Evidence of early New Guinea coastal settlements includes 40,000-year-old stone axes found in Morobe Province. Humans probably climbed up to settle in the Highlands about 30,000 years ago. At Kuk (or Kup) Swamp in the Wahgi Valley in Western Highlands Province, archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation going back 20,000 years and there is evidence of gardening beginning 9000 years ago. They cultivated breadfruit, sago, coconuts, yams and sugar cane (which originated in New Guinea). New Ireland, Buka and the Solomon Islands were probably inhabited around 30,000 years ago and Manus Island 10,000 years ago.

Elsewhere in the world, the development of agriculture resulted in the establishment of cities and an elite class, but this did not happen in New Guinea or the Solomon Islands. Perhaps this was because basic food crops could not be stored long so food couldn’t be stockpiled. It’s not known when pigs and more productive starch crops (Asian yams, taro and bananas) were introduced, but New Guineans have had domesticated pigs for at least 10,000 years. People lived in small villages on well-established tribal lands practising shifting cultivation, fishing and hunting. Coastal people built canoes, and feasting and dancing were regular activities. Each settlement comprised just one extended family as well as the captives from raiding neighbouring settlements – ritual head-hunting, slave-raiding and cannibalism were common. People worshipped ancestors, not gods.

Polynesians & Malay Traders

Between AD 1200 and AD 1600 some Polynesians started heading westward again and, finding most of the islands of New Guinea already inhabited, settled some of the remaining isolated islands and atolls. They travelled vast distances in small canoes.

By the mid-16th century, sweet potatoes were being taken from South America into southeast Asia by the Portuguese and Spanish, and Malay traders brought them to the western part of the New Guinea island. The high yield of sweet potatoes in cold climes allowed for the colonisation of still higher altitudes in the Highlands and the domestication of many more pigs. Around this time steel axe-heads were traded into the Highlands from the coast. These developments saw huge rises in population, and an increase in war, slave-trading and head-hunting.

The First European Contact

The first definite European sighting of the New Guinea island was in 1512, when Portuguese sailor Antonio d’Abreu sighted the coast. However, it wasn’t until 1526 that another Portuguese, Jorge de Menezes, became the first European to set foot on the main island – he named it Ilha dos Papuas. But New Guinea was regarded as a large, daunting place with no obvious wealth to exploit and very hostile natives, so it was largely left alone while European colonists plundered the Americas.

European Exploration

Eager to protect incursions into the eastern end of their fabulously profitable Dutch East Indies Empire (modern-day Indonesia), the Dutch East Indies Company claimed sovereignty over unexplored New Guinea in 1660. And so it remained for more than a century.

In 1768 Louis-Antoine de Bougainville discovered Buka, Bougainville and Choiseul islands. Many British, French and American explorers followed and from 1798 whalers sailed through the islands. Sandalwood and bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) traders brought iron and steel tools, calico and fish hooks, but ultimately it was treachery and resentment that they left. European diseases were devastating in New Guinea, and the guns the traders brought resulted in an explosion of warfare and head-hunting.

The British East India Company explored parts of western New Guinea in 1793 and even made a tentative claim on the island but in 1824 Britain and the Netherlands agreed the latter’s colonial claim to the western half of the New Guinea island should stand (and it did until 1963). A series of British ‘claims’ followed, which were repudiated each time by Queen Victoria’s government.

By the late 1860s the sandalwood had been exhausted and resentment toward Europeans led to the murder of several missionaries. The islands quickly became notorious as the most dangerous place in the Pacific, inhabited by head-hunters and cannibals. There were violent and unpredictable attacks on foreigners, and several savage massacres.


German interest in New Guinea’s northeast coast finally spurred Great Britain to get serious about its own colonial ambitions. In September 1884, when the British announced that they intended to claim part of New Guinea, the Germans quickly raised the flag on the north coast. A compromise was reached – an arbitrary line was drawn east–west through the ‘uninhabited’ Highlands between German and British New Guinea.

New Guinea was now divided into three sections: a Dutch half protecting the eastern edge of the Dutch East Indies; a British quarter to keep the Germans (and everybody else) away from Australia; and a German quarter that would ultimately become a highly profitable outpost of German plantation agriculture. The Germans eventually decamped to New Britain, where German-initiated plantations still operate today.

Government by Patrol

In 1888, when Sir William MacGregor became British New Guinea’s administrator, he established a native police force to spread the benefits of British government. He instituted the policy of ‘government by patrol’, which continued through the Australian period. In 1906 British New Guinea became the Territory of Papua and its administration was taken over by newly independent Australia.

Despite being in decline elsewhere, slavery was thriving in New Guinea during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as ‘blackbirding’, men were carted off to provide plantation labour in northern Australia and Fiji.


When WWI broke out in 1914, Australian troops quickly overran the German headquarters at Rabaul and for the next seven years German New Guinea was run by the Australian military. In 1920 German New Guinea was officially handed over to Australia as a mandated territory.

Australia was quick to eradicate the German commercial and plantation presence, baulking only at the German missions. Australia enacted legislation aimed at restricting the commercial exploitation of Eastern New Guinea to British nationals and, more particularly, Australians. Copra, rubber, coffee and cocoa were the main earners.

The discovery of large deposits of gold at Edie Creek and the Bulolo Valley in the 1920s brought men and wealth to the north coast. After 400 years of coastal contact, some of those white men finally made it into the interior.

Under the Australian administration, kiaps (patrol officers) were usually the first Europeans to venture into previously ‘uncontacted’ areas, and were also responsible for making the government’s presence felt on a regular basis. This situation continued until independence.


When Mick Leahy ventured inland in 1930 he was looking for gold. Instead, on that and nine subsequent expeditions over the next five years, Leahy, his brother Dan and Jim Taylor ‘discovered’ about a million people living in the secluded valleys of the New Guinea Highlands.

New Guinea’s white colonialists had thought the area uninhabited, but it was the most densely populated part of the country. In an age of aeroplanes, radio and international telecommunications, the discovery was stunning. It didn’t take long for the ‘land that time forgot’ to be dragged into the 20th century. The Leahy brothers introduced coffee, and before long missionaries and aircraft were also arriving. The Highlanders, who had only known a barter economy, were quick to adapt to cash.

Mick Leahy’s meticulous recording of events – in his diary, several hours of 16mm film and more than 5000 photographs – can be seen in the 1983 documentary First Contact.

WWII & The Birth of The Kokoda Legend

Having raced south through Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese occupied Rabaul in New Guinea in January 1942. However, Japanese successes in New Guinea were short-lived. Australian troops fought back an advance along the rugged Kokoda Track, which the Japanese were using in an attempt to reach and take Port Moresby, the only remaining Australian stronghold on the island. In a flanking move, the Japanese landed at Milne Bay but were repulsed after a bloody 10-day battle with Australian troops.

The Japanese came within 50km of Port Moresby, but an unsustainably extended supply line and heroic resistance by Australian soldiers with local help turned the course of the whole Pacific war. By September 1942 the previously undefeated Japanese were in a slow and bloody retreat. Over the next 16 months, Australian and US forces battled their way towards the Japanese strongholds along the north coast at a cost of thousands of lives.

The Japanese refused to surrender. It took until 1945 to regain all the mainland from the Japanese but New Ireland, New Britain and Bougainville were not relieved until the official Japanese surrender. For years after the end of WWII there were stories – some apocryphal, some true – about Japanese soldiers still hiding out in the jungle.

Most Melanesians were initially militarily neutral in the conflict, although they were used extensively on both sides as labourers, guides, carriers and informers – sometimes press-ganged by the Japanese and Australians. But some were heavily involved with the Allies, operating behind enemy lines as ‘coastwatchers’. A number of Papua New Guineans were decorated for their bravery. It is estimated that almost a third of Tolais from northern New Britain were killed.

Postwar Experience

The Melanesian experience of WWII caused a sharp resurgence in cargo cultism. The war’s sudden arrival and its massive impact could not have been more profound. US soldiers – many of them black – treated locals as equals and shared food with them. This was something that locals had never experienced from their colonial overlords. The postwar profligacy of the massive US war machine – where boats were scuttled and guns and jeeps were dumped in the sea before the soldiers disappeared in giant transport planes – sent very strange messages to people who were living subsistence lifestyles.

Every year, 23 July is commemorated as Remembrance Day for the Papua New Guineans who died in WWII. It’s also the anniversary of the 1942 battle between the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Japanese invaders that took place near the Kumusi River in Oro Province.

Towards Independence

Masses of abandoned war equipment were put to use in developing New Guinea. Even today you can see how Marsden matting is used for fencing and building material, and many WWII-era Quonset huts are still standing. However, the war’s main impact proved to be social and political.

An influx of expatriates to Papua and New Guinea, mainly Australians, fuelled rapid economic growth. The expat population grew from about 6000 to more than 50,000 in 1971. (Today it’s around 20,000.)

Colonialism wasn’t popular in the 1950s and ’60s and Australia was urged to prepare Papua and New Guinea for independence. A visiting UN mission in 1962 stressed that if the people weren’t pushing for independence, then it was Australia’s responsibility to do so. Australia’s policy of reinforcing literacy and education was part of a concerted effort to create an educated social group that could run government.

In 1964 a House of Assembly with 64 members was formed. Internal self-government came into effect in 1973, followed by full independence on 16 September 1975.

Troubled Young Nations

Law and order became a more serious issue in the 1990s, when mineral-rich PNG began to develop large-scale mining operations. These fast became the greatest contributors to the economy, but also social, environmental and political burdens that, in the 1980s and ’90s, took a heavy toll. First the giant Ok Tedi gold-and-copper mine poisoned much of the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers, and then conflict over profits from the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville led to war. Rebel leader Francis Ona and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) fought for independence from PNG.

The Bougainville war drained resources and divided PNG along tribal lines for years, it also strained relations with the Solomons. In 1997 the government of Sir Julius Chan hired mercenaries to try to crush the separatists. What became known as the Sandline Affair was a disaster, but ironically the fall-out brought world attention to the conflict and forced the protagonists to find peaceful solutions.

The 1980s and ’90s saw PNG face a series of challenges: a volcanic eruption in 1994 buried much of Rabaul; ongoing border problems involving the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free West Papua Movement) strained relations with Indonesia and saw thousands moved to refugee camps in PNG; and a growing level of corruption and government misspending sucked money away from where it was needed most – education and health. All this served as a backdrop to the revolving door of prime ministers and no-confidence motions that characterised politics in PNG.

The New Millennium

In March 2002 the PNG government passed legislation that brought into effect autonomy arrangements of the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA), which guarantees a referendum for Bougainvillean independence by 2020. The Autonomous Bougainville Government was sworn into office on 15 June 2005 with Joseph Kabui as its president.

Francis Ona, leader of the BRA and staunch opponent of the BPA, died of malaria barely a month later on 24 July 2005. Ona’s supporters continued to defend the so-called No-Go Zone around the abandoned Panguna mine. The proliferation of weapons in the No-Go Zone remains serious.

The area around Tuno in the No-Go Zone is also where Noah Musingku maintains his own fiefdom. Musingku operated an illegal pyramid fast-money scheme called U-Vastrict that left investors all over PNG empty-handed. He fled to Bougainville in 2005 where he feted Francis Ona, proclaiming him King of Papala and then assumed this bogus title himself when Ona died. Musingku hired eight Fijian mercenaries as bodyguards and to train his private army, offering them US$1 million each. In November 2006 there was armed confrontation between the Fijian ex-soldiers and their trainees on one side, and pro-government Bougainville Freedom Fighters on the other. To date, all but one have either returned to Fiji or turned themselves over to the PNG police – none received the money promised to them. These bizarre circumstances aside, the UN regards the negotiated peace agreement on Bougainville as one of the most successful anywhere in the world in modern times.

‘Grand Chief’ Sir Michael Somare, PNG’s ‘father of independence’, returned in 2002 for a third stint as prime minister and introduced electoral reforms to create a more stable political climate, and in turn to help the economy. Somare was the first prime minister in the country’s history to avoid the familiar no-confidence motion and then be re-elected in July 2007 as an incumbent prime minister. However, Somare returned to the prime ministership under strained relations with Australia.


60,000 BC  The Ice Age of the Pleistocene period allows the first humans to island-hop their way from Asia across the Indonesian archipelago to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

30,000 BC  Papuan-speaking hunter-gatherers from New Guinea settle islands in the eastern Solomons before the sea levels rise with the end of the Ice Age in 10,000 BC.

7000 BC  The use of food gardens – breadfruit, sago, coconuts, yams and sugar cane – and domesticated pigs makes New Guineans among the world’s first agriculturalists.

1000 BC  The second great wave of migration in the Pacific associated with proto-Polynesian ‘Lapita people’ colonises islands east of the Solomons. The last isolated atolls remain unsettled for another 2000 years.

1526  Jorge de Menezes, Portuguese explorer and governor of Ternate in present-day Indonesia, becomes the first European to land on the New Guinea mainland; he names the region Ilhas dos Papuas.

mid-1500s  Malay traders introduce sweet potatoes into western New Guinea (present-day Indonesian Papua), sourced from the Spanish and Portuguese exploits in South America.

1660  The Dutch East India Company claims Dutch sovereignty over still-unexplored New Guinea in order to protect its profitable business interests in modern-day Indonesia. It remains Dutch-owned for the next century.

1699  Swashbuckling Englishman William Dampier charts the southeastern coasts of New Britain and New Ireland and discovers the Dampier Strait between the New Britain and the New Guinea mainland.

1768  Louis-Antoine de Bougainville sails through the Solomon Islands and names Bougainville after himself; Choiseul after French diplomat Étienne-François duc de Choiseul; and Buka after an Islander word.

1790s  The British explore the western part of the New Guinea mainland, while sandalwood and bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) traders and whalers sail through the islands of New Guinea and the Solomons.

1876  Italian adventurer Luigi d’Albertis charts the Fly River in a tiny steamer, the Neva, taking eight weeks to travel 930km upriver and using fireworks to scare off menacing-looking locals.

1884  Germany hoists the flag on the north coast of the New Guinea mainland and establishes the German Neuguinea Kompanie at Finschhafen. An arbitrary line divides German and British New Guinea.

1906  British New Guinea becomes the Territory of Papua and its administration is taken over by newly independent Australia. Progressive Sir Hubert Murray is governor from 1907 until 1940.

1914  Australia seizes German New Guinea at the outbreak of WWI and is officially given German New Guinea in 1920 as a mandated territory by the League of Nations.

1930  The Leahy brothers walk into and ‘discover’ the Highlands – and about one million people living completely unaware of the outside world. It’s a monumental anthropological breakthrough.

1942  The invading Japanese establish a base in Rabaul in January, by April they’ve taken most of New Guinea and the Solomons and by September they’ve begun their retreat along the Kokoda Track.

1957  Kiaps (Australian patrol officers) organise the first Goroka Show. It grows to become one of the largest and best-known singsings in the country, attracting scores of participating tribes.

1963–69  The Dutch pull out of western New Guinea, transferring control to Indonesia subject to a UN-administered plebiscite – the sham ‘Act of Free Choice’ legitimises brutality towards independence-seeking Papuans.

1975  Papua New Guinea gains full independence from Australia on 16 September. Michael Somare, who helped lead the nation towards self-government, becomes the first prime minister.

1989  The first PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) soldiers are killed as civil war breaks out in Bougainville; the following year PNGDF troops are withdrawn from Bougainville and the island is blockaded.

1994  Two of Rabaul’s volcanoes – Vulcan and Tavurvur – erupt, burying the prettiest town in the Pacific in volcanic ash; nearby Kokopo becomes the new capital of East New Britain.

1997  The Sandline Affair makes headlines worldwide, as PM Julius Chan hires South African mercenaries to put down Bougainville rebels; Chan resigns but the affair hastens negotiation of a peace agreement.

1998  On 17 July, a 10m tsunami hits the coastal region west of Aitape in Sandaun Province, killing more than 2200 people and causing injuries to another 1000.

1999  Australian mining giant BHP admits to causing major environmental damage in the operation of the gold-and-copper Ok Tedi mine. Deforestation and decimated fish stocks lead to various class-action lawsuits.

March 2005  A diplomatic spat between PNG and Australia erupts after Prime Minister Michael Somare is asked to remove his shoes at a routine security screening in Brisbane airport.

June 2005  Peace at last returns to troubled Bougainville. The Autonomous Bougainville Government is sworn into office on 15 June 2005 with Joseph Kabui as its president.

2007  Michael Somare (whose face appears on the K50 note) assumes the role of prime minister for the fourth time, capping nearly four decades in politics.

August 2011  After spending months away on medical leave, Prime Minister Michael Somare is replaced by Peter O’Neill. Somare’s return causes a power struggle, leading to a failed pro-Somare coup in 2012.

October 2011  Following discoveries of enormous gas fields, work commences on an 850km-long pipeline – part of the US$15 billion LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project, which could potentially double the country’s GDP.