15 Mar 2021
Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, I move that this House acknowledge the passing on the 26th of February 2021 of Papua New Guinea Grand chief Sir Michael Somare and place on record its gratitude of his long-standing and respected relationship with Australia and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.
Mr Speaker, I welcome the High Commissioner here with us today.
Sir Michael Somare was a towering figure in the history of Papua New Guinea.
A driving force in the development of Papua New Guinea’s national constitution.
The nation’s first Prime Minister.
The longest serving Prime Minister, holding office for a total of 17 years over four separate terms.
And Papua New Guinea’s longest-serving Member of Parliament, faithfully representing his East Sepik constituency for a remarkable 49 years.
To his fellow countrymen and women, Sir Michael was known simply as “the Grand Chief”.
It was a title that reflected his immense standing and the deep respect in which he was held.
To Australia, Sir Michael was a longstanding and respected friend, indeed family.
Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour, is family to us.
The ties are deep, forged at Kokoda, Port Moresby, and Milne Bay and remembered at Lae, Rabaul and, of course, Bomana.
And the many kiaps, those young Australians who patrolled and worked with local village communities, walking across their vast and rugged interior. Because it was once a territory of Australia, indeed as we defended it in the Second World War.
As Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael worked with Australian Prime Ministers Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Howard, Rudd and Gillard.
But his connection to the leadership of our country goes as far back as the Gorton Government.
As a young man, Michael Somare championed an independent Papua New Guinea.
And he did so working with Australia. Working together.
It is to the credit of so many Australian and Papua New Guinea leaders in the late 1960s and early 1970s that they came to a shared recognition that sovereignty must rest with the people of Papua New Guinea.
It was right that many years later, Sir Michael along with Sir John Gorton and Gough Whitlam came together received honorary doctorates for their work in delivering independence.
Because on the day when Papua New Guinea became independent, the Australian flag was respectfully lowered. It was not torn down.
One of those who witnessed that significant moment was a future Governor-General of Australia, Michael Jeffery.
In 1975, he was a young soldier in East Sepik.
Later he said, “I well remember the Australian flag being lowered in Wewak for the last time and the beautiful Papua New Guinea flag being raised in its stead.”
He recalled the positive spirit that surrounded independence.
That was, in large part, a credit to Michael Somare.
He was not a man who tore down.
He understood that free nations are built on democratic institutions and on what he called ‘sana’: a word from his own language signifying peace, consensus and inclusion.
Indeed, those were the hallmarks of his public life and are his legacy.
Thanks to his vision, and his commitment to sana, Papua New Guinea’s path to independence was a smooth one.
The foundations of this new nation were laid in peace.
Sir Michael remained a staunch defender of his country’s independence, proudly, but always appreciated Australia’s unstinting commitment to his homeland and Papua New Guinea’s success.
He carried the Olympic torch when it passed through Papua New Guinea on its way to Sydney in 2000.
We can only hope it will pass through Papua New Guinea again if Brisbane 2032 is successful.
He was also, like so many Papua New Guineans, a rugby league fan. And, unlike so many Papua New Guineans when it came to the State of Origin, he was a devoted fan of the Blues. Something I’m sure the Leader of the Opposition and I on at least that matter can concur.
He was a great man of faith, he was a great man of conviction and commitment, and he will be deeply missed by his many friends in Australia.
Highh Commissioner Kali, could you please extend to the Government and people of Papua New Guinea, to your Prime Minister my dear friend James Marape, the sincere condolences of the Government and people of Australia as represented in this people’s House.
Thank you for joining us today and thank you to the members of the diplomatic corps who are also with us today, a sign of Sir Michael’s standing in the world.
During this time, we are thinking also of Lady Veronica, their children and grandchildren, and the entire Somare family.
May they, in this time of grief, know the peace of God.
And may the Grand Chief Rest in Peace as a good and faithful servant.
PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA
The Hon Scott Morrison MP