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Pacific News Minute: Papua New Guinea's "Grand Chief" Retires from Parliament

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The man regarded as the father of his nation gave a farewell address to the parliament of Papua New Guinea this week. Sir Michael Somare helped write the constitution and served as PNG’s first Prime Minister after Independence…we have more from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

49 years to the day after he entered what was then known as the House of Assembly in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare told parliament, “I am proud to be called the father of the nation.”

The former radio broadcaster was a key figure in the transition from Australian rule in 1975 and, as he put it, “To convince the territory that we must become a country, not a dependent, but a self-governing country.”

His third and final stint as Prime Minister ended controversially in 2011, when current Prime Minister Peter O’Neill staged a move to declare his seat vacant, on account of Sir Michael’s absence due to illness. The parliamentary maneuver and O’Neill’s subsequent election as Prime Minister were vacated by the Supreme Court, but O’Neill had the votes to block Sir Michael’s reinstatement. He returned to his home district of East Sepik and won back his seat in 2012…vindication for the man many called the Grand Chief.

In a tribute to his old rival, Prime Minister O’Neill said, “He fought against intolerance and doubt, often based on racial bias, and told the world that Papua New Guinea could and would become an independent state.”

After a standing ovation for the Grand Chief, parliament rose to prepare for National Elections. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visits Port Moresby this week, to discuss, among other issues, Papua New Guinea’s role as host of the Asia Pacific summit next year.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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