December 14, 2011 | Graham

Papua puts vice-regal model to stress test

Papua New Guinea is in disarray with two prime ministers and two police chiefs according to The Australian. The Governor General is confused and doesn’t know who to accept as PM.

But the Oz doesn’t have all the details.

The problem arises because former PM Michael Somare was removed by the parliament after he was away in hospital in Singpaore for 4 months. A new PM Peter O’Neill was installed.

Somare litigated the matter in the High Court which has now rule 3-2 in his favour and found that he is still Prime Minister because he was never properly removed.

Yesterday the PNG parliament voted overwhelmingly to retrospectively amend the legislation removing him so as to cure the defects that the High Court found. You may have issues with retrospective legislation, as I do, but it appears to be a valid exercise of power and the amendments were passed overwhelmingly.

On the basis of this, and his majority in the Parliament, O’Neill claims the right to be PM, while on the basis of the High Court ruling Somare makes the same claim.

It would seem that the course for the GG should be easy. Accept the court ruling, but send the two parties back to parliament to test their majorities. As things lie at the moment O’Neill should win and be sworn in.

But there is a complication.

The Papuan constitution forbids any vote of no confidence in the PM within 12 months of the next election, which falls in the middle of next year, so they can’t test their majority on the floor of parliament, which makes the retrospective legislation more understandable.

I’m told this anti-democratic provision was put in the constitution as a result of the advice of Australian advisors at the time of independence because at that stage Papua’s governments were notoriously unstable, so despite the fact they were being given independence, couldn’t really be trusted.

Ironically, the very provision inserted to ensure stability is in this case giving PNG its worst case of political instability ever.

Posted by Graham at 6:46 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. See The Former Viceregal…

    […] parliament voted overwhelmingly to retrospectively¬†amend the legislation remov […]…

    Trackback by Transfer Factor Research Molecules Blog — December 15, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  2. It seems to me that a no confidence motion can in fact be passed in the final year of a parliamentary term, but it can’t be used to initiate a change of government (according to s 145(2)(b), it “shall not be allowed if it nominates the next Prime Minister”). Rather, it can only be used to initiate an election – s 105 says elections must be held in the final three months of the term, but makes an exception if a no confidence motion is passed). I stand to be corrected if I’m wrong, but it would seem to me that the situation could therefore be resolved with a no-confidence motion and an election. If so, why won’t Peter O’Neill do this?

    Comment by William Bowe — December 16, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

  3. Where I say s 105 “makes an exception if a no confidence motion is passed”, I should say “if a no confidence motion is passed *in the final year of the term*”.

    Comment by William Bowe — December 16, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  4. Yes, you’re right William. I corrected it in the blog post following. I relied on a usually very reliable source who got their maths wrong.

    But it is an obnoxious clause. And it is not in O’Neill’s gift to sort it when his opponent doesn’t recognise him as elected. On what I am told of PNG politics it will take them until May next year, which is when the election is due, to hold one from scratch anyway.

    So the election is going to fall when it would.

    And both sides want to go to the electors with the powers of government, which is why they are not keen on doing a deal.

    Comment by Graham — December 18, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

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