I remain a strong believer in the role of the Monarch in Australia and our immediate region in the countries where The Queen is the Head of State – Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
I have had the great privilege to be honoured by Her Majesty on no less than three separate occasions – OBE on the recommendation of Prime Minister Namaliu in 1992, CBE on the recommendation of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare in 2010, and CSM on the recommendation of Prime Minister O'Neill in 2018.
That unquestionably colours my judgement, but I have been carefully studying the role of the monarch in our region ever since I joined the PNG Opposition Leader Sir Iambakey Okuk as his principal advisor in 1978. Fortunately, his deputy at the time was Sir John Guise, who had been the first governor general when independence was secured in 1975.
Sir John lasted just 18 months in the role, opting to stand in the 1977 elections. As he outlined to me, the role of Governor General under the PNG Constitution was much more limited than the Australian Governor General's role under our constitution.In fact, as he bluntly put it, he had no powers at all!
The PNG Constitution, carefully developed and consulted widely in the run up to Independence retained Her Majesty as Head of State, represented by a Governor General serving fixed six year terms, and chosen by the new National Parliament.
It is worth noting that under the PNG Constitution, the dismissal of the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam just two months after PNG gained independence just could not happen. The PNG Governor General has no reserve powers when it comes to appointing, and removing Prime Ministers, or even Ministers.
That was tested in October 1991 when I was advising Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu. I know the circumstances really saddened Sir Rabbie. I had the same feelings given that one of those involved, Ted Diro, was a close friend who I had helped mentor when he entered politics after serving as the Defence Force Commander.
Under the provisions of the PNG Leadership Code Ted Diro had been stood down as Deputy Prime Minister. The standing down of public office holders against whom leadership code breaches are lodged is set out clearly in the Constitution.
The recently-elected Governor-General, Sir Vincent Seri Eri, who has served in many senior roles including Secretary for Defence, purported to "reinstate" Mr Diro to the Ministry.
The clear legal advice to the Prime Minister was that the action was illegal, and the Prime Minister should recommend to The Queen that the Governor General be dismissed. The Palace was conducted and it was agreed a senior official would be despatched to London with a formal request from the Prime Minister, supported by Cabinet, that Her Majesty dismiss the Governor General.
Fortunately that end was averted when the Governor General resigned while the official was in transit to London. But there can be no doubt Her Majesty would have endorsed the Prime Ministers request!
The difference between this circumstance and the Whitlam dismissal is simple – the Governor General Sir John Kerr had the power to dismiss the Prime Minister. No such power was vested in his PNG counterpart! The PNG Constitution could not be clearer on that – only the Prime Minister can appoint, and sack, Ministers. The Governor-General only has the role of "swearing in" Ministers. He has absolutely no reserve powers whatsoever.
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