Donigi asks some questions of NRI about Customary Land Ownership

Mr. Peter Donigi went on air on the FM100 Talk Back show this morning from 9am to 11.30am to discuss customary land registration. He used an attached script in his talk on the programme. Much of the discussions was in Tok Pisin language, but nevertheless the National Research Institute has taken the bait. They are not very happy and demanded their right of reply and so that will be on air tomorrow.

Dr Webster and Dr Yala will most likely be there to put their side of the story to get customary landowners to register their customary land. However Mr. Donigi believes it is essential that some relevant questions are posed for them to answer. He has prepared some questions and if you have friends that are passionate about customary land, can you also circulate the questions to them and ask them to call in and pose the questions to these professors.


Questions for NRI

  1. Is it true that the definition of land means that we as landowners own only 6 feet of top soil and have no rights under customary law to the sub-soil and hard rock and any resources under the hard rock?
  2. We are questioning the validity of oil and gas and mining laws that take away our rights by customary law to the minerals and oil and gas. Now this law means that when we register our land, we lose our rights to claim that ownership of the oil and gas and minerals in and under the sub-soil, hard rock under our land. Do you agree to this fact?
  3. . In other words. is it true that when we lose our customary law on registration of our land, we also lose our right to claim ownership of the oil and gas and minerals under our land?
  4. If not, then how do you explain your way out of definition of “land”, the definition of “absolute title” when read together with Sections 34M and 34N of the Land Registration (Customary Land)(Amendment) Act 2009, as explained to us by Ambassador Donigi yesterday?
  5. Can we change the law to define “land” as including everything below the surface of the land right through to the centre of the earth to comply with customary law?
  6. Can you guarantee to me that the Government will not acquire my land through the compulsory acquisition process after I register my land to give to any other person for their profit?
  7. How do you define “public purpose”? Under what circumstances can the government acquire my land for “public purpose”? Is there a law that defines the limit of the government’s power to acquire my land under the pretext of public purpose for the benefit of outsiders?
  8. Why can’t we change our laws from a licensed based system to production sharing contracts with customary landowners as direct beneficiaries in any project on their land?1. Why should we replace our underlying customary law with English law?
  9. Why do we not codify customary law?
  10. Why do we not corporatise customary law as is written in Donigi’s book ‘Lifting the veil that shrouds PNG”?
  11. Is customary law on land ownership “repugnant to the general principles of humanity”? if so which principles of humanity? Can you point any out to us?
  12. In 2007 the United Nations adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Declaration recognised customary law and places an obligation on governments to preserve customary law and practices, why then are you terminating customary law?
  13. Your nationwide campaign has cost a lot of money – can you be honest with us and tell us who is funding your program? If, it is the Department of Lands, then is it from the monies allocated under the national budget or is it from an aid program? If it is from an Aid Program, which foreign government or entity is funding your exercise? For instance who covered the costs of your foreign consultants?

3 thoughts on “Donigi asks some questions of NRI about Customary Land Ownership


    For several decades now Australia has been seeking to formulate a politically acceptable version of its own history. It became obvious during John Howard’s reign as Prime Minister that Australia needed to shed some aspects of its history, and put more emphasis on other aspects so that it can look respectable, and feel respectable, to face the future directions Howard envisioned for Australia in his 2007 Australia Day address. Howard wanted Australia to become more dominant in the region, and to do that, it was imperative that it was perceived in correct light, which when translated means, necessary changes to aspects of its history.

    Its schools and other learning institutions have constantly found themselves in a challenging position trying to teach a universally accepted version of its history. Australian history as taught in various States is not uniform. The various States have, more likely than not, condemned Australians to learn varied versions of their history resulting in a distorted understanding of themselves. This Howard saw as a problem. Howard could not bear Australians growing up with varying views and perspectives of their own history. He felt it was his duty as Prime Minister, particularly one of the Liberal Party, to rewrite and correct history the one he felt necessary to hold Australia to a new and altered position, an increasingly militarized state, which he envisaged for Australia.

    Most schools do not teach a standardized and universal history of Australia’s neighbors in the region as part of their curriculum, and yet export of education to its neighbors has become a billion dollar industry for Australia. Only a small percentage of the population, including those who have been fortunate to have an overseas education, traveled abroad, or the self-taught, can lay claim to a better understanding of all the varied versions of their own history and that of their neighbors.

    While the ratio of Australians traveling in the last 10 years is notably far greater than at any other time in Australian history owing to the emergence of budget airlines and globalized economies, the understanding of the average Australian of the Pacific, for instance, is severely limited. A noticeably large proportion of Australian adults and school children would not even know the significance of their own Botany Bay for instance, or give a pint about the fact that Edmund Barton popularly taught in most States as the first Prime Minister of Australia may not be the case in actual fact.

    In the case of Barton, many Australians are usually surprised to find out that he was not the first Prime Minister of Australia as they were taught at school to believe. Some do not even know who he is, but that aside, most are even more shocked and horrified to find out that Barton, intimately involved in laying the foundations of their democracy and Federation, was ensnared in something even more startling and sinister. They are usually shocked to learn that the embryonic stage of Australia’s birth as a nation smack of bribery, corruption and illegal usurpation of power at the core and foundations of its democracy, and the Barton of all people, was ensnared in the clasps of this, now, ignoble affair.

    It is a cause for great spiritual and moral consternation for Australians to learn that at the very birth of Australia as a nation in 1901, there lies hidden a serious case of bribery and corruption surrounding the office of the Prime Minister by no lesser a person than the then Premier of the then most populous colony of New South Wales, Sir William Lyne. Whilst, it is understandable why such dirty linen may not have seen the light of day in certain popular versions of improved history, yet this is the very sort of historical event that deserves to be properly taught as a universal and historical truth of an event that actually took place involving people who actually lived and played public roles.

    One would have thought that Lyne would have had a movie made of him by now or achieved celebrity status alongside the likes of Ned Kelly, Mickey Burke and the lads of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Perhaps one day he will be the subject of a box office hit or even earn the leading man an Oscar nomination after this exposition because his performance, as you read on, was in every sense as breathlessly bold as it was dashingly daring.

    Be that as it may, as the obscurity of popular and improved Australian history would rather not have the more diligent eye believe, Lyne managed to corrupt Lord Hopetoun, the Queen’s representative (who had just arrived from England with the special Commission to swear in Edmund Barton as Australia’s founding and inaugural Prime Minister), and stole the Prime Minister-ship away from Edmund Barton.

    Lyne met with Lord Hopetoun and, it is believed, that Lyne persuaded or otherwise materially incentivized Lord Hopetoun to shuffle Her Majesty’s Commission in favor of himself. The details of what exact incentives and or promises Lord Hopetoun received from Lyne are not outlined in the annals of history (and again understandably so), but it is not illogical or altogether far-fetched to conclude that it would take quite a lot for a Royal emissary to forgo the direct Commission of Her Majesty the Queen herself.

    Lyne was duly appointed and served as Prime Minister of Australia for no less than 6 days. He resigned from that post voluntarily.

    Most Australians in the know, like Howard, prefer to forget this sordid affair and happily go along with the popular and clean version of Barton as the first Prime Minister- period.

    If stealing a loaf of bread was the reason that most of Lyne’s subjects and compatriots earned their transportation to the Antipodes in the first place, then it is quite obvious that the experience did nothing to reform their basic constitution, character and base tendencies. Immediately upon their arrival on these alien shores of Australia, they carried on slaughtering and imprisoning the Aborigine nations and taking their lands and resources that were not theirs to take. When political opportunism presented itself, even Lyne himself, as Premier of the most populous colony, succumbed to every base means and nature that he was all too familiar with, to usurp political power (un-mandated), by stealing in broad daylight nothing less than the Prime Minister-ship from his mate Edmund, who, Lyne knew the Queen had inaugurated to be the first Prime Minister of the Federation.

    Lyne’s was not the caliber of mate-ship or fair go that Howard was referring to in the 2007 Australia Day speech, although Australians may argue that Lyne was a perfect example of someone having a go himself, and very Australian in every sense of that phrase. Lyne must surely go down in Australian history as one of those very colorful characters, even though his treacherous and seditious actions have permanently marred his name and the birth of Australian democracy.

    This must also go down as the birth of the first bloodless coup de tat in the Pacific. It was certainly the start of all subsequent political coup de tats in the Pacific, seeds of governance gone wrong, of corruption at the highest levels of government and lack of transparency, even on the part of Her Majesty’s own representative to Australia.

    It is now a matter of public record that the first coup de tat in the South Pacific took place in Australia, in the very cusps of its nativity. This is the very version of history that Howard did not want young Australians to learn.

    It was not as if Sir William Lyne was ignorant of Lord Hopetoun’s Royal Commission on arrival in Sydney. It was not as if Sir William Lyne did not know the personal wishes of Her Majesty the Queen concerning Barton, who had earlier led a pro-federation delegation to Buckingham Palace. It was the same Queen whose honor Lyne had earlier sworn to uphold and defend as one of Her Majesty’s brave knights. Yet greed, corruption, lack of governance and transparency begets all men, black white or brindle, let alone those over whose solemn shoulders Her Majesty’s regal sword had once hovered, and passed.

    So there it is for all who care to listen, read, see and understand; that deeply set within the very foundations of Australia’s own democracy there lays in silence, a dark, cold and sinister stone of illegality, greed, unlawful usurpation of power, a seditious seed of coup de tat, corruption, lack of governance and lack of transparency, all the evils Australia seeks to ward the Pacific countries off against. The age old truisms: ‘Sin begets all men… power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ are the banes of all humanity and of all societies, not just of Australia.

    This congenital condition of Australian democracy is yet to be recognized and taught in any uniformity as a fact and an important part of its brief and colorful history. To deny it or cover it up, or pretend this never happened would be a mistake. Heaven is full of sinners, only forgiven. Every great river starts with a trickle, no matter that its beginnings may be muddy at times. Australians must be strong and mature enough to recognize and embrace their own history, no matter how corrupt and contemptuous it may look in hindsight.

    The Pacific region with all its challenges is mature enough to understand that every country has its share of problems and challenges. Every family has its history and every person has a past that they cannot deny or change. For Australia to speak of democracy, transparency and anti-corruption as a new form of democratic morality with any credibility in the region, as it does, it needs to come to terms with and admit that its own democracy is not perfect, and it is still too far from being a model democracy.

    The revelations of illegality, unlawful usurpation of power and of corruption will forever plague Australia in the Pacific if it fails to tell and teach the truth about itself. Australia’s every endeavor and imposition of moral superiority in the Pacific by claims of transparency, anti-corruption and higher form of governance and responsibility reeks of hollow platitudes without a sound history to support. Australian history will follow every Australian government to every corner of the world and will scream hypocrisy from the back of every press gallery, every conference room, every democracy forum, every human right forum, and at every turn and corner of every shore upon which Australia seeks to parade the colors of its superior form of democratic morality, until it is disarmed, humbled, rescued and granted proper historical perspicacity, by the truth being candidly spoken and taught at its schools.

    Australia seriously needs to take stock of the fact that its nationhood is based on a single act of stealing. Its seat of government and its whole government apparatus and its very existence is based on a criminal act of stealing another man’s land. Even the High Court of Australia in the famous Mabo case has admitted to this.

    It stands as a fact, whether Howard likes it or not, Australia’s convict and criminal history unfortunately has set the DNA profile for it as a nation forever. Until the day greater Australians rise up out of a clear understanding of their history, their moral and spiritual makeup, and seek to redeem themselves by reconciling and connecting to the indigenous generations of Australians, to their untainted story lines and blood lines of ancient make that are intricately connected with the air, the land, the rainforest, the rivers, the rocks, the hills, the desert, the sky, the waterways and the surrounding ocean, by admitting to and correcting the past mistakes of their forefathers, restoring and respecting the indigenous peoples and granting them their rightful place in society ; their brief and recent convict history shall remain a colorful and yet tainted past, an aberration, making for an opaque present and an oblique future.

    The story of the convict began in 1770 on Captain Cook’s first voyage to the South Seas that ended up in Botany Bay on the Endeavor. Cook had a travelling companion in Sir Joseph Banks. Upon return to England, Banks suggested to the English aristocracy and the House of Commons in 1779 that since it was not in British interests to sell their criminals and misfits to the Southern colonies of the America, England should set up its own colony of thieves in Botany Bay. The American colonies had by then revolted against Britain and it was neither wise nor ingenious at that time to sell labor to the American colonies which would only serve to profit them economically to wage further war against Britain. By 1783, America declared itself independent.

    Britain had a distinct class system of haves and have-nots. A person fell into one class or another by sheer accident of birth. In the mid-1700s, with the advent of industrialization, this situation primed society for high petty crime rates as the majority of citizenry unfortunate to be in the latter category of have-nots resorted to all manner of petty thievery and vice to survive. The rise of agitation against slavery by the likes of William Wilberforce, along with overcrowding issues in prisons, convinced the then government of Britain to transport these petty thieves to Botany Bay by rule of law.

    It would appear to be a somewhat drastic punishment to be taken away from one’s home and family and transported so far away where there was no or very little hope of survival or return. However, penal severity was not something the upper classes batted an eyelid or lost any sleep over. Most prisoners transported were caught with petty theft or other crimes of survival as records today reveal.

    That was the rule of law in England, Scotland and Ireland. The rule of law was a tool for maintaining social order that kept those few fortunate enough to be born into power, perk, privilege and authority in their place at the top and those not so fortunate, perpetually under their feet.

    Banks’ idea of an island colony of thieves far away from the shores of England charmed the British aristocracy to the core and even caught their imagination that perhaps someday the thieves might even flourish and lead respectable lives.

    The rationale behind the sentence of transportation to hard labor for minimum seven, fourteen or twenty-one years were of deterrence. Yet, the very idea of deterrence is laughable today as, if the crimes were against English Scottish Irish or Welsh society, the criminal was nowhere within sight of those societies to serve as a deterrence for others, or for the person to return to the same society with less or no propensity for recidivism. In any case the crime was against British law and British society, not the society of Aborigines in some faraway lands who were innocently going about their subsistence. Obviously deterrence was not a tool of personal reform nor was it of community benefit and justice because the accused simply got transported to fate unknown. It was clearly rule by sheer terrorism of the subjects, deemed as justice, by English law and society at that time.

    In 1786, the British government commissioned one Arthur Phillip, a retired naval officer to be the first Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the new penal colony of New South Wales, which covered much of the east coast of Australia. To enforce his powers there was established a criminal court and appointed unto him a Judge Advocate and six military officers, a civil court with two officers. He ruled over seven hundred fifty convicts that came with the first fleet. The subsequent fleets brought more, and along with this increase was also the increase in numbers of military officers. New South Wales became a police-cum-military run colony. The austere sandstone Barracks in Sydney’s Macquarie Street today bear testament of the militarized nature of the settlement to this very day. Arthur Phillip’s rule was described by that great Australian and historian, Manning Clark, in his book A Short History of Australia as thus:

    ‘It was a government designed to ensure law and order and subordination by terror, a government designed for men living in servitude rather than for free men’.

    Manning Clarke goes further to give the account that the day 20th January 1788 saw the ships of the first fleet safely anchored in Botany Bay. On 26th January 1788, Governor Phillip landed on Sydney Cove and established camp. He commenced his rule by proclaiming various laws for the orderly construction of a new settlement. Any convict found in breach was given hundreds of lashes or even a thousand lashes, and in certain cases executed by public hanging. That was the beginning of convict settlement of Australia.

    It is no wonder that Howard in his 2006 Australia Day Address announced that he wanted to change Australian history by writing a new version that would, perhaps, infuse pride and dignity to a history that is littered with bi-polarizing episodes of criminality, abuse of human rights, use of the rule of law as a tool of oppression of fellow human beings, abuse of power, illegal usurpation of power and stealing of Indigenous peoples lands without their consent.

    It is not particularly a flattering history to be regarded as a nation of thieves, vagabonds and miscreants founded on criminality and its inhabitants continue to live off the proceeds of criminality. It is equally not a flattering history to teach young Australians that, as their convict ancestors unlawfully took the land and resources that was not theirs, they committed a felony, and that the existence of their government is based on a continuous felony. This is not the stuff to write home to your mother about; and certainly not a fitting foundation for building a post- modern state.

    Ever since the ancient Greek scholar Herodotus, a man deeply venerated as the father of history, who died about 425BCE, travelled to Persia and sought to catalogue what caused the war between Greeks and Persians, recorded history has been about the rise and fall of countries and empires. Every country has its own challenges at any given time and as for Rudd, who succeeded Howard as Prime Minister, the challenge was very clear then, as it was for Howard when he was Prime Minister. Both men have perceived at different times that they cannot be Prime Ministers of an Australia that has its foundations deeply rooted in serious criminality, corruption and lack of governance. They clearly feared sooner or later someone would expose this hoax.

    The Rudd government took over from where Howard left off on rewriting history; and to that end rewriting the syllabi, from pre-school to high school. Rudd, in his first one hundred days in office announced that his government was going to revise Australian history and come up with a version that was acceptable and respectable and that which puts the emphasis in all the right places. Rudd also took it from where Howard left off and embarked upon designing a forward looking history.

    Just as Howard had hoped, Rudd hoped and prayed that the new version of history would, like a cannon ball, when fired, will propel Australians to a place that is on par with other peoples of the world. It was hoped that Australians do not have to cringe about their tainted history anymore when the new version surfaced.

    It seems that to Howard and Rudd history is to be treated no different to motor vehicle tyres and plastic surgery. If your car’s tyres are worn, you go and buy new ones, and if you don’t like the look of your nose you go and get it altered by a plastic surgeon. You can get almost anything you want and how you want it in this consumer age, the age of designer babies and relative morality, and why not a new version of history that is groovy and has the nips and the tucks in all the right places?

    Yet there is something not quite right about such a quest when measured against conventional way change takes place in human history; with dynamics driven by catalysts or change agents in the case of gradual or progressive change, and cataclysmic events for sudden changes. Both Howard and Rudd should know or understand well that in times of war, for instance, history was always written by the victorious power. Notwithstanding Herodotus’ seemingly dispassionate observations for the underlying reasons for war, the vanquished is often too ashamed to assert its version of neither the truth nor the atrocities committed by the victorious to secure victory. However, Australia has experienced no such wars or the cataclysmic spilling of blood on its soil to necessitate the change in history or the re-writing of existing history. The only event, and the only blood spilled on Australian soil is that of the Aborigine man when convicts first took the land, and it is Aborigine blood that has birthed the history that Australia currently has. It has suffered no natural disaster or cataclysmic calamity of sufficient proportion since to change history as well as the psyche of a nation.

    Like Howard before him, Rudd was left with naked political power to demand a new version of history and force school teachers, who are as excited about it as a herd of castrated bulls in a paddock full of heifers, to teach it. This is totally unheard of in modern times. The problems Australian teachers face with reconciling political expectations of a contrived version and the real versions of history with its attendant issues have recently been eloquently exposited in Zoe Pollock’s book, ‘History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom’( UniNSW Press).

    The re-writing of history for Howard was also a political exercise by the Australian Liberal Party to come up with a narrative version to be taught that was more allegory of the facts than a Socratic version that dealt with the underlying causes or reasons for say, the First and Second World Wars or the War in Iraq, and all the brutal consequences of war that lingers well after the bombs have ceased to fall. A syllabus of history taught in classrooms that dealt with and openly discussed what happens to the defeated or the dispossessed and the social repercussions of such conduct was clearly not in the Liberal Party’s interests. It would seem Howard did not want an Australian public that reasoned the causes and effects of Wars or any other such calamity like the dispossession of Aboriginals from their lands. Such a version of Australia’s history countermanded Howard’s own position on Iraq and on the need for recognition, restitution and an apology to the original Australians for the atrocities visited upon them. To allow another generation of Australians with greater social conscience arguing for wider social justice was something that Howard may have felt untenable as it played into the hands of the Greens and the catholic lined Labor Party.

    For the mostly protestant and private school educated Liberals leaders promoting an allegorical version of history for a narrow outcome of an uneducated population with lack of or shallow reasoning capacities, as a deliberately preferred policy outcome was deeply and disturbingly paradoxical, even if it was an unintended outcome. To some within the Liberal- National coalition (and the public), this would not have sat well, but so was Howard’s blanket stand on gun regulation after the shooting in Port Arthur when Howard had his way. They once again bent their parliamentary and independent convictions and wills to John Winston Howard’s, and embraced party cohesion as a greater good to be maintained than the grotesque policy implications and outcomes of an uneducated population, or a nation built on lies and incorrect versions of history.

    The re-writing of history may also have been thought necessary by Howard to inject by artificial political insemination, pride borne of place, dignity borne of breed and a deep sense of belonging crystallized in a distinct and separate identity as a people, an essential element, that appeared to be absent in the Australian psyche. He would have realized that its cities and suburbs have turned into plantations of horticultural life support systems with its inhabitants imbibing and vegetating daily on a cocktail of drugs, alcohol and media managed world views, with Hollywood’s cultural diatribe of soaps, sitcom, cheap sex and depraved violence to boot, that has numbed the senses of the populous to what is clean, noble, right and decent. Impacting the seat of intelligence, the inner man and his own perception of himself in terms of his regal in being, his nobility of place at the helix of history was seen as a necessary tool of social reform by Howard. It would put the Australian at the apex of the Pacific peoples, from which to judge the world.

    Howard also knew that popular Australian culture mainly revolves around the television, the car, the pub, and sport, all of which are not intrinsically wrong; but essentially British. The largely white population, apart from maintaining the family unit over few selected seasonal holidays or coming together over a beer and a weekend barbie, has little by way of original culture of its own. It has in subjugating the Aborigine as less than human missed the boat on embracing and celebrating over 60,000 years old Aboriginal culture and any synthesis thereof, that could have made Australia a truly unique and colorful place, as the whiteman did in New Zealand with the Maori and his culture. Hence, the proclamation of the national values of mate-ship and fair go, and this push to artificially inseminate a new version of history was seen by Howard, and later Rudd, as something that was critical to the soul of every Australian and that of their nation at this juncture of history.

    1. Having read Peter Donigi’s transcript I must eat at least a portion of humble for my comments about lack of detail. This is the first time that I have actually seen, in writing, a crystallisation of my ( and,incidentally the late Sir Denis Young’s as well – it was one of the few things in politics that we had similar views on) thoughts on the topic of land registration. I would be most interested to hear whether the Aitape landowners heeded Peter Donigi’s advice and would love to read Messrs Webster’s and Yala’s response.

  2. Here we go again on the land and rich resources issues. To short cut the point I wish to raised here on this matters is so simple and understandable, if you will.

    1. How long we have been debating and continue debating the issues of the PNG´s Customary Lands and resources under and above the Soil and over 200 Mile Economy Zones in the Coastal Provinces of Papua New Guinea???.

    2. Are you not ashame and fear of debating against Indigenouse People of Papua New Guinea Customary land??.

    I for one I am ashame and fear to talk about another Tribe or Clans rightfull property… period.

    Before taking any chance of doing so, you should be able to come forth with Solution and workable Formula and Modules that will form the Central Collateral and Equity system (CCES) in order to be accountable on all the God´s rich and valuable natural resources of PNG, so that the IP´s of Papua New Guinea are happy to walk along side by side with you and participate on your formula and modules to materialize it and when it is successful, than that is the only time you can further debate on the issues,… for the last 37th years of our DEPENDENCE on foreign funds and development policies, no Citizen has come forth with the Country´s Economic, Financial & Fiscal Formula and and Bankable Modules, which will utilized the country´s rich and valuable resources and establish the first ever Country´s Collateral and Equity Haus (CCEH) that is wholly owned by 7.2 Million People of Papua New Guinea.

    This is the point I wish to raise for our Ministers and Members of People Parliament and heads of Companies, and the Government Departments to consider quickly.

    Because if we continue to rely on dependence syndrome for the next 37 years, I will said VERY,VERY SORRY MY BELOVED PEOPLE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA we are selling ourselves for ever, and not very long there will be Man Made Swamps and lakes in the middle of our jungles full of mosquitoes and tilapia, etc and all our valuable natural raw resources will be depleted for ever and there is nothing left for our Children and grand childred, and do you want that to happen?.

    I leave that to you all to decide and reply me if you want

    G S L

    When we created our Country´s Collateral and Equity Haus

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