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Monday Conference – PNG (1971)

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Presidential vs Westminster system education content clip 2

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

The eminent Papuan politician John Guise is asked whether he favours a presidential or Westminster parliamentary style of government for his newly emerging country. Guise insists that whatever system is chosen must be the one that best suits the needs of this unique country and assists it to find stability, rather than simply following the Australian example.

Curator’s notes

This clip is a good example of how effective simple 'talking head’ television can be. There is no music, no fast cutting and only the most basic of in-studio filming techniques are adopted. However, a talented moderator, clearly on top of the subject, an articulate guest with a strong point of view and a difficult and controversial topic for discussion – like the future direction of PNG – all make for fascinating television.

Moderator Robert Moore expertly teases out a clear exposition of why John Guise feels a presidential system is better for New Guinea. The slow pace of the editing allows the audience to closely observe Guise, and think through his response.

John Guise is the Speaker of the House of Assembly in New Guinea, where he was elected to the Legislative Council in 1961 and then the first House of Assembly in 1964. He’s been speaker of the House since 1968. He’s come to Australia as the guest of Monday Conference to discuss the countdown to independence by way of self-government for New Guinea.

In fact the 1972 Whitlam Labor government offered immediate independence to the people of Papua New Guinea and a rather precipitous handover took place in 1975.

A later program in the series was broadcast from PNG in 1973. Bob Moore and the team travelled there to interview Chief Minister Michael Somare and Opposition leader Matthias Toliman and debate the issues surrounding full independence, which was only two years away at that time.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip shows John Guise, member of the House of Assembly in Papua New Guinea (PNG), explaining why he thinks PNG should adopt a presidential style of government on attaining independence. He explains that this system would provide more political stability than the Westminster parliamentary system. The camera is focused on Guise, and moderator Robert Moore and panellists are shown only when they put questions to Guise. The clip is from a current affairs television program made in 1971 before PNG gained independence.

Educational value points

  • In the clip John Guise succinctly presents his reasons for supporting a presidential style of government for PNG on attaining independence. Guise believes this style of government would have the authority to give provinces within the country a degree of autonomy, thus maximising the representation of their constituencies. Theoretically, the presidential system would result in those legislative members who represent minority and provincial interests holding more power.
  • Guise’s concern about secessionist movements was well founded and reflects the disparate nature of Papua New Guinea as reflected in the PNG saying ‘for each village, a different culture’. There are approximately 820 languages spoken in PNG and it is home to about 700 Papuan and Melanesian tribes, some of whom maintain fierce tribal loyalties. Bougainville Island had already called for independence from New Guinea in 1968.
  • Guise states his concern about the idea of PNG adopting a Westminster system of government, an idea advocated by the Australian Government. In 1969 the PNG House of Assembly had established a Select Committee on Constitutional Development to gauge the mood of the people on independence. Alternative models of government were canvassed but the Westminster system became the preferred model with a caveat that the provinces be given genuine autonomy.
  • The main difference between a presidential style of government and the Westminster system lies in what is called the ‘separation of powers’ between the executive (administrative) and the legislative (law-making) arms of government. In the Westminster system the prime minister and cabinet are both drawn from the parliament and are accountable to it. In a presidential form of government the president is elected separately from and is not accountable to the legislature.
  • Sir John Guise (1914–91) held a number of administrative posts in New Guinea (later Papua New Guinea), including during the 1950s in the Department of Native Affairs and then in the East Papua Legislative Council from 1961 to 1963. He was elected to and later acted as speaker of the House of Assembly of Papua and New Guinea. He was Papua New Guinea’s first governor-general (1975-1977) but resigned from that position to run, unsuccessfully, for prime minister.

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