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Andrew Peacock and his unique role in Papua New Guinea’s development

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Tuesday, 20 April 2021

It often troubles me that while the Labor Party fully acknowledges its political "heroes", the Liberal Party all too often does not do so anywhere near adequately.

The tributes to Andrew Peacock, the former Liberal Leader and Senior Minister, have been warm and genuine. He was a substantial player in Australian politics for over a quarter of a century.

But there is an aspect of his long service in public office that really needs greater recognition, though I note that his frequent leadership rival John Howard did highlight it in his tribute to him over the weekend.


I got to know Andrew Peacock when he succeeded Sir Robert Menzies as MP for Kooyong in 1966 and more particularly when he was appointed Minister for the Army in the Coalition Government led by John Gorton in 1969.

It came as a surprise to many when Prime Minister William McMahon appointed him Minister for External Territories in February 1972, succeeding Ceb Barnes, the Country Party Member for McPherson, who had held the position for a decade.

Andrew Peacock was only to hold the position for about 10 months leading up to the 1972 national election won by Labor.

But in that short period he embraced the challenge of being Minister responsible for the then Territory of Papua New Guinea with enormous enthusiasm, and great effectiveness.

As even Gough Whitlam acknowledged, Andrew Peacock in that short period laid the ground work for PNG gaining self-government in 1973, and ensured a bi-partisan approach to constitutional development that was so essential in securing a peaceful and generally widely supported granting of Independence in September 1975.

The great tragedy is that a visionary like Andrew Peacock was did not assume the External Territories Ministry a few years earlier!


While the McMahon Government with his leadership and guidance, and the subsequent Whitlam Government, laid out the right basis for a modern PNG Constitution, a robust parliamentary system, and an independent judiciary, the neglect of key economic areas during the long ministerial oversight of Ceb Barnes could not be made up for in the less than three years between self-government and independence.

But Andrew Peacock cannot be held at all responsible for that. As soon as he assumed the ministry he began a genuine engagement with the emerging leaders of Papua New Guinea, and with the then Pangu Party Leader, Michael Somare, in particular.

He made a wise call, as when the PNG national elections were held mid-1972 a coalition led by Sir Michael Somare, to the surprise of many, was successful.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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