Sir Julius Chan Life in Politics Then and Now

Book review: Playing the Game by Sir Julius Chan

Sir Julius Chan is one of the founding fathers of modern Papua New Guinea (PNG).

  • PNG’s first Minister for Finance and Deputy Prime Minister (1976)
  • Leader of the People’s Progress Party, PPP (1970)
  • PNG Prime Minister 1980 to 1982 and 1994 to 1997
  • Knighted CBE (1975), KBE (1980.) and Grand Cross (1994).

His memoir, Playing the Game, published in 2016, depicts Sir Julius Chan’s amazing life as a Papua New Guinea veteran politician.

The book review attempts to highlight the important points in his career with a twist – is he resigning?

The early life of Sir Julius Chan

The first two chapters were about his parents and siblings and the beginning of his care-free life. He was born on the island of Tanga, New Ireland Province, to a Chinese immigrant (Chin Pak) and a local woman (Miriam Tinkoris). Sir Julius Chan was the 5th of seven children.

During World War II (1942-1945), the Chinese community in New Island Province were moved to East New Britain Province. Sir Julius Chan started school in Rabaul when he was 11 years old. There were over 30,000 Chinese migrants and families in Rabaul.

sea new ireland province

Sir J was born in Tanga Ireland. He loves the sea.

Close to his mother

In his book, Sir Julius Chan revealed that his father had several wives. His mother was the third wife. His father had other children to his Chinese wives. In 1954, his parents sent him to Australia to get a good education.

Sir Julius Chan noted throughout his book that he was very close to his mother. He took after her in his manner and looks. He missed his mother very much when he went to boarding school in Australia. Sir Julius Chan did not do well academically but seemed to have excelled in sports when he attended Senior School in Australia.

Sir J completed senior secondary school in 1958 and studied Agriculture Science at the University of Queensland campus called St Lucía. He professed to have been through many broken bones and injuries through games and had a nasty motorbike accident. He did not complete his university degree.

Sir Julius Chan first job

Sir Julius Chan first job was in the public service as an audit officer. He said he got the level 2 public service job, the equivalent of an Australian job seemingly because of the name Chan.

The stint in Port Moresby was hardly enjoyable because of racial discrimination. At one point, he was asked to leave the exclusive Kone Club because of his appearance. However, he settled into the role and travelled extensively within the country and abroad.

Chan’s family shipping business

He returned to Rabaul to look after the family’s shipping business. Chan’s family cargo boats did trips to Rabaul and Sepik. He met his wife, Stella in 1964. He thought he remained a second choice because Stella’s mother preferred a European husband.

Sir Julius Chan, with the never-say-die attitude, fought for her and won. They were married in 1966.

Sir Julius Chan early political career

Sir Julius Chan early political career was influenced by the late Sir John Guise. He looked upon him as the model politician who can ‘easily manipulate the views of the people’.

During a visit to the Aroma Coast with Sir John Guise, Sir J recalled that Guise left a lasting impression on the people. He wondered if he too could represent the people of New Ireland with everyone adoring him. He felt that he could be another John Guise, p.47.

Sir Julius Chan was elected the member for the Namatanai Open in the second House of Assembly in 1968. He travelled extensively to the Highlands region as a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Notably, he mentioned places like Karimui, Mt Wilhelm (in Simbu) and Mt. Hagen. His role was to report to PAC the performances of ‘Agricultural Practices and whether the policies about agriculture in the region is working’.

Sir J and 3 Key Political Parties

Sir Julius Chan named a few Papua New Guineans and Australians in the formative year of his political career. Some of them include Sir John Guise, Elliot Elijah, Cedric Johns, Tore Lokoloko, and Ken Tresize.

The latter became his best friend, accountant and speechwriter when he was Prime Minister.

Sir Julius Chan thought that the Bully Beef Club was behind the push for Independence, which then formed the Pangu Party.

The other two parties Sir J mentioned were the People Progress Party (PPP was the party he led in 1970) and United Parties led by Sir Tei Abal, a Highlander.

Drive for Self-governance and independence

Sir J hinted that the drive for self-governance and independence after 1972 gained momentum. The drive was influenced by the formations of many new nations. Especially, the African nations and Fiji who were voicing to become independent.

Papua New Guinea was following the same trend to become an independent country.

Separatist ideologies pre-independence

Sir Julius Chan named a pocket of secession (separatist) ideologies emerging when the Bully Beef Club, Pangu Pati and PPP led the drive for self-governance. Notably, the separatist messages were driven by groups such as the:

  • Papua Besena Movement (Josephine Abaija, separate Papua and New Guinea),
  • United Party (Tei Abal, delay Independence),
  • Mataungan (John Kaputin, Autonomy for East New Britain),
  • Bougainville (align with Solomon Island) and
  • New Hanover (Johnson Culture, align with the US).

Sir Julius Chan recalled the coalition govt of Pangu Pati and PPP set up the constitutional planning committee which aimed to unify the country. They also formalised the central bank where the late Sir Mekere Morauta became the first secretary for finance.

The Firsts: Finance Minister & Prime Minister

Sir Julius Chan was the Finance Minister when Sir Michael Somare Prime Minister (they were the firsts). Sir Julius Chan did not give many details about the introduction of Kina against International currencies. He only mentioned that it felt right at that time.

In chapter 9, it seemed he had very little understanding of the risk of Kina against the major global currencies. He thought a local currency would hold strong against the changing commodity prices (his reason for introducing Kina together with the opening of the Central Bank).

Sir Tei Abal’s United Party saw it as a competition against (and risk to buying) the Australian and US dollars. The United Party was against the idea.

Subsequently, the Pangu-PPP coalition govt introduced Kina and opened the PNG Central Bank under Sir J. The PNG Kina performed strongly against the major currencies.

Migrants and PNG residents left for Australia, 1974

A year before the PNG Independence (1974), Australia opened its borders to Chinese and other foreigners living in PNG to move there. Sir J’s dad, stepmother and half-siblings left.

But he remained a PNG citizen, leader of the PPP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance.

(Sir Julius Chan book is available on Amazon’s online bookstore and can be ordered in the US, UK and Australia)

Commissioning of Sir J’s Political Career

Sir Julius Chan was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance. He had been busy with little time to spare with his family.

His mother passed away in Rabaul during the early days of his political career. Her last words to him before she died, in Oct 1974, was the commissioning of his political career. She said,

‘Yu mas go nau, yu gat wok’.

Sir Julius Chan loves his mother. He reasoned that her spirit lives in him.

That was also the year when Sir Julius Chan had his first heart complication at 35 years old. His second heart complication happened 12 years later in 2002.

1977 election: PPP (Sir J) and Pangu Pati (Sir Somare) relationship tested

In his book, Sir Julius Chan recalled that the most memorable moment was when the Australia flag was lowered, folded and presented to the Australian Governor-General, John Kerr.

Pangu Party and PPP had a stronghold of govt leading up to independence. Sir J thought his political relationship with Sir Michael Somare and Pangu Pati was strongly tested after the 1977 election

Sir Julius Chan’s PPP (People’s Progress Party) was happy to play the ‘referee’ between Pangu Pati and United Party. Both parties returned a good number of candidates at the first general election.

Sir J (PPP) thought it would be in the best interest of the country to align with Pangu Pati to form the 1977 govt. He felt that Sir Somare was the best person to lead them and unite the new country. He believed in Somare’s leadership which was founded on the principle Friends to All, Enemy to None.

Pangu Pati Inner Circle – the Group of 4

Sir Julius Chan’s reasoning, as it appeared after the 1977 election, was flawed.

He thought he trusted Somare’s govt. He believed it was built on friendship and consensus. However, the working of the Pangu Party was engineered by an inner circle of strong friends called the ‘Group of 4 Sirs’

  • Charles Lapani
  • Mekere Morauta
  • Rabbie Namaliu and
  • Anthony Siaguru.

The coalition govt removed Sir Julius Chan as the country’s finance minister.

Six months after the election his party, PPP, was further diluted when the key govt ministries were split into portfolios. It appeared that they considered PPP and Sir J a political threat.

PPP was marginalised by 1978, just one year after the formation of the first coalition govt.

Pangu Pati lack consultation in key govt decisions

Sir J’s PPP thought there was a lack of consultation in key govt decisions. His party left the coalition govt they formed and become minority crossbenchers. Pangu Pati and National Party formed a new coalition govt.

Sir J saw Pangu Pati as the right political party to work with PPP at the inception of the country’s political independence. Just after 4 years of independence, Pangu Pati and Sir J’s PPP coalition fell apart.

Sir J said “it (Pangu Pati) was a party with numbers but no policy guidelines and real implementation machinery.’ p95.

Vote of no confidence in Somare, 1980

The 1980 vote of no confidence on Somare was the complete turning point in Pangu-PPP relationship. Sir Julius Chan inferred that the late Sir Iambakey Okuk was the driving force behind the change that saw him became the Prime Minister.

Sir J seemed to hold Sir Okuk in high esteem though he thought he was abrupt and reactionary in nurture as a Highlander.

Understandably, he adored Okuk because he suggested that they formed the new govt. It happened. Sir J became the Prime Minister and Okuk his deputy prime minister and Civil Aviation Minister.

DPM Sir Okuk, PM Sir J and Dash 7 aircrafts

Sir Okuk as the Minister for Civil Aviation agreed to buy 4 Dash 7 aircrafts from Canada. The news did not settle well with some govt and opposition MPs in the 1980 parliament.

Sir J said that he was aware of the agreement to purchase the planes. He was informed of it before Okuk departed for Canada.

He also mentioned that they got the approval through the Cabinet and Air Niugini board after Okuk had signed the agreement to buy the 4 Dash 7 aircrafts.

Following the uproar in parliament, the deal was deemed legal. The Cabinet and the Air Niugini board approved the purchase of the Dash 7 aircrafts, p.100.

Vanuatu secessionist crises

The PNGDF successful involvement in quelling the Vanuatu secessionist crises was one of Sir Julius Chan achievement.

He thought Australia and New Zealand have done nothing to help the course of Vanuatu. He reasoned that they do not want to upset French and British governments

PNG acted solely as a Melanesian brother to capture the ‘main targets’ and quell the crises from escalating.

Bougainville, Sir J and govt negotiations

Sir Julius Chan felt that the offers his govt made to Bougainville, at the time of Landowners’ package review, was not enough. The point put forwards were rejected forthright.

In his book, Sir Julius Chan hinted that the review package should have been looked at seriously (by his govt) p105.

Sir J’s Memorable moment in Kumul One

Sir Julius Chan’s govt purchase the Kumul One – the govt aircraft. He felt that it was necessary for the govt and senior govt officials to use when they travel on official duties.

His memorable moment was hearing the pilot saying ‘Kumul One ready for take-off’. He felt that it was more liberating to hear that. He said Somare was against the buying of the govt plane, but it was the right thing to do.

PMs Sir Julius Chan, Sir Michael Somare, Wingti and Namaliu

PNG Prime Ministers
Image: Dika Kwa (Manasupe Haus, 7th Floor)

Sir Julius Chan thought he came into govt to ‘repair’ the damage done by Somare’s govt. He liked Somare as a friend but does not like his leadership decisions.

He also liked Wingti and describe him as a businessman who has a lot in common with him.

In 1998, Sir Rabbi Namaliu became prime minister under Pangu Pati. Sir Julius Chan thought Namaliu was a man of higher learning, but he was indecisive on sensitive matters.

Bougainville, Independence and PNG

Four Prime Ministers and in 1998 the Bougainville Crises erupted. The Bougainville Revolution Army (BRA) blew up power pylons. Sir Julius Chan said that no one thought it was serious. The then PMs thought they would leave the issue long enough to solve itself out.

Sir Julius Chan pointed out that both Somare and Namaliu’s attitude was that if they leave Bougainville for long enough it will sort itself out p131.

But it didn’t. SOE was declared on June 1989. The civil war started.

Sir Julius Chan later recalled that had Namaliu done the right thing like he did to quell the Civil war in Vanuatu, things would be different. The right thing would be to gather enough intelligence before sending in PNGDF troops to take out only the targets.

In chapter 15, Sir Julius Chan thought that Namaliu’s decision to withdraw PNGDF troops from Bougainville was a mistake.

His reasoning of the crises was that Rio Tinto knew the Copper price was very low. They left without putting up a fight. Rio Tinto left Bougainville and PNG to fight-it-out. Rio Tinto was happy to spectate.

Sir J’s dad warning – Quit Politics

In 1992, Wingti became PM. Sir Julius Chan his Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance (again). He was in his 24th year of politics. This time, his father warned him to quit politics and go back to running their family business.

The warning was interesting. In fact, His dad’s message was contrary to his mother’s statement in 1974 just before she passed away – ‘Yu mas go nau, yu gat wok’.

Ok Tedi, Fly River pollution and Mining Act 1992

The pollution of Fly River systems and K2.9 million court action by the landowners (in May 1994) caught the govt by surprise. An out of court settlement had resulted in the creation of PNGSDP.

The new mining law (Mining Act 1992) was enacted. Sir J felt that the Act was in favour of the mining companies. He reiterated that the govt is more revenue-driven rather than safeguarding the interests and health of the people in affected areas.

In August 1994, Sir Julius Chan turned 55. Wingti-Chan coalition govt crumbled and a new govt formed with Sir Julius Chan as the PM.

1994: A sad year for Sir J

While he was Prime Minister, the 1994 Rabaul volcanoes destroyed their family home and businesses. The same year his father passed away in Sydney, Australia.

That year, PNGs foreign reserves dried up. Sir Julius Chan govt devalued Kina by 12 per cent and stopped banks from trading for 1 week. The attempt was to stabilise Kina and boost foreign reserves. The drop in Kina was massive. It had left a stab in the value of Kina over the years.

Sir J and Sandline International

In chapter 17, Sir Julius Chan thought he was the right man to find a solution for the Bougainville Crises when he became the prime minister.

Sir Julius Chan felt that Wingti and Namaliu’s strategy of which ‘side had the greater might (firepower) did not work’. Furthermore, he thought other peaceful reconciliations he initiated did not work either. The BRA had the upper hand. Australia and New Zealand saw the conflict as an internal matter for PNG and reluctant to help.

His govt had to find an intervention quickly before the general elections. His govt hired Sandline International, p 165.

Sir J thought had Brigadier General Jerry Singirok suggested a capture-the-target solution, his govt would have reduced the loss of lives on both sides. He even blamed the army boss for destabilising his govt.

Sir J may have done his best by informing the people close to him about the hiring of Sandline International. He claimed he had informed people close to him. This included the:

  • PNGDF Brigadier General,
  • Police Commissioner,
  • Opposition Leader, Bill Skate, and
  • Cabinet

People close to Sir J let him down

It appeared that his close contacts and ministers Mathias Ijape (Defence Minister) and Chris Haiveta (Finance Minister) have not been fully transparent in all their dealings with the prime minister, Sir Julius Chan.

And also, he felt that Australia media had played a big part in destabilising the Sandline International mission and his govt. He lost the 1997 and 2002 elections. He was out for two parliamentary terms, 10 years.

Sir J was turning 67 years old when he was re-elected in 2007 to parliament. He aimed to rebuild New Ireland Province. He thought his predecessor (Ling Stuckey) had done a pretty bad job and he was the person to fix it.

Future of PNG in his eyes

As for the future of PNG, Sir Julius Chan thought the people of Highlands are a driving force in business and politics but also a pain in terms of squatting in towns and cities.

As for Bougainville, he said if it becomes independent, the other island provinces may follow suit and request for autonomy and independence too.

He hopes that PNG remains a united country for now and years to come.

Sir Julius Chan’s New Ireland

Sir J likened Lihir Mining to Misima. When the gold is gone, the 3000 Australian miners will also go with it, including the K12 million provincial govt revenue. He worries that the people on the island will find it difficult to move back to a sustainable traditional livelihood.

He feels that he is still fit and able to continue as the governor of New Ireland. When he passes on, he wants to be buried on Huris Island, not at the Independence Hill Port Moresby.

Sir J likes the sea and wants to be close to it.

What Sir J thought of the past PNG prime ministers

  • Sir Michael Somare – he thought Somare was a close friend but political rival. He did not like Somare’s style of leadership. Throughout his book, he was slagging Somare all along.
  • Pius Wingti – he thought he was okay to work with as his deputy PM. He finds him different from the other Highlands MPs like Okuk.
  • Sir Rabbie Namaliu – he thought Namaliu was a true academic, but indecisive.
  • Bill Skate – he loathed Skate and thought he should never be trusted.
  • Sir Mekere Morauta –-Sir Julius Chan said very little about Mekere. Understandably, he was out of office when Sir Mekere got into politics.

Sir Julius Chan portrays himself as the inventor of Kina and Central Bank and fixer of things that have gone wrong in politics.

What Sir Julius Chan thought of the Australian PMs

  • Bob Hawke – Sir Julius Chan thought he had very little to do with Hawke.
  • Paul Keating- Sir Julius Chan gets along with him well. Keating could not walk the talk. He knew about PNG.
  • John Howard – Sir J thought Howard was not a politician but a bureaucrat. Howard was not very imaginative. He does things by the book. Sir Julius Chan didn’t think of Howard as a friend and they probably didn’t like each other.

Is Sir Julius Chan Resigning from Politics

Throughout his book, Sir Julius Chan did not give any hint of resigning from politics. But, his book came out in 2016, he will be 82 years old in 2022. He had several heart complications and his memory is not as sharp as it used to be. So, is he really resigning from politics?

We think he will keep going until he is 87. He feels young with people around him. He is happy to concentrate on running the affairs of New Ireland Province. His priority for New Ireland is Education.

(Sir Julius Chan book is available on Amazon’s online bookstore and can be ordered in the US, UK and Australia)

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