William Austin (Bill) Standish

4 April 2019

Pacific – especially Papua New Guinea – colleagues of Bill Standish were shocked and saddened by his death on Sunday 31 March. For some fifty years Bill has been one of the very best informed and enlightened observers of and commentators on Papua New Guinea politics, especially the politics of the volatile Papua New Guinea highlands. Although he was often critical of what he saw, he remained committed to Papua New Guinea and its people and was generous with his time in assisting both academic and bureaucratic colleagues and Melanesian students. He also had a keen interest in traditional and contemporary art in Melanesia and at the time of his death was engaged in organizing, with Anna Edmundson of the ANU, an exhibition of contemporary art from Papua New Guinea.

Bill Standish was born in Sydney in 1944 but graduated from Monash University before working as an administrative trainee and then a legislative research specialist with the Commonwealth Public Service. In 1971 he left Canberra to take up a position as lecturer in Politics at the University of Papua New Guinea, a position he held for four years. While at UPNG he was a regular contributor of the Australian Quarterly’s ‘Papua New Guinea review’. Subsequently, he returned to Canberra and began a PhD, ‘Simbu Paths to Power: Political Change and Cultural Continuity in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea’, in the then Department of Political Science, Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU. Bill was reluctant to finalize his thesis while new data and events unfolded, but finally submitted in 1991. His thesis – unfortunately still unpublished – remains one the most significant contributions to scholarship on Papua New Guinea politics.

Meanwhile Bill took several short-term academic appointments and was a senior officer with the Parliamentary Research Service’s Foreign Affairs Group, before being appointed as a research fellow with the ANU’s Department of Political and Social Change from 1992-1998. He was a regular observer of and commentator on national and provincial elections in Papua New Guinea and for several years served as an analyst for AusAID-funded consultants assisting the PNG Electoral Commission. After leaving the Department of Political and Social Change Bill became a visiting fellow with the Department of Pacific and Asian History, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. He maintained an extensive network of working relationships with government, parliament, universities, some churches, NGOs and business, provided commentary on events in Papua New Guinea (including the ongoing saga surrounding the refugee processing facility on Manus), and was generous with his time in assisting graduate students from Papua New Guinea and elsewhere.

Amongst his extensive list of publications were Provincial Government in Papua New Guinea: Early Lessons from Chimbu (IASER Monograph 7, 1979); Melanesian Neighbours: Politics in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu (Legislative Research Service, 1984); ‘The big-man model reconsidered; power and stratification in Chimbu, Papua New Guinea’, IASER Discussion Paper 22, 1978; ‘Limited preferential voting in Papua New Guinea; some early lessons’, Pacific Economic Bulletin, 2006; ‘Governance is Political in Papua New Guinea’, IBS Journal of Business and Research, 2013, and ‘Elections in Papua New Guinea’s dysfunctional democracy’, East Asia Forum, 2017.

Bill was the beloved partner of Sue and was one of four brothers with a large and loving extended family.

R.J. May Emeritus Fellow Department of Pacific Affairs Australian National University.

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