High Commissioner’s 2020 Australia Day Address
Good evening and welcome as we observe Australia Day 2020.
Welcome to distinguished guests, Ministers, Governors and Members and other partners from the Papua New Guinean Government, businesses and organisations, members of the Australian expatriate community and colleagues at the High Commission. Particular welcome to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Honourable James Marape, and Mrs Marape.
Firstly, I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the place on which we gather, the Motu Koitabu [More-two Koy-tar-boo] people and recognise their unique and continuing connection to this land.
In a moment, I would like to reflect on some of the key achievements of the Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership in 2019 and some of the milestones we can look forward to this year.
But first, it is important to acknowledge that the recent past has been characterised by hardship for many Australians. Severe drought and bushfires have caused tragic loss of life, widespread property damage and had a huge impact on the natural environment.
At the High Commission, we have received many messages of sympathy and support from friends in Papua New Guinea. We have been humbled by voluntary fundraising efforts and contributions to the relief effort by Papua New Guineans from all walks of life.
It has been a brilliant demonstration of the friendship and generosity that exists between Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Prime Minister Marape’s offer to deploy personnel from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force was a timely intervention that was warmly welcomed by our government and emergency authorities. Earlier this month, 100 soldiers, predominantly drawn from the PNGDF’s Engineering Battalion, left for Australia to directly support recovery efforts. Right now, Papua New Guineans are working alongside their Australian counterparts to assess damage, rebuild basic infrastructure and deliver emergency assistance to bushfire-affected communities in regional Victoria.
Papua New Guinea’s generosity at this time will be remembered for a long time by the government and people of Australia.
Partnership is the defining element of the interactions between Papua New Guinea and Australia.
We are partners in diversity. We are partners in adversity. We are partners in opportunity.
Australia is proud to have been invited to partner with Papua New Guinea to help respond to some of the most serious recent emergencies you have faced, such as the 2018 Highlands earthquake and 2016 El Nino drought.
Equally, Papua New Guinea has stood with Australia many times before. From the famous campaigns of the Second World War, to the current bushfire season, as well as our joint work together on issues of regional cooperation and security.
Australia has always relied on Papua New Guinea, as our nearest neighbour and one of our closest partners.
We have been brought closer together in times of adversity and our relationship continues to grow stronger.
Last year’s state visit to Australia by Prime Minister Marape served as a platform to deepen our cooperation. Prime Minister Marape joined Prime Minister Morrison to announce new initiatives in security cooperation, education and infrastructure.
Our two governments are forging an even closer working relationship, including in the critical area of economic policy. In 2019, we finalised a short-term loan of USD300 million in response to a request from Papua New Guinea. It will help the current Papua New Guinea budget meet critical demands and it will increase foreign exchange, which promises benefits for businesses. We want to support Papua New Guinea as it now seeks to drive a broader economic reform agenda with key partners, to boost economic prospects over the longer term.
The successful conduct of the Bougainville Referendum in November last year was an historic accomplishment for the people of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. Australia was pleased to be invited to assist, and committed K28 million in funding to the Referendum and sent an observer mission.
Australia is a long-term partner in the peace, stability and development of Bougainville. Now that the vote is complete, we welcome consultations between the Autonomous Bougainville Government and Papua New Guinea. Under local leadership we are keen to stay engaged in supporting the further development of Bougainville.
On Manus, Australia and Papua New Guinea have now completed one important chapter of our joint endeavours. Our engagement on Manus continues to grow in other directions, including through the Joint Initiative at Lombrum Naval Base to enhance regional surveillance. We also want to support Papua New Guinea as it transitions assets at the former regional processing centre for future use as a training institute.
2020 will be another busy year for the Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership as we work together to achieve a number of key goals.
We will complete the redevelopment of ANGAU Hospital in Lae. A K500 million investment that represents the largest Australian infrastructure project in Papua New Guinea since Independence.
The Coral Sea Cable will come on-line – delivering internet speeds up to 800 times faster than currently available and better connecting Papua New Guinea with the rest of the world.
This year, the new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific will make public decisions on its first major investments in Papua New Guinea. The AIFFP is a key element in Australia’s broader Pacific Step-Up. It is an AUD2 billion fund that will significantly boost the role we play in meeting infrastructure development needs in our neighbourhood.
We will also ramp-up Papua New Guinea’s participation in Pacific labour mobility initiatives. In October last year, bee keepers from Goroka became participants in our new Pacific Labour Scheme – departing to work and learn new skills at Goldfields Honey in New South Wales. 2020 will be a year of real growth in labour mobility between Papua New Guinea and Australia. I am confident this will become an increasingly important aspect of the connection between us.
As High Commissioner, one of the most important and rewarding aspects of my role has been joining Governors and Members of Parliament to understand challenges in their provinces and districts. One of my first messages to new arrivals in Port Moresby is to encourage them to get out and see the real Papua New Guinea. I am constantly impressed by the breadth of the Papua New Guinea-Australia partnership as we work together in many of the remotest parts of the country.
I am pleased the same is increasingly true in reverse. We are actively working to diversify Papua New Guinea’s contact with all regions of Australia. Papua New Guinean links with Queensland, both historic and contemporary, remain strong and very important. For example, the Lae-Cairns sister city relationship is a best-practice model of cooperation. And, of course, the Torres Strait Islands, and its people is the tie that binds.
There is now great potential for our partnership to go further. As part of Prime Minister Marape’s state visit to Australia last year, he visited Karratha in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The Prime Minister received a moving welcome to country from indigenous landowners, toured major resource operations and saw how Australia deals with health service delivery in more remote regions. It was great that Prime Minister Marape was able to escape the Canberra bubble and see the real Australia during his visit.
At the High Commission, we are privileged to experience Papua New Guinea’s unique natural beauty and incredible cultural diversity first hand. In my view, it is unfortunate that not nearly enough Australians have the same opportunity. Currently, around 10,000 on shore Australian tourists visit each year. They walk the Kokoda Track, they dive, they attend the brilliant cultural shows around the country. Cruise ships visiting Papua New Guinea’s amazing island locations are also a growing opportunity for other Australians to gain a small appreciation of Papua New Guinea. There were around 30,000 Australians holidaying by ship in 2019.
In 2020, the High Commission will do its part to grow this number. Promoting Papua New Guinea’s tourism potential will be a major focus, as we draw on the High Commission’s networks, outreach and social media outlets to encourage more Australians to consider a visit to our nearest neighbour.
This year, both Prime Minister Marape and Prime Minister Morrison have committed that Papua New Guinea and Australia will conclude a new Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership agreement. The CSEP is a leaders-level commitment that will help draw the many diverse elements of our bilateral engagement into a more coherent whole.
It will also reflect a relationship that has transitioned to a genuine and mature contemporary economic partnership. As members of a Pacific family, there are many examples of Papua New Guinea and Australia relying on one another and partnering – from emergency management and disaster relief, to advocacy on regional issues through the Pacific Islands Forum.
The CSEP will reflect that increasingly, some of the key drivers of our relationship will not just be led by government. They will be characterised by private sector collaboration, for example through joint work on infrastructure, agricultural investment and labour mobility exchanges. This is a welcome development and is in addition to longstanding community links through churches, schools and sport.
Looking ahead, the strength of our partnership will depend on future generations. A focus on educating and mentoring future leaders has always been a feature of the Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership. The Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct has been a flagship of our cooperation in recent years, delivering training to over 3,000 aspiring public service leaders from almost every province of Papua New Guinea.
Last year we also launched a new initiative, the Papua New Guinea-Australia Secondary Schools Partnership. It is a program many of us at the High Commission worked towards for a number of years and we greatly appreciate the hard work and cooperation of Papua New Guinea’s Department of Education in making it a success. As a starting point, we have linked an initial 24 high schools in Papua New Guinea and Australia – enabling students from places as diverse as Vanimo, West Sepik and Bacchus March, Victoria to conduct reciprocal visits, undertake joint training, learn about shared challenges and hopefully form lasting friendships. The enthusiasm of teachers and students from both counties when they are together is infectious: we will grow the partnership further with volunteer teachers and scholarships.
Initiatives such as the Secondary Schools Partnership are a reason for optimism, not only for 2020, but for the future of the PNG-Australia Partnership for many years to come.
Thank you for coming tonight, to join us as we reflect on Australia Day 2020 and on the Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership. Please continue to enjoy the evening.