Official Launching of Australia Week 2011
Speech by High Commissioner, Ian Kemish
Moning tru olgeta
We are organising Australia Week for the fifth time this week. Australia Week is, in part, a festival - there will be music, dance, film and sport. It also has a more serious side. A business event will focus on the challenges of working in PNG, and there will be a media debate on the topic PNG: Proud Journalism, Poor Image. We will be combining with others to mark International Women’s Day.
Why are we doing this? Some might be tempted to say that Papua New Guineans are already well acquainted with Australia; that they are more familiar with Australian politics, society and culture than those of any other country.
But it’s because we are so close that we need to make an extra effort to ensure that our assumptions about each other are up-to-date.
Australia changes faster than most people think. Australian society has moved on since 1975, the year PNG attained independence. The national economy has embraced the forces of globalisation in a constructive way, and we now have one of the more efficient economies in the world. Amidst all this change our core qualities remain strong. The resilience of our people has been tested across the country in this last difficult summer, and has not been found wanting.
We can all be guilty of falling into groupthink. A set of widely held, assumptions can develop about a country, and they can be very hard to shift. There are people, including many Australians, who believe that their experience of Papua New Guinea’s past gives them an unshakeable ability to predict its future. Such people tend to be dismissive of new ideas. “We’ve heard it all before”, they say.
Like others, I recall personally the excitement and promise of the lead-up to Independence. Considering the extraordinary challenges facing this country 35 years later, I understand the temptation to give way to disillusionment and negativity.
We need to be frank about those challenges, and hard-headed about PNG’s future. But I also believe that experience is nothing unless it is accompanied by flexibility of thinking; that a willingness to keep engaging is worth much more than scepticism.
PNG stands at the threshold of significant change. The economy is set to grow significantly as a result of LNG and a range of major mineral resource projects. The population is growing very strongly, with projections suggesting that there will be as many as 20 million Papua New Guineans by 2040. And the communications revolution has come to this country.
I am responsible for Australia’s work in PNG. We need to be clear about the basis on which that work should be judged. Judgments based on the overall direction of PNG, about the quality of education and health services, or law and order, must of course be directed to the Government of PNG.
Australian aid currently accounts for 14 per cent of the fiscal budget available to the PNG Government. Papua New Guineans are rightly focused on the way the other 86 per cent is being used.
The emerging generation of young Papua New Guineans is certainly telling it like it is. As part of Australia Week we are running an essay competition for school students. The topic is: How will you use your education to help PNG achieve the millennium development goals? There is a strong theme that runs through the essays we have received: each of them squarely identifies corruption as the biggest roadblock to the development of this nation.
Examples of good leadership are certainly available. For example, we congratulate the national government for its decision to dedicate significant additional resources to areas such as health and education in its latest budget. Real leaders include people like Governor Powes Parkop of NCDC, who joined us on Monday for the Australia Week launch.
It is for PNG, not Australia, to show leadership in charting the country’s future. We Australians can only be judged on the quality of our contribution.
We have made real progress in our work to help the Government get ready to manage the economic wealth that is in prospect. PNG has concluded that it will need to establish offshore sovereign wealth funds, and is drawing on our technical support on their design.
The aid program, too, is on the move. The last year has seen real progress. We have taken firm action to reduce by a third the proportion of aid funds that are spent on consultancies and advisers. We have decided to refocus our resources on some key urgent areas in order to achieve results. The areas we have chosen– the Australian brands, if you like - are health and education.
If you take the view that Australia should be striving for concrete results, then take a fresh look at the education sector. In 2010 we built 400 classrooms and teacher accommodation blocks. We distributed half a million text books across the country.
We trained 9,000 teachers. More than 400 young Papua New Guineans have graduated with trade certificates from the Australian Pacific Technical College in Port Moresby, and they have all got jobs. Our subsidies to the Education department have helped bring the enrolment rate up from 54 to 63 per cent.
We are also applying our fresh determination to the health sector, which I think everyone knows is in crisis. We are confident that by this time next year, we will have distributed much-needed drugs into every aid post across PNG.
We have launched major new programs that signal a fresh preparedness to work with others – like the 120 million kina Church Partnership Program. And we have established a new 240 million kina program called Strongim Pipol Strongim Nesen to make our assistance more accessible to communities with their own clear ideas about how to make a difference.
Our approach recognises, ultimately, that it is for Papua New Guineans to show the way, and for Australia to support. We re-dedicate ourselves to this task this Australia Week.
Banoho namo namo