Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

High Commissioner's 2021 Australia Day Address

26 January 2021

Avinun Olgeta.  Welcome to the Australian High Commission as we celebrate Australia Day.

Welcome to our partners from the Papua New Guinean Government, led tonight by the Prime Minister, the honourable James Marape.  Ministers, Governors, honourable members.  Representatives of the diplomatic community, businesses and organisations, members of the Australian expatriate community and colleagues at the High Commission.

I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the place in which we gather, the Motu Koitabu More-two Koy-tar-boo people, represented tonight by the honourable Dadi Toka.

Australia, like our good friend India, is fortunate in having a national day near the start of the year.  It provides us with an opportunity to reflect on 2020, on our relationship with Papua New Guinea, and to look ahead to what 2021 holds.

It was a challenging year; but it was also a year where the PNGAusPartnership proved its resilience and its strength. Em tru olsem taim hevi bungim yumi, bai yumi painim ol gutpela poro na femli long sanap wantaim. [It confirmed that during times of hardship and need, you look to friends and family for support.]

This time last year, when Australia was experiencing bush fires of an unprecedented scale, Papua New Guinea was there.

Australians were overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of concern, prayers and offers to help from Papua New Guinea. We know that in homes, workplaces, and churches all over the country people offered everything they could. 

Operation Helpim Wantok contributed too, a deployment of 100 PNGDF personnel who left their own families to help protect Australian families. This was Papua New Guinea’s largest contingent ever deployed overseas to provide humanitarian assistance. And it included first women to be deployed by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force in operations.

But the most significant feature of 2020 was undoubtedly the COVID-19 pandemic.  It’s still with us, and has changed the way we work, live and dress. Tonight, I see masks, hand sanitiser, limits on numbers and social distancing – all part of life under the ‘niupela pasin’. 

Mi luksave long bikpela wok gavman blong Papua New Guinea i mekim long lukautim gut kantri insait long pandemic. I want to take this opportunity to commend the Government of Papua New Guinea, and all Papua New Guineans, on how well you have responded to this pandemic.

In this challenging time, PNGAusPartnership has not only survived, it has thrived. We have worked together to tackle this global issue, and Australia has retained its strong presence in Papua New Guinea throughout the pandemic, including across our diplomatic staff, and our Defence and Police partnerships.

Throughout the 2020 Coronavirus response, where Papua New Guinea identified a need, Australia has done its best to respond. Including with

  • over PGK50 million (over AUD20.5m) in health and infrastructure support
  • over PGK25 million (AUD11m) provided to Provincial Health Authorities
  • more than 2.1 million pieces of PPE to protect front-line workers, and
  • support for church and NGO-led public-information campaigns.

When Papua New Guinea called for international support amidst fears of a major outbreak, Australia was first to respond sending two Australian Medical Assistance (AUSMAT) teams to work alongside Papua New Guineans on the front lines.

But we have also worked to ensure that existing health programs and essential services continue, with support to the PNG health system in areas like childhood immunisation, health infrastructure and tuberculosis treatment, hospital and clinic construction.

For Papua New Guinea, as for Australia, COVID-19 is more than a health crisis. The economic impacts are being felt across the globe.

Australia responded to a request from Prime Minister Marape and Treasurer Ling-Stuckey to support Papua New Guinea’s deteriorating fiscal position and assist the Government’s ambitious economic reform agenda. This K1.4 billion (USD400 million) loan supports the prosperity and stability of Papua New Guinea and the region. I’d like to commend the Government on its reforms so far. I look forward to supporting the next wave of reforms that will make PNG’s economy stronger and more competitive.

Our loan reflects Australia’s interest in Papua New Guinea’s economic success and our respect for Papua New Guinea’s sovereignty.

Beyond, and despite, COVID-19 the PNGAusPartnership achieved much more.

In August, Prime Ministers Marape and Morrison signed the new Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership. The CSEP sets out a vision for what Australia and Papua New Guinea want to achieve together, committing us to elevate our already close ties.

It demonstrates that ours is a genuine and mature partnership and it gives prominence to the many non-Government connections between our two countries. And it is more than just words on a page – our Governments are working together to finalise an Action Plan that will commit both sides to making progress on our shared commitments under the CSEP.

2020 also saw the Coral Sea Cable come on-line, increasing the speed and decreasing the cost of wholesale internet services.  I look forward to seeing further improvements in both speed and cost.

In 2020 we also celebrated 20 years of the Incentive Fund, an amazing program of real partnership. 72 grants have been given to more than 50 organisations across all of Papua New Guinea’s 22 provinces. Working together we have touched hundreds of thousands of lives.  Our YouTube channel tells the stories of some of these successes.

We also saw many of our programs quickly adapt, finding new and innovative ways of working.

The Australian Volunteer Program quickly pivoted to a remote volunteering model, allowing Australian volunteers like Rob Eden, working with the Port Moresby Nature Park, and Jodie Stewart working with Gazelle District Administration on early childhood education, to continue supporting their partner organisations remotely from Australia.

And even border closures could not stop our schools partnership! Although they were unable to make the visits we had planned, our PNG Australia Secondary School participants – teachers and students – used their creativity, leadership, STEM skills and friendship to find ways to support one another remotely through COVID-19.

For me personally, it was a big year. I was fortunate enough to get to fourteen provinces in 2020. What made those visits special was not just the beautiful and unique locations, but the people I met.

I had the opportunity to travel with many Papua New Guinean leaders to their communities and see them through their eyes, including a day in Tari with Prime Minister Marape, time in Bulolo with Deputy Prime Minister Basil, opening the Enga Show with Governor Ipatas, visiting remote Nuku with Minister Sungi, Daru with Minister Agisa, and Bougainville with Minister Masiu. Thank you to everyone that has welcomed me to your communities, and to in particular to the Governors who found time to show me around and discuss the challenges they face. I look forward to many more opportunities to explore this wonderful country.

Na yumi olgeta save olsem igat bikpela hamamas na support insait long Papua New Guinea long ol planti gutpela sportslain sports-line long hia. [And we can’t go past the pride that Papua New Guineans have in their amazing sportspeople.]

2020 saw sporting fans in Australia sit up and take notice of Papua New Guinea. The hosting of the NRL pre-season match between the Bulldogs and Sharks showed off Port Moresby’s world class sporting facilities. We saw how a love of the game brings people together.

League also brought us standout performances by Xavier Coates, Alex Johnston, Justin Olam and Elsie Albert – who was selected for the women’s NRL. And who could forget AFL’s signing of Ace Oea to the Gold Coast Suns and the para-Badminton team achieving podium finishes at the Oceania championships in Victoria – on their first ever trip out of PNG!

We can all look back at 2020 with pride and a real sense of achievement in the face of adversity. And while we may be looking ahead to 2021 a little nervously, there are many reasons for optimism.  And in our partnership, we have a lot of important work ahead of us. 

Australia will continue to support Papua New Guinea in many ways. Continuing our strong focus on infrastructure support, the Trans-island Highway will be a priority along with delivering on the PNG Electrification Partnership. We will work with the Government to improve Technical and Vocational Education and Training, growing the number of skilled workers. And I’m pleased that for the first time since the pandemic began PNG labour mobility workers have left for Australia.  These are just some of the things that we will be working on in 2021.

But in addition to all of that, we cannot forget the challenges we continue to face thanks to COVID-19. We are all tired of hearing about it, but the global pandemic continues to pose both health and economic risks for both our nations, and Australia is committed to continuing to work with the Government of Papua New Guinea to help you to address these challenges.

Late last year Australia announced a $500 million (PGK 1.3 billion) Regional COVID Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative to help deliver safe and effective vaccines to the Pacific and Southeast Asia, protecting the health of our neighbours and helping economies recover.

We will allocate PGK374 million (AUD144 m) to Papua New Guinea over three years. This is in addition to Australia’s ongoing development assistance.

This vaccine initiative will help Papua New Guinea to procure vaccines that have met internationally accepted standards of safety and efficacy, provide technical support for immunisation planning, national vaccine safety assessments by health authorities, capacity building for health workforces, and public information and communication.

Vaccination promises to be a gamechanger. Achieving high levels of COVID-19 immunisation is essential, and a fast, safe vaccine rollout will allow economies to re-open and re-establish travel, tourism and trade activities. It will help all of us in the region to move on from COVID-19 disruption safely and I’m proud to be supporting PNG in this effort.

Finally, I want tonight to acknowledge the expatriates - Papua New Guineans in Australia, and Australians here.  In a year where families have been split and quick visits back and forth have vanished, it is the expatriates who have continued to deepen this relationship.  It’s the people in business, in health, NGOs, the church, ADF and AFP members, mine workers, students and teachers. 

I am proud of the work our two governments do to create the frameworks, the structures for a growing, confident relationship; but it’s the people, the individuals who give our partnership a heartbeat, breath, and life.

Thank you for coming tonight and joining us as we reflect on 2020 and on what the PNGAusPartnership has in store for 2021. There is much to be excited about. Please continue to enjoy the evening.

Thank you.