Address to the NRI Budget Forum
30 October 2014
HE Ms Deborah Stokes
Australian High Commissioner to PNG
Thank you for this opportunity to make some introductory remarks at this Budget Forum.
I would like to start by acknowledging the role played by the NRI which makes a vital contribution to informed debate about issues of importance to PNG.
The Australian High Commission has a long history of support for the National Research Institute.
This is a partnership that has paid rich dividends, in terms of contributing to the level and quality of policy debate about social and economic issues in PNG. Such debate is central to any democracy.
I wish to recognise in particular the leadership of Sir Henry Chow and Dr Webster.
The report we are considering here today is the latest report by the Promoting Effective Public Expenditure Project.
This project has involved both NRI and the Development Policy Centre from the Australian National University over the last couple of years.
The team has been travelling into the provinces and investigating what is happening in the delivery of health and education services.
I will not dwell on the detail of this report – as this will be discussed in the following sessions.
But I would like to point out some of the important and unusual features of this report.
First of all, the study gives us a long-term set of data about service delivery in eight different areas of PNG.
To the casual observer, that may sound like a fairly minor achievement – but it is not a minor achievement.
Why? Because, unfortunately, good data on service delivery in PNG is remarkably hard to come by.
In the absence of good data, commentators and policy makers have to rely on hearsay, anecdotes and limited personal experience when talking about service delivery.
And when you rely on such a weak foundation of knowledge, then there can be no genuine analysis, and no meaningful debate about policy and program options.
Having concrete data changes everything.
The value of this report is that it gives us a credible basis to discuss options for future direction of policy and programs.
A second major feature of this report is that it is one step in a cumulative series of reports.
Producing data that covers a period of time means we are more able to map trends, and to assess real performance.
A third feature of the study is that it is multidimensional.
This information has been collected using a broad range of standardised questions, and has been analysed using rigorous statistical processes. Most significantly it has collected data on women and girls’ access to services.
So this report – which tracks public expenditure outcomes in health and education facilities – has given us greater insight into other important issues affecting people in the provinces.
For example, whether the needs of women and girls are being met in health and education delivery, or if teachers and medical staff are being managed properly.
The study has found dramatic differences between the performance of sectors, provinces and institutions across PNG.
But it also suggests that a number of common factors affect the outcomes including, financing and work force supervision.
Ultimately this study should help to improve service delivery in PNG.
And this demonstrates why Australia actively supports the public policy focus of NRI.
Better data leads to better analysis - which leads to better policy – which hopefully then leads to substantive reforms.
This is an important study, and one the Australian High Commission has been very glad to support.
I would now like to take this opportunity to turn our attention from the micro to the macro picture.
Very soon, there will be the G20 meeting in Brisbane. As you know, PNG is not a member of the G20; nevertheless Australia has invited PNG officials to attend in an observer capacity with a view to helping PNG prepare for APEC.
The G20 is an important meeting, because it is one of the world’s most important forums for steering growth and managing international economic risk.
Why is this event important for PNG?
Because PNG needs economic growth to pay for improved services for its people. And improved education and health will in turn provide the foundation for further economic growth.
And PNG is competing in a global market for scarce investment capital, and is also competing to sell its products in the global market for commodities.
So, when the G20 considers how to boost global economic growth and how to reduce the risks to that growth and to stability then this will inevitably have an impact on PNG.
PNG will need to ensure its own economic settings adequately reflect the opportunities and risks that exist. And this needs to be – and indeed - must be informed by the global situation and by the G20’s approach to economic growth.
The centuries-old poem by John Donne tells us that – no man is an island – this also applies to economies.
Australia is very important to PNG, as is PNG to Australia. We are good friends and neighbours, and good neighbours look out for each other.
As a good neighbour, Australia is keen to see PNG’s economy grow and develop, and to become more enmeshed with the region and the global economy.
By developing, PNG helps itself – but it also helps Australia when PNG is doing well.
In closing, I would like to thank those involved in the report and the forum today.
This is very, very important work. And you are to be congratulated.
The next step for all of us is to translate this into better services for the people of PNG.