Remarks by HE Ms Deborah Stokes
Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea
13 July 2015
I would like to acknowledge you here tonight. As Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, I have had the most amazing range of experiences, both professionally and personally.
Professionally it has been an honour to lead one of Australia’s biggest overseas missions devoted to one of our most important relationships.
And this has happened at a time of great change in PNG and opportunity.I have been very fortunate to be here at a time when change in PNG is visibly happening before one’s eyes.
The LNG project has been a tremendous achievement. It is also an eye opener about the potential for PNG. The Pacific Games is also a great achievement and congratulations to all involved.
The mobile phone revolution, which is still unfolding, is very exciting and holds great promise.
And I believe we are seeing a growing recognition of the importance of addressing gender equality and family and sexual violence.
We need to make sure that our bilateral relationship not only keeps pace with changes in PNG but also stays ahead of the curve. We need to a build a dynamic, contemporary relationship between our two countries, fit for the 21st century.
I have been very fortunate to have been here when high level Australian attention could not have been greater. We have had four Prime Ministerial visits involving three different Australian Prime Ministers. The former Governor General also visited. And we have had countless ministerial and other parliamentary visits including four Foreign Minister visits.
There are many people here tonight I would like to thank for their wonderful cooperation and partnership with the Australian High Commission and me personally.
I would like to thank the many business partners here tonight. Business plays a vital role in PNG. It creates growth and jobs.
We are now engaging much more with the private sector as a strategic development partner.
I would like to thank the Australia-PNG Business Council and the PNG Business Council and the other business councils in PNG for the work they do, their partnership with us and also their friendship.
I would like to thank our partners in the Australia PNG Church Partnership. Churches play a central role in PNG communities – they are also major development partners especially in health and education. We have a very special partnership which continues to grow.
Turning to the Government sector, I would like to thank all of the countless Ministers and officials across many PNG government agencies for their cooperation and partnership. There are too many to name here tonight. I have learnt so much from working with you and we have achieved much together.
I would like to thank other development partners in PNG including the UN family, World Bank, ADB, IFC and non-government organisations. You bring unique contributions and we are very pleased to partner with you.
I wish to make special mention of the work of the RSL in PNG which does an excellent job including in supporting ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.
I especially want to thank the growing number of partners taking action to improve gender equality and address family and sexual violence. We have seen momentum grow in this area – from business, government, media and civil society. Many of those involved are here tonight.
On a personal note, I have found being in Papua New Guinea to be a deeply moving experience in so many different ways. The ties of history between our two very different countries are deep and profound.
It is moving that many in PNG value that history while in Australia, apart from wartime history, it is too often overlooked. The history reveals much about Australia as a young and maturing nation.
I have had the chance to visit places where my father served as a soldier in the Second World War – in Lae and Torokina in Bougainville. It meant a lot to me to visit the places that played a key role in shaping him as a young man.
I have had the good fortune to visit many parts of PNG and I have, again and again, been overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the country as well as the cultural diversity.
And here I would like to make a special mention of the National Museum and Art Gallery, who have made my husband, Peter, so welcome. The redevelopment of the museum is a special project and I wish all involved the best for the future.
The tourism potential of PNG is immense and I hope very much that many more people have the chance to visit as tourists to experience Papua New Guinea’s extraordinary beauty and culture.
The warmth of the reception I have received in all of the communities I have visited has been overwhelming.
The appreciation shown for Australia’s assistance, whether large or small, has been deeply moving.
I will take with me many wonderful memories of these experiences. For an Australian diplomat, there can be no other country that can match the intensity of a posting in Papua New Guinea.
Finally, I wish to thank the team at the High Commission. Nothing I do is possible without their fantastic contribution. I call them the A team because they are outstanding. They are truly nambawan.
I thank you for coming tonight and being nambawan friends and partners.