University of Papua New Guinea
62nd Graduation Ceremony
Address by Australian High Commissioner Bruce Davis
Friday 28 July 2017
Times of transition
Deans and UPNG staff
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great privilege to be here with you on this special day.
Graduation ceremonies are, of course, a significant milestone. They symbolise the culmination of years of endeavour and effort.
In this endeavour you have likely been supported in many ways, by many people – your family, friends, lecturers, tutors, among others. Let me congratulate all who have played a role in supporting those graduating today.
Each of you graduating will join a proud cohort of UPNG alumni. As you would well know, there have been many impressive and inspiring Papua New Guineans to graduate from this institution.
With the Papua New Guinea National Election front of mind, I would note that at least four of UPNG’s alumni have gone on to serve as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
And as you transition from your student life, I know many of you are contemplating your own future careers and developing your own career goals.
As you contemplate your future, I am sure you will already be conscious of the responsibility that comes with the privilege of education.
With this education you can achieve great things not just for yourselves but also for Papua New Guinea.
You are now the future leaders of Papua New Guinea and each and every one of you has an obligation to help shape the country that Papua New Guinea will become during the course of your life. And to do so in a responsible, measured and well informed manner for the improvement of society as a whole.
Of course, leadership comes in many forms - from the quiet guidance of a community, to work within government, as entrepreneurs, through to the lofty heights of the Prime Ministership.
But as you shift from students to workers and leaders, it is useful to reflect on the meaning of the liberal education you have received here.
A liberal education encourages open mindedness and civic engagement. It values contestability of ideas, respectful and informed discourse and curiosity.
While “fake news” may be the buzzword of 2017, some things remain constant – the values instilled through the education you have received from this institution – the values of respectful debate, objectivity and constant inquiry – these values will remain constants through life.
The value of ongoing education also comes to mind. Despite the pomp and ceremony of today, your education journey has not come to an end and in many ways it is just starting.
Whether formally or informally, education is a life long journey which not only benefits ourselves but our broader society.
Education is one of the most powerful tools for any person’s development and in any country’s development. That is why the Australian Government works closely with the Government of Papua New Guinea in the area of education, including with universities.
As the country’s first university, the collaboration between UPNG and Australia has a long history.
This connection continues today through the Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct.
The Precinct is a partnership between Papua New Guinea and the Australian Government to support the development of ethical and capable leaders that can shape this country’s future.
In many ways, the Precinct partnership between a number of Papua New Guinean and Australian Tertiary Institutions is a symbol of the modern relationship between our two nations.
The Australian National University academics working here are part of the UPNG team, working shoulder to shoulder with the School of Business and Public Policy staff.
The Precinct is well on the way to becoming a regional centre of excellence in the disciplines of economics and public policy, which are of critical importance to our shared prosperity.
Equally important to any nation’s future prosperity is the participation of women in the workforce.
I am pleased to see so many women graduands today including some in the less traditional areas of study such as the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.
International evidence shows that investing in the education of girls delivers vast economic and social benefits. For example, we know better educated women have healthier children and their children are more likely to complete their education.
With that in mind, the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia have also worked closely together to help ensure that more Papua New Guinea girls enrol in and complete their schooling.
Transition for our two countries
As you evolve from a student to participate in the workforce, you will be conscious that Papua New Guinea is also in a phase of transition. So too is Australia.
For both Papua New Guinea and Australia, as resource-based economies, it has been a tough period economically. Both our countries have felt the brunt of the downturn in commodity prices.
The downturn has presented both of our countries with challenges but also with opportunities. In particular, it has focused policy makers on the need for greater economic diversification in our economies.
This diversification provides exciting openings, particularly for you as you enter the workforce.
For Australia, this diversification has meant a greater focus on creating jobs in the services sector, and fostering opportunities to expand our export market, for example, in the areas of tertiary education and tourism.
The tourism sector in Papua New Guinea has enormous potential as well. I have been travelling to Papua New Guinea in various capacities for more than 20 years and from the Highlands to the Islands it is never lost on me the immense potential this country has to develop a thriving tourism industry.
The potential of Papua New Guinea’s agricultural sector, often described as the “sleeping giant” of Papua New Guinea, is also immense.
For resource based economies like ours diversification is essential, but the future too remains bright for Papua New Guinea’s resource sector.
Papua New Guinea hosts several world-class energy and resources projects and there are several other promising projects in the pipeline.
With these projects, Papua New Guinea is set to become a key energy supplier in this Asian century.
Situated as we are on the border of the Pacific and Asia, the economic opportunities are immense.
And the scope for a new generation of entrepreneurs to make a difference is immense.
APEC, which Papua New Guinea will host in 2018, is the fastest growing economic grouping in the world, with a massive and expanding middle class.
For commodity exporters these are huge and valuable markets.
But there is also the potential for exponential growth in demand for other exports such as food and tourism services.
It is an exciting and rapidly evolving time for our region – and also for the Papua New Guinea–Australia relationship.
Transition for the bilateral relationship
Our relationship has evolved and matured and is now that of a contemporary partnership.
We are economic and strategic allies, with shared regional interests that we are working together to address.
The opportunities for both Australia and Papua New Guinea in this Asian century are vast and how we capitalise on these opportunities, separately and together, is essential to the future of both nations.
As both Papua New Guinea and Australia go through periods of transition, it is only natural that the bilateral relationship between our two countries evolves too.
The foundations of our relationship remain unchanged and we will always be linked by our shared history, our geography, and our people-to-people connections.
However, the relationship is no longer defined by the ‘donor and recipient’ model of the past.
As I have stressed previously, this concept is outdated.
And it is clear from the figures:
At independence in 1975, Australia’s investment in Papua New Guinea’s development represented 40 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s budget.
It rightly now stands at around 10 per cent.
And our economic partnership has expanded exponentially. For example, our two-way trade was worth around 14 billion kina last year, with around 64 per cent of this trade exported from Papua New Guinea to Australia.
We have worked closely with the Government of Papua New Guinea to reshape the nature of our development cooperation.
We have shifted our focus away from basic service delivery, which is clearly a core sovereign responsibility of any nation.
Given the timing, our assistance for the 2017 National Election is a case in point.
Papua New Guinea’s elections are among the most logistically difficult in the world and of course, it is the Papua New Guinea Government’s responsibility to deliver this election, in line with the expectations of its people.
Australia’s role has been providing technical assistance and logistical support as requested by the Papua New Guinean Government. Our role has been to add value where we can, not to substitute for local provision of services and decision making.
Let me conclude by again wishing all the graduands one bright future.
As you too transition, it is important to reflect on how you too can take up the opportunities, as well as responsibilities, and contribute to your country’s prosperity.
There are many ways to contribute and I wish you well in whichever path you choose.
I again congratulate all those graduating today and all those who have supported you in your journey.