24 May 2013
Opening address by Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Ms Deborah Stokes at the PNG – AUSTRALIA ALUMNI ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE
THEME: ‘READY FOR BUSINESS’
Friday 24 May 2013
Honorable Gary Juffa, Governor Oro Province
Charlie Gilichibi, President of PNG – Australia Alumni Association
Members of the PNGAA Executive Committee
Thank you for your invitation to join you at this, my first PNG-Australia Alumni Association Conference.
It is a great pleasure to be here.
Your conferences are well-known for stimulating thoughtful and constructive debate.
Your theme for this year’s conference, ‘Ready for Business’, promises to do so again.
Although I have only been in Papua New Guinea for a short time, I have been struck by the dynamism and energy in the country.
This is an observation which was also made by Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, during her recent visit to Port Moresby.
She said that one of her primary objectives in visiting was to express Australia’s confidence in Papua New Guinea’s economic prospects, and in its future.
Certainly, there is much to be impressed by.
PNG is now in its twelfth straight year of economic growth, with more predicted to come.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the economy will grow by 4 per cent this year and 7.5 per cent in 2014, when the PNG LNG project begins production.
This is more than the average world growth rate, and about twice the estimated growth rates of PNG’s Pacific neighbours.
Growth is creating new realities and new opportunities for people throughout the country.
Business confidence is high, as is demand for skilled and motivated individuals – such as those in the audience today.
There are many opportunities for emerging businesses, particularly for entrepreneurial young Papua New Guineans.
As people who have lived and studied in Australia, you are at the forefront of the people-to-people ties and economic links between our two countries.
Australia regards Papua New Guinea as not only its closest neighbour, but one of its most important partners.
The importance of our bilateral partnership is based on a shared history. Today the relationship is also based on economics: as its economy has grown, so has the PNG’s economic relationship with Australia.
Over the past five years, two-way trade has increased to more than 16 billion kina, and Australian investment in PNG has grown to more than 41 billion kina.
This is about the same level as Australian investment in China.
During her visit, Prime Minister Gillard signed with Prime Minister O’Neill a Joint Declaration for a new Papua New Guinea Partnership.
This declaration marks the maturing of our bilateral relationship, and points the way to broader cooperation in the future. The two Prime Ministers immediately followed this by signing a Defence Cooperation Arrangement, which recognises and consolidates the expanding defence relationship between our two countries.
The Australian Government wants these ties to grow further.
And that includes greater people to people exchanges and greater movement of people between our two countries.
For this reason, we have taken some important steps to improve the access of Papua New Guinea citizens to visas for Australia including removing some of the document requirements.
We have seen an increase of 25 per cent in the number of visitor visas granted in the past year alone.
We are also delivering an improved service to Papua New Guineans seeking visitor visas to Australia.
We regularly exceed our advertised ten-day clearing time for visitor visa applications.
Our next step will be to introduce the PNG Online Visitor Visa, which we expect to be available in the middle of the year.
This will enable PNG citizens to apply for visitor visas online, without having to physically lodge applications.
This will further streamline the visa application process for many PNG citizens.
Australia has great confidence in PNG’s future but we also recognise that the country faces significant challenges.
Some of these challenges are in ensuring that the economic environment remains competitive and attractive to investment.
As beneficiaries of the commodities boom, Australia and PNG will also have to be flexible and responsive to the demands of the changing global business environment.
It is inevitable that the international demand for minerals, gas and petroleum will ebb and flow.
We have welcomed and supported the work being done by the PNG Government to introduce a world’s best practice Sovereign Wealth Fund to deliver stable returns which will support long-term planning and help manage future economic uncertainties.
We also welcome the PNG Government’s decision to seek candidate status in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which will increase the accountability of private companies, and of the Government, for the money generated by the resources industry.
Social indicators such as literacy levels and maternal and child mortality remain deeply disappointing to us all.
And as the National Haus Krai recently highlighted, there is much to be done to urgently improve the position of women in PNG.
Violence against women should not be seen as only a matter of human rights – it is also a vital issue affecting the country’s economic performance.
Women are deterred by violence from taking a full and appropriate role in business and in the economy, significantly impeding economic development.
It was for this reason that Prime Minister Gillard announced during her visit the PNG Women in Business Initiative.
The Initiative is part of the ten-year A$320 million initiative, Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development, which the Prime Minister launched at the 2012 Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga.
The PNG Women in Business Initiative will focus on two areas.
First, it will address women’s welfare and safety, in particular on preventing violence against women in the workplace.
Secondly, it will promote mentorship, networking and training to bring high-potential female employees into positions of leadership.
As the Prime Minister said during her announcement, no nation can truly succeed without embracing the development of all its citizens, and unlocking the talents of all its people.
Another priority area for Australia-PNG cooperation is in law and order.
There is no doubt that law and order is of concern to everyone.
Australia has been working closely with the PNG Government through the PNG-Australia Policing Partnership to strengthen the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC).
During her recent visit, Prime Minister Gillard announced a new package of assistance from Australia to the RPNGC.
This will include assistance for the recruitment and funding of Australians to occupy key in-line positions.
It will also include additional advisory support to the RPNGC from the Australian Federal Police, and a program of secondments and mentoring for RPNGC officers.
For Papua New Guinea to make the most of its enormous natural wealth – and here I don’t just mean mineral wealth – there is also major tourism potential as well as agricultural export potential –
to make the most of these phenomenal natural gifts in a way that is sustainable and brings wide benefits, PNG will need educated men and women, and that starts with educating girls and boys.
Australia has a strong commitment to supporting education through nearly AUD100m this year.
Our support to the Government of PNG aims to get more girls and boys into elementary schools, keep them there for their entire primary and secondary schooling and provide options for further education.
This year we contributed 26 million Kina to school subsidies, helping over 600,000 children, particularly girls, to have tuition fee-free education.
We provided children with 1.6 million textbooks in 2011-12 and we will deliver a further 2.4 million in the next three years.
We will build up to 1100 classrooms and 450 teachers’ houses between 2012 and 2016.
We are working with the National Department of Education to improve systems and workforce capacity and we are funding teacher training.
We are also working with the Office of Higher Education and the universities to raise the quality of PNG’s universities.
Through the Australia Awards program, 304 Papua New Guineans are studying in Australia and 50 more will begin studies next semester.
And under the Australia Awards PNG Facility – previously known as Scholarships PNG – we are selecting 160 people to study in Australia next year.
Under a new Australia Awards initiative, this year 450 Papua New Guineans started study in nursing, midwifery, community health work and education right here in Papua New Guinean institutions.
Working with the Government of PNG, we want current and future generations to have the skills to build their own futures.
Through our education assistance, we hope we are making a direct contribution to equipping Papua New Guineans to be ‘ready for business’.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on this important day and I wish well in your deliberations.