Address to the 2010 Australia-PNG Business Forum, Townsville
Australian High Commissioner Ian Kemish AM
Foreign Minister Mr Sam Abal, Mr Peter Baxter, Director General of AusAID, Acting Mayor of Townsville David Crisafulli, Presidents of the APNG Business Council Ian Clarke and Phil Franklin, Gerea Aopi, President of the PNG Business Council, ladies and gentlemen.
It is an honour to join you here in Townsville for this important occasion. The extent of participation in this conference, including ministerial participation on both sides today and tomorrow, is testimony to the strength of the links between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It is also testimony to the constructive role of the business community, on both sides of the water, in that relationship.
This is a good time for Australia and Papua New Guinea.
We have an unusual relationship. Our histories are intertwined in ways that are sometimes underestimated. Just like a personal relationship between any two close friends, it has been through its ups and downs. It has steadily matured over time, reflecting changes in our respective societies.
We Australians sometimes need to remind ourselves of the speed with which our own society is changing. Immigration is one of several drivers in social change here in Australia along with the extraordinary pace of Australia’s integration with the global economy.
Change and development in Papua New Guinea is an issue in which every member of this audience has an interest – and expertise. Any one of you could stand up here and provide a considered view on this subject. Like some of you, my own perspective recalls, through the misty prism of childhood memory, a long-ago PNG – supplemented by occasional dips in and out at intermediate stages.
About four months into my latest encounter with Papua New Guinea, one thing is clear: the country we all know and love is currently embarked on a critical phase in its own historical journey.
The Australian Government is delighted for Papua New Guinea that it is in the fortunate position of contemplating a bright economic future. We understand and support PNG’s determination to move to a new kind of relationship, on a more equal economic footing.
Having worked to assemble the significant international investment required for the PNG LNG project, PNG is expanding its international trade and investment relationships and portfolio of world class major resource projects. We look forward soon to seeing Ramu, Hidden Valley, and Frieda River, join Ok Tedi, Porgera and Lihir as major contributors to the PNG economy.
And it needs also to be emphasized that the non-resource sector remains not only important but critical to the country’s future. We are committed to helping Papua New Guinea strive to reach its enormous potential in the agriculture sector, and will not allow this important work to be derailed by the focus elsewhere.
But LNG is a legitimate focus for any discussion about PNG just now. Financial close on the project was a major achievement by any standards, and the Australian Government’s support for PNG’s efforts to realise economic self-sufficiency are signalled clearly by the financial assistance we have extended through the EFIC loan. Broader Australian participation in the project extends of course to our major banks, not to mention Santos and Oil Search and many other Australian contracting parties, most if not all of whom are represented in this room.
Standing here in my home state of Queensland, I am reminded that PNG is not the only country set to experience an LNG boom. There are extraordinary parallels between our two countries right now, as we each seek to maximise the benefits of resource booms, while managing the risks.
I say this for only one reason – to underline that our work to support PNG in developing economic policy frameworks for an LNG world are not based on some abstract, theoretical approach. Rather our collaboration reflects a shared practical preoccupation.
Australia is pleased to be assisting PNG, under a bilateral Joint Understanding, to establish sovereign wealth funds for the effective management of LNG revenue. This is an area in which I have been personally involved over the last several months, and I feel we are making steady progress.
And of course the Australian Government – and therefore the High Commission - strongly supports Australian commercial engagement with the project.
As development partners we are also working to ensure that, as with its resources endowment, the wealth inherent in PNG’s human capital is realised.
In a range of ways we are taking a fresh look at the development relationship this year. The development relationship is a legitimate area of interest to the business community – I haven’t yet met anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about it anyway!
Others will speak of the aid program in more detail, and with more authority – notably Bob McMullan and Peter Baxter.
I would just note that skills development looms large in our discussions in Port Moresby as key to PNG’s future. Business stands to benefit from government-to-government efforts in this field, and in our work to improve health services and law and order. Business can also make a contribution in these fields. And it does. Business already has had success in promoting social causes in PNG, notably through initiatives against HIV/AIDS and in support of good governance.
Business has spoken with an increasingly clear voice in recent times on governance and the corrosive effects of corruption – issues which remain of clear concern to Australia, and are also an ongoing subject of discussion between the two governments. It is clear from recent events that the media and civil society are alive and well in PNG, in part thanks to the support of the business sector.
Given its expertise in the delivery of services and infrastructure, business is an attractive partner for development agencies.
Through dialogue with governments, business can also perform an advisory role, to improve efficiencies, facilitate growth, and mitigate boom-bust cycles. It seems very clear to me already that there is untapped potential for greater cooperation here.
High economic growth – forecast at 8.5% in 2010 – creates opportunities, and also challenges, including getting capacity and economic policy settings right.
We applaud PNG for looking to build on its telecommunications and airline sector reforms through improvements to infrastructure, education, training and health.
We are also encouraged by the strong interest of Australian businesses in deepening their engagement in PNG, including particularly here in North Queensland, where so many businesses have serious credentials and a real history with PNG.
Assisted by proximity and for many, existing partnerships, Australian firms bring capacity and best practice, as well as being good for economic relations.
Close cooperation between business and government is essential; governments can’t act alone. I commend the role of the APNGBC and join others in remembering Henry Kila’s outstanding personal contribution.
As a relatively new High Commissioner, I commit myself to supporting the private sector’s interest in engaging more substantially in our formal bilateral exchanges.
I appreciate the PNG business community’s efforts to foster consideration within PNG of PACER Plus, notably through its workshop in 2009.
Some may be concerned that PACER Plus will lead to tariff reductions. I encourage them to consider the opportunities PACER Plus offers. Again, others more authoritative than me will speak to this theme.
At this stage of my current assignment I am encouraged that Australia and PNG are working hard to ensure that as circumstances develop the bilateral relationship evolves to remain relevant and mutually beneficial. We in Government feel very strongly supported by the private sector.
As we recommit to the relationship today, 35 years after Papua New Guinea’s independence, it seems to me that the strong people links, cultivated over the last century and which so clearly underpin goodwill, need to be continually renewed as new generations emerge.
It is, in the end, about people. We all understand that business is dedicated to the accumulation of profit. I know, though, that all Australians present, will agree with me when I say that we want to ensure our ever- deeper trade and investment ties – like our work on LNG, like our aid program – support the efforts of Papua New Guinea to bring benefit to all its citizens.
This should not be seen as a charitable thought. After all, the vision of a prosperous Papua New Guinea, with the full participation of the population in a diversified and dynamic economy, is in Australia’s national interest.
Thank you for your attention.