Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

130418 - Senator Thistlethwaite Speech

Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs
Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs



15 April, 2013

I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Forum on behalf of the Australian Government on this, my first visit to Papua New Guinea.

The Business Forum is the highlight of the annual business calendar for Australian and Papua New Guinean companies working in each other's countries, and provides a unique opportunity to exchange information, make new contacts and explore new opportunities.

I acknowledge the work of the two sister organisations, the Australia-PNG Business Council and the Business Council of PNG, in making this event happen, and their long-term commitment to fostering business ties between our two countries.
I also want to take this opportunity to say how honoured I was to have been asked by Prime Minister Gillard to take on the position of Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs.

The Pacific region, of which PNG is such a dynamic and vital part, is of great significance to Australia.

Our political and security links have grown rapidly as the countries have recognised common interests in protecting the region's resources, and responding to the challenges of climate change.

And economic ties are expanding rapidly, as the countries of the region – foremost among them PNG – become fully integrated into the global economy.

I'm excited to be in this position at such a dynamic time, and look forward to working with the Governments of the Pacific, and with the business communities, to address the challenges we face, and take advantage of the opportunities.
I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Richard Marles, who communicated to all he met his enthusiasm for the position and for the region.

I look forward to building on his work.

For all Richard's enthusiasm, I believe that as a proud supporter of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, I can honestly say I will bring more passion to one area, the great game of Rugby League.

I know that League is beloved of many Papua New Guineans, and is an important point of engagement between our two countries.

I, along with many Australians, will be following with interest the Kumuls' progress under their new coach Mal Meninga.
And we look forward to hopefully competing against PNG at the Rugby League World Cup to be held in England and Wales later this year.

Mal's ambition to turn Papua New Guinea into a world power in the game is very achievable.

Not just because of his incredible coaching ability – which I acknowledge even though I'm a Blues supporter – but also because of the raw talent among the Papua New Guinean players.

The Australia-Papua New Guinea relationship

I have been struck since I arrived by the warmth of my reception, and by the positive feelings Papua New Guineans have towards Australia.

We certainly share much in common – geography, history and a common political heritage.

Our two peoples also share many ties – personal, family and sporting - and many Australians and Papua New Guineans now live in each other's countries.

There is also a long tradition of Papua New Guinean students choosing to study in Australia.

I understand that up to 12,000 Australians are in PNG at any one time, while around 27,000 Australians can claim PNG as their birthplace.

Tourism and cultural exchanges between the two countries are also on the rise.

These links help drive the political and business relationships.

The diversity of our relationship was brought home to me earlier this month when I attended the first Australia-PNG Roundtable at Victoria's Deakin University.

The Roundtable brought together senior government and non-government leaders from both countries, and provided them with an opportunity to discuss the future of the relationship, and to think about ways in which our two countries can work together in the future.

The discussions highlighted the growing diversity of the relationship, and the opportunities for us to work together.
The PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum held in Port Moresby in December 2012 was a testament to the growing complexity and importance of our bilateral relationship.

Australia's delegation included the Foreign, Trade, Immigration and Home Affairs ministers, as well as my predecessor.
The communique for that Forum noted the maturing of the bilateral relationship, and dealt with the proposed Economic Cooperation Treaty, immigration and people smuggling issues, law and justice cooperation, the defence partnership, and people-to-people links.

The Development Partnership

There is no doubt that a key component of our relationship is our development assistance program.

Like other developing countries with rich resource wealth, PNG faces some difficult political and development challenges Australia's development assistance program is designed to work in partnership with the Government of PNG to address these challenges.

Our Partnership for Development, the framework through which our assistance is delivered, is negotiated with the PNG Government and is focused on its own development priorities.

Although four priority sectors – health, education, transport and infrastructure, and law and justice – are identified in the Partnership, all address PNG's infrastructure needs, which the PNG Government has rightly identified as one of its most pressing challenges.

The Australian Government, for instance, has helped construct 506 new classrooms, 163 teacher houses and 11 libraries and administration blocks across PNG.

We've helped upgrade Kerevat National High School, the Divine Word University, the PNG Maritime College and Notre Dame Secondary school.

Australian funding has also helped upgrade the Vanimo General Hospital, constructed 14 Sexually Transmissible Infection clinics and helped upgrade and construct midwifery schools across PNG.

We've also helped construct and rehabilitate six court houses and justice complexes.

And in 2013, we'll launch Phase III of the PNG-Australia Policing Partnership.

In addition to this, AusAID's Transport Sector Support Program, through which Australia commits some A$65 million each year, helps maintain more than 2,100 kilometres of PNG priority roads.

The impact of our ongoing commitment to improving major roads in Papua New Guinea should not be underestimated.
Take, for example, Bougainville, where maintaining 500 kilometres of important roads has helped to cut travel times from 8-9 hours 10 years ago, to just three hours today.

Australia is also providing policy and advisory support to Bougainville's government transport agency, as well as seven other transport agencies in PNG.

Australian funding for major maintenance and rehabilitation works on PNG's 16 National Priority Highways means that the core transport network carrying the vast bulk of commercial traffic remains serviceable, and the communities along those roads can access basic services such as clinics, schools and markets.

In addition to our infrastructure work, we're also helping PNG address gaps in such areas as customs and immigration, which are so essential to facilitating business and private sector investment.

And we're also working to encourage transparency, which will be critical to ensuring the benefits of economic growth are fairly distributed across the population.

Australia's support for PNG's efforts to establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund to help manage the benefits of the minerals and LNG boom are an example of this work.

We've assisted the PNG government in designing the Sovereign Wealth Fund and the Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill that was passed by the PNG government last year.

And we're now focused on building capacity among PNG officials in the policy and administrative secretariats through placements, secondments and education training programs.

As the PNG Government has acknowledged, a well-designed SWF, consistent with international principles of transparency and accountability will help ensure that the economic gains of the LNG project flow through to every day Papua New Guineans.

The Australia-PNG Business relationship

What's struck me most so far on this visit is the overwhelming sense of optimism about Papua New Guinea's future.
With over ten years of continuous growth, PNG stands today as one of the world's fastest growing economies.
The minerals boom and the development of the PNG LNG project have undoubtedly been a major part of this story.
Australian business has shared in the benefits of this boom.

Australian companies have contracts related to PNG LNG project worth around $3 billion alone.
In 2012, Australia's goods trade with Papua New Guinea rose to $6 billion, nearly 5 per cent higher than the previous year.

Two way trade stands at A$7 billion.

Australian investment in PNG, now valued at more than A$16 billion and exceeding our investment in China, has also benefited from the LNG and minerals boom, having grown fivefold over five years ago.

The Australian Government believes that the Economic Cooperation Treaty, negotiated in 2011-12 and initialled by Foreign Ministers at the Ministerial Forum in December 2012, will encourage further growth in our economic relationship.
It's not a free trade agreement and does not replace existing arrangements on trade, such as the PACER Plus negotiations.

Rather the Economic Cooperation Treaty is an umbrella agreement, bringing together trade and economic cooperation with development assistance.

Australia will continue to look for ways in which it can further promote economic cooperation with Papua New Guinea, and to smooth the path for business.

In this respect, I'm pleased to note that the PNG-Australia Business and Officials' Committee, an initiative of the APNGBC and the BCPNG, held its fourth meeting last Friday (12 April).

The Committee is developing into an important forum through which the business communities in our two countries can directly address and discuss their issues and concerns with government officials.

It has enhanced understanding on all sides of our respective priorities and, I believe, will help resolve problems which impede trade and economic links.

I'd like to again thank you for inviting me to speak at this forum.

I'm truly excited to be in this role during this exciting time for PNG and for relations between our two countries.

Managed well, the current economic boom has the potential to transform the lives of many Papua New Guineans.

But still there are many great challenges and improving infrastructure is one of them.

I look forward to meeting you and getting to know you as we work to expand the economic ties between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

It's a relationship where we have so much more to explore.

It is abundantly clear that our two countries have not only a long, shared history, but that our common futures are entwined, and that we have a mutual commitment to an enduring partnership.