House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Delegation Reports

Parliamentary Delegation to Papua New Guinea

10:40 am

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am delighted to speak to this report as a member of the parliamentary delegation to Papua New Guinea and, importantly, as someone who holds a firm belief that Australia's international diplomacy would be well served by a significantly increased focus on our region. I believe that the best use of our resources, knowledge and support is in assisting our regional friends and neighbours. In difficult economic times we can achieve so much more in our own backyard. These views are reinforced by my visits to Papua New Guinea—a good friend and a good ally.

The links between our nations are not merely the links of geography. The link that highlights our closeness is the friendship between people. From the desperate days of World War 2, when Papua New Guineans stood steadfastly beside us, to the ready support demonstrated by PNG's response to our requests for assistance on Manus Island, to the thousands of students educated in Australia, these links have helped to define our relationship. Yes, Australia has provided substantial assistance to PNG over the years, but the point I make is that it is not a one-way street. I know from my own experience of the importance of friendships made by PNG students and their Australian classmates going back over generations at schools like Marist Brothers Ashgrove, Brisbane Boys College and St Peter's, in my electorate of Ryan. In Australia there is a great saying: mates look after mates. The people of Papua New Guinea have been strong and true mates for generations, always there to support us—and that is something that we should never forget.

It is against this background that we should recognise that the time has come for Australia and PNG to build a relationship as one of equals, of good friends who come to the table to work together for our mutual benefit. What is good for Papua New Guinea is good for Australia. Together as friends we need to shift our relationship to one of economic and social partnership, particularly as PNG has already set out on the journey of managing an increasingly strong economy built on resources but showing genuine awareness of the importance of health, education, infrastructure and, importantly, the status of women. The delegation's visit reinforced that view.

I am not saying that PNG is without problems. It faces all the challenges of a developing country and it is essential that we provide our ongoing support as PNG builds on its vigorous democracy and strong national institutions to fight the challenges that beset developing countries across the globe: the challenges of corruption, the challenges of geographic isolation of many of their people, continuing violence against women and unequal economic development, as well as successful completion of the peace process in Bougainville.

Our meetings on this visit with PNG leaders such as Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato and Treasurer Don Polye and with Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on my previous visits demonstrated the fact that the leadership of Papua New Guinea has more firsthand experience and knowledge of Australia than many of our leaders do of PNG. Simply put, PNG leaders often come to Australia without hoopla and fanfare. On our side, apart from a few, our visits tend to be short and formal. I have been joined on visits at various times by the members for Herbert and Kooyong and Senator Ian Macdonald. Of course, the shadow minister for foreign affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, has met frequently with PNG leaders both here and in Papua New Guinea. She has a real understanding of our relationship and where it should go. I also make special mention of member for Macquarie, Louise Markus, who has a special understanding of Papua New Guinea and the former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, who is very well respected.

As I have noted previously in this place, the most telling point of this visit was the renewed sense of optimism that I found in Papua New Guinea. Today I wish to acknowledge the importance of visits like this—and, indeed, on this occasion, it coincided with Australia Week and a very thought provoking speech by the Reverend Tim Costello. Like the speaker before me, the member for Newcastle, I wish to acknowledge the support and assistance of the Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Deborah Stokes, and her staff, who assisted with our trip. It is only by getting to know our friends and by understanding their challenges and achievements that we can best build the informed and effective relationship that true friendship demands.


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