Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Curtain, Sir Michael, KBE
I thank you for the call and I pose the question: how many of us here in this House ever give much thought to PNG, our former colony, our nearest neighbour, a country of now some seven million people which has an economy that is growing at about nine per cent a year? It is just a 20 minute canoe ride from our northernmost islands and, for better or for worse, history and geography means that our destiny is entwined with that of our northern neighbour. Sadly, most Australians—even Australians who regard themselves as well informed—scarcely give PNG a second thought even though Port Moresby is probably the one capital in the world where our ambassador counts for more than the ambassador of the United States.
One Australian who gave a great deal of thought and lavished a great deal of care on PNG, who changed both our country and PNG for the better, was Sir Mick Curtain, who died on Sunday in Townsville.
Mick and his brothers first went to PNG back in 1966 as construction engineers. When most Australian businesses left PNG in the aftermath of independence in 1975, Mick deepened his involvement. He liked the people, he was prepared to adapt to local circumstances and he believed in PNG's future. He was the developer par excellence in a country which desperately needed development. He built roads, he built dams and he built airstrips. He did most of the work for the LNG project that has transformed PNG's economy and, most recently, he built Port Moresby's new port at Motukea. For at least two decades he has been PNG's biggest builder, and he certainly has helped to transform the country.
As those of us who have been to PNG know, there are many social problems. It is one of the reasons my government redeployed Australian Federal Police to Port Moresby. It is nevertheless a vastly more sophisticated place than it was 30 years ago, and Mick Curtain was one of the people who helped to bring that about. He was not someone who sought comfort. He did not seek fame. He certainly never sought a rich man's lifestyle. He sought to make a difference in the country of his birth and in the country of his adoption, and he did that abundantly. We need more Australians with Mick Curtain's sense of adventure, with his sense of calling and in particular with his interest in the peoples and islands of the South Pacific. This is the one region of the world where Australia has unique standing and an unrivalled capacity to make a difference, and we neglect it at our peril.
I noticed today that Mike Smith, the respected former boss of ANZ, was calling on Australian businesspeople not to be scared of getting involved in Asia. Forty years ago, Mick Curtain was not scared of getting involved in an even more challenging market, the market of PNG. He has stayed there for all this time and has made a magnificent difference to that country.
I am pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister and I had the chance to pay our respects to Mick in Townsville a few weeks ago. I am pleased that this parliament has now paused for a few moments to acknowledge a shrewd businessman and a real pioneer who helped to build two nations and who is no longer with us. I offer my condolences and, I am sure, the condolences of this parliament to Lady Jennifer and the Curtain family.