Monday, 3 June 2013
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a good friend of Australia's. They always have been, particularly from World War II to today. When we have asked for support and help, Papua New Guinea has been there. From the 'fuzzy wuzzy angels' to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea has been a steadfast friend. For that reason I was delighted to take up the opportunity to visit PNG again as part of a joint party parliamentary delegation. Over the six-day journey we travelled from the capital of Port Moresby to the buzzing resource hub of Lae. We met with a wide cross-section of people ranging from the Treasurer of PNG the Hon.Don Polye, the new Australian High Commissioner's Ms Deborah Stokes and her team to local businessmen, the Australian expatriate community and a collection of dedicated workers from various non-government organisations and, importantly, Papua New Guinea citizens.
PNG's political and economic progress is of critical importance to Australia as it is to the citizens of Papua New Guinea. Our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea is facing all the challenges of a developing country. It is essential that we provide our ongoing support as PNG builds on its vigorous democracy to fight the challenges that beset developing countries across the globe—challenges of corruption, continuing violence against women, unequal economic development, effective delivery of government decisions as well as successful completion of the peace process in Bougainville.
The O'Neill government's policy of rebuilding infrastructure within PNG and the boost in spending on health and free education is offering real hope and opportunity. What stood out compared to previous visits was the renewed sense of optimism in New Guinea. We spoke with Treasurer Don Polye about his 2012 budget and about the O'Neill government's plans for PNG's future. Their budget provides for a 41 per cent increase in education spending, a 64 per cent increase in health and a 69 per cent increase for infrastructure.
These policies together with a renewed focus on financial transparency and proprietary are starting to deliver economic benefits for the people of Papua New Guinea, who have often felt alienated from any tangible outcomes of their unprecedented mineral and gas wealth over the last 40 years since independence. It must be said that implementation is and always remains an ongoing challenge for PNG and management of debt will be critical. Mr Polye explained how this O'Neill government budget is the largest ever—one of the 13 billion kina with the economy growing this year by 7.2 per cent, up from a budget estimate of four per cent. He views this as 'the people's budget' to ensure the benefits of strong economic growth are shared more equitably. Importantly, the Treasurer's economic plan, unlike his Australian counterpart, is to lower the cost of living for the PNG people. Mr Polye confirmed that with the first gas expected to be exported in 2014 from the PNG LNG project and the proposed second LNG project, the government will continue with its implementation of the PNG sovereign wealth fund to manage these revenues to underpin long-term social and economic development needs of the country.
Undoubtedly PNG's mining industry, like Australia's, faces the challenges of an uncertain world economy and questions about the rate of growth in China. These challenges are particularly relevant to the potential of notable projects like Freida River, Woodlark, Nautilus and Marengo Mining's Yandera project. The PNG LNG project is of particular interest to Australia with Oilsearch and Santos being key partners in the project. We met with Peter Graham, the managing director of Esso Highlands, the lead company of the PNG LNG project. The first LNG deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2014. So far 80 per cent of the project construction is delivered. There are currently over 19,000 people working on the project. As Mr Graham points out, for many of the PNG workers on the project this was their first foray into work, particularly in the resources sector. To support these workers, over 1.6 million hours and 280 million kina was provided for training to help them develop the skills needed for the project. Significantly, the total direct cash flow to the PNG government and landowners from the LNG project is estimated at $US31.7 billion, or 114 billion kina, over the 30-year life of the project. We also had the opportunity to visit Mick Curtain's remarkable Motukea project, which will be a great asset for the whole region.
During our time in Port Moresby we met with various local community groups. Two organisations that stood out were the Australian funded Australia-Pacific Technical College and Ginigoada Bisnis Development Foundation. APTC, a Howard government initiative, is part of an AusAID funded Pacific program that provides high-quality technical training. The Ginigoada Bisnis Development Foundation conducts five programs aimed at empowering youth through developing skills such as basic literacy, financial literacy, pre-employment skills and development programs. This is critical in PNG as there is a massive shortfall in job opportunities for high school graduates, with over 60 per cent having no further education or training. These programs highlight the opportunity for the Australian government to support simple but effective opportunities for people in developing countries to help themselves.
When I visited PNG previously, I saw first-hand the dire need for better maternal and child healthcare. Currently, PNG has the highest mortality rate in childbirth in the Asia-Pacific, where less than 40 per cent of women deliver their babies under skilled supervision. The recent budget increases in health are an important step forward. I am also proud that AusAID is providing more than $100 million in the 2012-13 financial year. This contributes to the essential training of midwives, community health workers and nurses, the distribution of essential medical supplies and the immunisation of children. I again visited the Port Moresby General Hospital, where Australia is converting our aid money into important health outcomes for the community—words easily said but actions that save lives, change lives and give families genuine support. I take this opportunity to congratulate the new chairman, Sir Theo (George) Constantinou, and his hospital board members, Kathy Johnston, deputy chairman, John Mangos of Digicel and Peter Graham, among others, on their work to upgrade Port Moresby Hospital.
WaterAid, a non-government organisation that improves access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the Highlands, is also having a positive impact. Their country convenor, Rick Steele, described in great detail their project in the Sepik, where they have completed work on a water supply and sanitation system for eight remote villages. So far they have built more than 1,000 toilets in addition to showers and rainwater tanks in eight primary schools. In conjunction with both local government and church groups, WaterAid is providing a fundamental service in PNG, where only 40 per cent of the population have healthy water supplies and sanitation. Currently Australia only spends one per cent of its aid program on sanitation and this figure needs to be lifted.
We also had the opportunity to visit Lae in the Highlands and speak with Governor of Morobe Kelly Naru to see the amazing progress occurring in the region. One of the most interesting organisations we inspected was the Lae City Mission's Suambu Plantation, a 150-acre fruit plantation that has become the home for up to 150 homeless and underprivileged youth who come to Suambu seeking a second chance in life and looking for vocational and agricultural training and employment opportunities. The mission feeds, clothes and provides accommodation and medical treatment for these youth free of charge. They are then assisted to find permanent employment with their new skills, which are in high demand currently in Lae.
Our week-long tour of Papua New Guinea this year has given me a greater sense of optimism. The new world of possibilities provided by the large development projects funded by the resources boom and the new focus of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's government as they continue to tackle transparency in government, infrastructure projects and education and health in the country are highlighting the way forward for one of our youngest and most exciting regional neighbours. It was also great to meet up with Rimbink Pato, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, who spoke to us about progress with dual citizenship in Papua New Guinea and the current situation on Manus Island and reiterated Prime Minister O'Neill's strong views about the need for Australia to offer PNG citizens the same ETA visa rights as we do for some 40 other countries around the world.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the recent visit to Papua New Guinea by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. States can play an important role in supporting our near neighbours, and it is clear that Campbell and Prime Minister O'Neill were able to quickly agree on some key areas of support, with policing and health at the forefront. The proposed hospital at Daru, together with Queensland's support, will allow the highest calibre in-country treatment in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis, an outcome important for both the people of PNG and the Torres Strait.
Australia has important obligations in assisting our regional friends and neighbours, not in a patronising way but as a genuine friend. I am honoured as an Australian that we have such good friends—indeed, such steadfast friends—as Papua New Guinea.