Monday, 24 June 2013
Parliamentary Delegation to Papua New Guinea
I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Papua New Guinea, 8 April to 13 April 2013. From 8 to 13 April this year I was privileged to lead the Parliamentary Delegation to Papua New Guinea. The purpose of the visit was to allow Australian parliamentarians to engage with the parliament of Papua New Guinea around issues of mutual importance to our longstanding relationship. With Papua New Guinea being one of Australia's largest aid recipients, having received approximately $493.2 million in official development assistance this financial year, the delegation also wished to engage with stakeholder organisations and representatives to learn more about the current state of economic and social development in Papua New Guinea and to be informed specifically about programs being delivered there by AusAID.
As the delegation's visit took place in the lead-up to Anzac Day, the delegation also laid wreaths at the Bomana and Lae war cemeteries. The delegation visited the capital, Port Moresby, and visited Lae, the capital of Morobe Province. At both locations the delegation met with government officials, business representatives and local service providers, in addition to engaging in tours of major infrastructure. Matters discussed during these meetings and tours included the broader trade investment and aid program between countries, financial transparency, immigration, parliament to parliament assistance, further developing the capability of Papua New Guinea's public sector, agency to agency exchange between the two countries, women's electoral participation, ending violence against women, the availability of and access to education and vocational training and improving health outcomes.
The benefits of economic development from foreign investment into Papua New Guinea were discussed and observed in the context of major infrastructure projects such as the Papua New Guinea liquid natural gas project, major improvement and modernisation of the Lae Port and the Motukea Island international wharf project.
The delegation learnt of the challenges facing the delivery of health care in metropolitan and rural Papua New Guinea through a visit to the Port Moresby General Hospital and the National Orthotic and Prosthetic Service and witnessed the tireless work being undertaken by healthcare workers and the generosity of donors from the private sector in support of their services. The delegation was informed that funding to improve health outcomes in Papua New Guinea is aimed at improving access to health services for those who may not otherwise be able to receive services because of financial disadvantage, long distance or underlying societal inequities such as low status in society, limited education and exposure to gender based violence.
In learning about the progress and delivery of education and vocational programs, the delegation visited and met with representatives of the Australian-Pacific Technical College in Port Moresby and the National Polytechnic Institute of Papua New Guinea in Lae. The delegation heard about the challenges faced by education institutions and the achievements they had accomplished in assisting to upskill graduates and improve worker mobility across the Pacific region. The Australian government is continuing to work with the government of Papua New Guinea to improve health, education and training, administrative, and law and order outcomes, which in the longer term are expected to yield positive economic results for Papua New Guinea. The delegation believes that progress could be assisted by increased strategic government funding into health and education services and into programs to improve the skills base of its people.
Importantly, the delegation also heard about the work being undertaken to assist victims of gender based violence by one of the eight family and sexual violence units established across Papua New Guinea as a result of funding from the Australia government under the PNG-Australia Law and Justice Partnership. In addition, programs to assist in supporting victims of family and sexual violence and programs to assist in women's empowerment are expected to improve societal attitudes and meet global development goals. There is currently a high level of foreign investment in Papua New Guinea which is expected to also make a sustained positive impact on the economy and which the government of Papua New Guinea is best placed to divest by establishing mechanisms for national wealth sharing.
I would like to thank all those who gave their time to meet the delegation to discuss issues of mutual interest to Australia and Papua New Guinea. I would also like to thank Her Excellency Deborah Stokes, Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea; Ms Margaret Adamson, the deputy head of mission at the High Commission, and AusAID officers who assisted and accompanied the delegation during its visit to Papua New Guinea. I also thank Stephanie Mikac of the Papua New Guinea secretariat, who supported our visit and our report. I thank the members of the delegation; I love it when we work so well together across the parties. I know this delegation was absolutely committed to seeing Papua New Guinea prosper. I commend the report to the House.
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.