House debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Private Members' Business

Papua New Guinea-Australia Policing Partnership

5:46 pm

Photo of Trevor EvansTrevor Evans (Brisbane, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the ongoing work of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in the Pacific to keep our region safe and support our neighbours;

(2) recognises the Australian Government and the AFP's commitment to supporting our neighbour, Papua New Guinea (PNG), and the capacity building of the Royal PNG Constabulary;

(3) congratulates the Australian Government for announcing in January 2017 the extension of the PNG Australia Policing Partnership with 73 AFP personnel assisting PNG in planning for the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; and

(4) recognises that the:

(a) increasingly transnational nature of crime, including illegal movement of drugs, weapons and people, highlights the importance of cooperation between Australia and PNG; and

(b) Australian and PNG governments share an important and enduring relationship, which will be further strengthened through this investment in law enforcement.

I move this motion in strong support of the men and women of the Australian Federal Police who have for many years worked alongside, and who are still working alongside, some of our closest Pacific neighbours, such as Papua New Guinea. Today in question time I asked the foreign minister about our government's role when it comes to safety and security both here and abroad. It is absolutely vital that Australia continues to play a strong role in supporting our nearest neighbours like PNG as close friends, as trading partners, as developing economies and as democracies that, we acknowledge, have seen their fair share of challenges, including recent natural disasters.

I think it is right and I think it is fair that we work together to deal with the increasing threat of crime that now exists both across borders and throughout our region. Earlier this year the Australian government announced a $48 million extension of our longstanding policing partnership with our close and dear friend and Pacific neighbour Papua New Guinea. The 18-month extension to the Papua New Guinea-Australia policing partnership will extend the agreement through to the end of 2018, which will then mark 10 years since the partnership commenced. Over this period of time both of our police forces have worked very closely together in making both of our nations safer, more stable and more secure. This additional funding will ensure the continued presence of 73 Australian Federal Police personnel in Papua New Guinea and assist them in planning for the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

This is the first time that PNG will host APEC. The forum is a big opportunity for them and it will provide a significant prospect for their nation, with around 10,000 delegates attending from around the world; world leaders, dignitaries and media will be in attendance. This is an opportunity for our close friend and neighbour PNG to showcase its country, its friendly people, its tourist attractions and its industry right around the world. In the lead-up to APEC 2018 about 56 personnel from the Australian Federal Police will have a dedicated advisory role specifically related to the planning of that forum. Through the PNG-Australia policing partnership, AFP personnel will be providing best practice advice on law enforcement to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. The personnel will be providing specialist advice, training and rehearsing the RPNGC capabilities in major event planning, close personal protection, maritime, canine work, bomb searches, traffic, airports, intelligence and investigations. The remaining 17 AFP personnel will continue to work to strengthen custody management practices, juvenile justice matters and some very specific crime prevention and response priorities, and to work generally to continue to improve the capability and the professionalism of the RPNGC.

The increasingly transnational nature of crime—including the illegal movement of drugs, for instance, and weapons and people—highlights the very important nature of cooperation between Australia and our close Pacific neighbours. We all share an important and enduring relationship. We share custodianship of the South Pacific, and this will be further strengthened through this investment in law enforcement capacities in our region.

I have previously spoken in this chamber about my deep affinity with the people in the Asia-Pacific region. I am someone who has been fortunate enough to visit most of these countries and most of our nearest neighbours, and all around the region I have seen the smiling faces, the infrastructure, the trade and the other clear evidence there is that Australia's cooperation, collaboration and help with our nearest neighbours is making a huge difference for the benefit of humanity in our region. On Friday last week I was at an Australian aid event in Brisbane, where I managed to speak very briefly with PNG's acting consul in Brisbane, Jimmy U Ovia, and with the High Commissioner of the Solomon Islands, His Excellency Mr Collin Beck. I understand that the very successful RAMSI, Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, will be winding up soon, after the great cooperation shown over very many years between our AFP officers and 14 other nations who are contributing in the Solomon Islands.

I asked both of these representatives from our Pacific neighbours about this motion, and they wanted me to pass on to this House the very strong thanks of their countries. Congratulations to our AFP officers on all of their great work.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Murray, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

5:52 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Unquestionably, the work that has, and continues to be, undertaken by the Australian Federal Police in the Pacific is first class, and is a credit to the many fine men and women who dedicate themselves to protecting our community and that of others. Currently there are approximately 70 police officers deployed in PNG as unarmed advisers to the Royal PNG Constabulary, who are working very closely with them in the lead-up to next year's APEC conference.

The AFP officers are playing a very significant role in raising a police profile in the community so that the people of PNG can feel a real connection with the police. They are building a more professional policing identity. The AFP officers are making a real difference, and this can be evidenced by just two incidents, which I will cite. The first is a motorcycle course that has been led by AFP Inspector Mike Smith, which has seen members of the PNG Constabulary go from just being able to ride pushbikes to now taking part in a motorcade. Another example is the work being led by Commander Scott Lee, who has overseen a condemned watch house being upgraded to a fully functional modern watch house and holding cells. These are only two examples of the many ways the AFP is making a difference in the Pacific.

However, all this hard work does not seem to be appreciated by this government, who are currently expecting members of the AFP to accept an enterprise agreement that will leave them worse off. Despite the nature of their work, the AFP is being treated as just another Public Service department when it comes to their enterprise agreement. The Australian Federal Police Association president, Angela Smith, and vice-president, Graeme Cooper, have been pressing Minister Keenan for some time now about the deficiencies of the government's bargaining policy when it comes to operational policing. The minister does not miss a photo opportunity with police and certainly boasts that we have the best-trained officers in the world, but clearly he is not prepared to back his officers when it comes to their current enterprise agreement.

We know that policing comes with a high degree of risk and dangers that, thankfully, most of us will never have to face. We are indebted to those men and women who are brave enough to wear the police uniform and to put their lives at risk to defend our safety and our way of life. Yet in return for an unsatisfactory pay offer, the AFP members are being expected to work an additional week each year, have less rest time between shifts, work excessive hours with fewer people, have inadequate protection and compensation, all the while being expected to give away a percentage of their salary. Understandably, the Australian Federal Police Association cannot support an agreement which will set a new low for attacks on police officers' wages and conditions.

I am advised from the feedback of members of the Australian Federal Police that they are insulted by the way they are being treated by this government and by being expected to support the government's predetermined Public Service outcome. To be clear, our Federal Police officers are being asked to accept a wage deal that will see them lose pay and conditions, at a time when last week the Australian Defence Force hierarchy concluded an agreement with the government on a new three-year deal that carries a pay increase of two per cent per year with no loss of conditions. How is the way the Australian Federal Police are being treated fair? I support our police and I challenge those opposite to not just give us mealy-mouthed words but to also do the same.

It is all very well to come in here and make speeches about how good and how brave our police are in protecting and servicing our community but, when it comes to payday, we will treat them like any other public servant. We are talking about people who do put the uniform on, who do take the risks that thankfully the rest of us will never have to face, who do take their job so seriously that, regrettably, some have lost their lives in their deployments yet when it comes to payday, they are being confronted by a Public Service agreement which fails to recognise the significance of the work they undertake.

This is a government that, as I say, wants to come to most question times and boast about the funding that they are giving to the Australian Federal Police to accommodate operational requirements. Yet when it comes to their pay and conditions, the government are doing the exact opposite. It should serve people to be a little bit more honest when they come into this place. Do not just treat these people as just another group of workers; treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.

5:57 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Murray, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to commend Mr Evans on the motion he has moved before the House this evening, which acknowledges the work the Australian Federal Police are doing in the Pacific to keep our neighbours as safe as possible. I heard what the previous speaker from the opposition said but this is about an investment of an additional $48 million to extend the long-term partnership we have with our Pacific neighbours and with Papua New Guinea. This extension is going to lead into the Asia-Pacific economic forum. There is a whole range of developments going on in Port Moresby to host this forum. I had the opportunity to go there late last year on a Save the Children trip. It was certainly a real eye-opener for someone who was not aware of some of the social climes that are a dynamic of the Papua New Guinean society.

One of the real issues with PNG at the minute is that its revenue is so heavily linked to the oil price. With the oil price spiralling downwards over the last few years, PNG has had its revenue practically halved within 12 to 18 months, down from around $40 billion in the previous financial year to around $8 billion. Therefore, PNG relies on overseas countries like Australia to continue to help support and make PNG safe in a whole range of different areas and this support is absolutely critical.

PNG is an absolute paradise when you go to experience it; however, it is an absolute victim of its own violence. It is devoid of tourism because it is simply too violent to attract tourists from around the world. It is violent for women, with over 90 per cent of the female population of New Guinea reporting serious domestic violence. It is violent for children—children are unable to walk to school until they can outrun an adult—and it is violent for its citizens.

This violence seems to be absolutely crippling the country from progressing into the modern era. There seems to be a total lack of acceptance and the political will do anything about this violence. It puts even more pressure on people such as the AFP as they set about putting in place a structure that is going to be able to make the streets of Port Moresby safe for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Again, what happens to a country that has no money? The first thing that you notice is that you go to hospitals that do not have any drugs and do not have any medicines. You go to hospitals where the staff have not been paid for months. You can go to libraries in schools where there are no books, and if it were not for the philanthropic nature of some of the big industries around PNG—namely, Oil Search—a whole range of these social norms that we expect here in Australia are simply gone without.

There is very heavy reliance on Oil Search to build sporting infrastructure, to build and run hospitals and to fund schools. It partners with Save the Children to assist with the PNG government in the APEC forum. Certainly, what we have to understand is that the population of PNG is absolutely burgeoning. Horrible infant mortality rates have been the norm for the previous 30 or 40 years, and now this country is coming out of that. They are having incredible, greater success in relation to having their infants continue into adult lives. This is going to see the population jump, effectively, towards 30 million people within 10 to 15 years.

We need to make sure that when we have 30 million people sitting just off our Queensland coast that they are lawful and understand the damage of mistreating women and children. We need our neighbours to have a lawful existence, which is not the case at the moment. So a huge priority has been placed on the work that the AFP are doing. They are building the capacity of the local forces as well and certainly making sure that this work gets done in the best way that it possibly can.

6:02 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The Pacific region, of which Papua New Guinea is such a dynamic and vital part, is of great significance to Australia. As the Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific Islands in the previous Labor government, I was fortunate to visit a number of Pacific Island nations and to work with those governments—in particular, Papua New Guinea. In 2013 I was pleased to open the 22-bed tuberculosis and isolation ward of the Daru General Hospital in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. That was part of Australia's $33 million commitment to support PNG's approach to the detection and treatment of TB in the Western Province. In government, Labor was keenly engaged in strengthening ties with our neighbours through such initiatives and also in the provision of aid, including in times of natural disaster.

As countries have recognised common interests in protecting the Pacific region's resources and responding to the challenges of climate change, political and security links across the region have grown. Economic ties have expanded as well, as the countries of the region, foremost amongst them Papua New Guinea, have become fully integrated into the global economy. Papua New Guinea has dynamic gas resources that are currently being exploited and which provide big opportunities for the nation—not only to increase their living standards but also to increase the national income of the country.

Australia and PNG also share many ties—business, personal, family and, of course, sporting. Many Australians and Papua New Guineans now live in each other's countries. There is a long tradition of Papua New Guinean students choosing to study in Australia. Tourism and cultural exchanges between the two countries are also on the rise. These links help to deepen our already close relationships.

For many years, defence policies have identified the need for Australia to play a role in the Pacific. Australia has supplied patrol boats throughout the Pacific, playing vital roles in such initiatives as the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.

Our aid footprint is also the largest in the Pacific, as is our diplomatic footprint. An important part of the partnership that Australia shares with Pacific island nations in work with those governments is through the Australian Federal Police. The Australian Federal Police have a great tradition of training and providing security deployments for Pacific island nations.

When I was in Papua New Guinea on my most recent trip, a few years ago, I was fortunate to visit the Department of Justice and Attorney General and to see firsthand the training that the AFP had been providing to police officers and to police prosecutors in prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence. We all know that domestic violence is a massive issue in the Pacific, in particular in Papua New Guinea. The training that the AFP were providing for these prosecutors and police officers working to combat domestic violence was first class.

The Gillard government also initiated the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program, which was a great success in improving the living standards of women, access to education and access to healthcare services and, importantly, combating domestic violence. It is a program that I am deeply proud of as a member of the Labor Party.

As this motion points out, Papua New Guinea will be hosting APEC in 2018. It will be a massive challenge for this nation and without a doubt the biggest international focus on Papua New Guinea in its modern history. Papua New Guinea and Australia undertake through the Australian Federal Police a policing partnership, with 73 AFP personnel working in that nation, working with the Papua New Guinean government, in preparation for APEC, ensuring that security is refined, ensuring that people who participate in this conference will be safe. That is something that the Australian people should be very, very proud of.

With such growth in the Papua New Guinean economy comes the potential magnification of issues that plague PNG now. With so much change and opportunity, Australia should seek to build our lasting ties and commonalities to work with our neighbours to the north and ensure a prosperous, secure future for a shared region. I congratulate the AFP for the work that they are doing in working with Papua New Guineans to improve security and to keep the Papua New Guinean public safe. We should all be very, very proud of the work of the Australian Federal Police.

6:07 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend this proposed resolution. It affords an opportunity too rare, I think, to speak about both Papua New Guinea and our relationship with PNG and indeed the Pacific. The proposed resolution speaks of congratulating the role of the Federal Police in PNG, and I would certainly add my congratulations to that. It speaks about an increase in numbers of the Federal Police being provided to PNG in the lead-up to APEC, which will be a huge moment in the history of PNG next year. Indeed, as I understand it—and I hope to go to PNG in a couple of months time—the holding of APEC next year is transforming Port Moresby and is really a huge development moment for PNG.

It is right to say that Australia's actions in the Pacific over a long period of time and in PNG have been very significant. It is, for example, the largest Defence Cooperation Program that we have. Our development assistance relationship with PNG has at times been the largest that we have had. It has always been consistently in the top two or three. One of our largest missions in the world is our diplomatic mission that is in PNG. We have a significant presence in Papua New Guinea. It reflects a history that we have with PNG, and it also reflects the fact that PNG matters. PNG deeply matters. It is a country which is 50 per cent bigger than New Zealand. It is right there, in the sense that there are people, each and every day, who commute from PNG across the Torres Strait to work in Australia under a unique treaty which exists between the two countries and which allows that movement of people to go to work each and every day.

There are a whole lot of issues that face PNG that are relevant to us. There are law and order issues in PNG, which the motion alludes to, but there are also issues in relation to health. Making sure that we are being the best friend that we can be in providing assistance to PNG is critically important for Australia. It is also important to understand that PNG has choices. PNG has relationships with other countries in the world, which it is perfectly entitled to have. There is no inevitability or exclusivity about the relationship that Australia has with PNG. We cannot take it for granted. We need to be working at it. PNG has choices, and it is a remarkable country. It is quite simply the most exotic place I have ever been. It is a country where the multitude of languages and cultures mean that life in PNG is lived in a way that it is not live anywhere else in the world. It is colourful, it is stunning, it is beautiful, and more Australians should understand it.

You can extrapolate those comments in terms of the work Australia does within PNG and the remarkable nature of PNG and the Pacific more generally. It is an incredible part of the world, where Australia looms large. And from the perspective of those in those regions, we dominate their sense of how the world is seen. We have a huge role to play, and a huge leadership role to play, within that part of the world. But it does not have, in my view, the place in our discourse in this country that it should. This is why I think this motion is quite refreshing, because it is an exception to the kinds of discussions we tend to have when we talk about foreign policy and we talk about Australia's place in the world. That is something we need to change. We deeply need to change it.

It is not that we should have a view of the Pacific where we get to impose our ideas on that part of the world. That is not it at all. We need to have a respect for the people of the Pacific, which we do, and a respect for their sovereignty. But we must have ideas about the future of the Pacific and we must be in the business of articulating them. There is an absolute expectation from those living in the Pacific that we lead, and this is a critical point that we need to understand. And it is not just those who live in the Pacific—and this is where I want to finish; the rest of the world sees our role in the Pacific as our global calling card. For good or ill, how we engage with the Pacific is how we are judged and, actually, that is fair enough. So the way in which we operate in the Pacific and in PNG is not just a matter of how we deal there; it is about our standing globally. It is really important that it has the emphasis it deserves.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.