Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Questions without Notice
Papua New Guinea: Defence Cooperation Program
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Can the minister please update the Senate on Australia's cooperation with Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour, and how it is improving stability in our region?
I thank Senator Scarr for that question. PNG is a country that I, like Senator Payne and many others in this chamber, have a deep respect and affinity for. I'm very proud to report to this chamber that Australia's defence partnership with Papua New Guinea is longstanding, deep and built on shared history and friendship—and I think, as Senator Payne would agree, on rugby league. My recent five-day visit to PNG last month for the 27th ministerial forum really reinforced the strength of our maritime, air, infrastructure and people-to-people links. It also coincided with the 40th anniversary of our Defence Cooperation Program—Australia's largest, at $42 million annually. It was wonderful to see the breadth and depth of the relationships that extend between our two forces. In Wewak, I opened Camp Key, a new PNGDF training facility at Moem Barracks, funded through the DCP. It was built by ADF and PNGDF soldiers working side by side under Exercise Puk Puk. I also saw strong people-to-people links on display at Wewak, with fully integrated ADF and PNGDF platoons working side by side, fully integrated, to develop their skills and their joint capabilities as part of Exercise Wantok Warrior.
Minister Soloma and I saw our air relationship in action when we travelled to his home town of Okapa in the DCP-funded PNGDF helicopter. Wonderfully, it was flown by army lieutenant Joshua Pondros, a pilot who completed his flying qualifications through the DCP.
I am confident that, as partners, we are working together, defence force by defence force, to support Papua New Guinea's sovereign priorities in the areas of nation-building infrastructure towards a resilient and sovereign Papua New Guinea. Together we are investing in the PNG of tomorrow to support a sovereign capability. (Time expired)
I thank the senator for that question, and yes I can. During the visit, I saw that, as maritime nations and near neighbours, Australia is working with PNG to address our shared maritime security challenges. During this visit, I travelled to Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, where Minister Soloma and I opened a new wharf facility that was funded through the DCP.
It was a joyous occasion, where I learned that my Manusian dancing style is probably not quite up to scratch! But it was a joyous occasion. This wharf will enable the PNGDF to berth and maintain its new Guardian class patrol boats and also enhance its capability to protect its borders and its maritime resources. Our increased cooperation in Manus is a natural extension of our assistance and work together under our Pacific Maritime Security Program, a 30-year program to build Papua New Guineans' maritime capability.
Yes I can. During this visit to the region I also spent time in the Solomon Islands, where I was able to witness firsthand the deep defence engagement between our two nations. I was so proud to observe the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and the Australian Defence Force working together, side by side, to conduct Exercise Coastwatchers in the Western and Choiseul provinces of Solomon Islands. This important activity is now in its third year, and it develops our forces' ability to plan, conduct and support remote policing and law enforcement activities and also, importantly, to exercise humanitarian assistance and disaster relief responses. This year's exercise was specifically focused on strengthening the Solomon Islands' ability to police remote areas of its exclusive economic zone, a high priority for the Solomon Islands' government and one that Australia was incredibly proud to support. I thank all of our men and women in uniform, both in PNG and in the Solomon Islands, doing the wonderful work that they are doing.