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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20139

Mr JOHNSON (2:53 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the strength of Australia's relationship with Papua New Guinea—

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Ryan will resume his seat. I am unable to hear the member for Ryan above the member for Batman. The member for Ryan has the call and will start his question again so I know which minister to direct it to.

Mr JOHNSON —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have a serious question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the strength of Australia's relationship with Papua New Guinea, given that today is Papua New Guinean Independence Day?

Mr Bevis —You've got a branch up there, haven't you?

The SPEAKER —The member for Brisbane is warned!

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Ryan for his question. I join with the Prime Minister and all members of the government and, no doubt, all members of the House in congratulating Papua New Guinea on the 28th anniversary of its independence. There is a great and abiding affection in Australia for the country and the people of Papua New Guinea, obviously reflecting our geographic ties but also our very close historical and personal links.

It is worth saying—because I do not think a lot of people understand this—that, despite its daunting challenges, much has been achieved in Papua New Guinea since independence. We are proud that Australia's assistance has contributed to improvements for the people of Papua New Guinea, though of course full credit must be given to the people of Papua New Guinea themselves. Life expectancy has increased since independence. Infant mortality has fallen. Interestingly enough, primary school enrolments in Papua New Guinea have doubled over the past decade. Also, Papua New Guinea has remained throughout its independent life a robust democracy. We ourselves are a robust democracy, and so obviously we very much appreciate that.

As the Prime Minister and I and other ministers have said, we are fully aware that Papua New Guinea nevertheless faces some very significant challenges. With a population of almost 5 million people, Papua New Guinea's prosperity is obviously of great importance to stability in our region. We have put, as I think honourable members know, a number of different proposals to Papua New Guinea in recent times about ways of improving our partnership, including our development cooperation partnership. This includes in areas that Papua New Guinea has itself identified as priorities, such as law and order, good government, enhanced budgetary and expenditure controls, and so on.

Tomorrow morning I will be going to Papua New Guinea and I look forward to discussing these issues with the foreign minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, with other ministers and with the Prime Minister. Our fundamental objective over the coming period is to assist Papua New Guinea in meeting its challenges in a way that promotes sound management of its own resources. While we are happy to conduct a joint review of the development cooperation treaty, our concerns are not about the way the current aid program is managed. Our dialogue and partnership should go beyond the narrower focus of the aid relationship, and it should also deal with the major issues of governance and management that confront this diverse and growing nation. I look forward to my visit to Papua New Guinea, and I am sure all members of the House hope that we can continue to build a productive relationship with Papua New Guinea which achieves ever better outcomes for the ordinary people of that country.