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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1699

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:05): While I am regularly critical of the Gillard government's poor and reckless financial management, there are some projects which rightfully have the strong support of both sides of the House. The deputy opposition leader and shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, stated at the National Press Club foreign affairs debate in August 2010:

We are committed to the Millennium Development Goals both as a moral obligation and as part of our regional security.

However, according to AusAID, our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is 'unlikely to achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.' In a Lowy Institute address in 2011, the shadow foreign affairs minister said:

Under the Coalition policy of appointing a Minister for International Development Assistance, I expect that PNG will be the primary focus for that Ministry as we use development assistance and access to our markets to expand opportunities for growth and employment.

Ultimately, it will be our actions not our words, that will demonstrate beyond doubt that Papua New Guinea is one of Australia's top foreign policy priorities.

In the words of Ano Pala, the foreign minister of Papua New Guinea, Australia and Papua New Guinea are 'friends forever.' The long history of our relationship is well known to most Australians. Born out of the challenges of colonial rule, forged by the remarkable support given so freely by so many PNG citizens during World War II, tempered by the transition to independence, our relationship with Papua New Guinea is that of a family.

Papua New Guinea is a close and dear friend and I am delighted to take up the role as deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of PNG. There are those who would say that our relationship has been a testing one. To that I would say: testing on both sides. There are those who are scathing as to their assessment of the future. To them I say the challenge is to assess Papua New Guinea against the context of where it has come from and what its achievements have been.

In my maiden speech I spoke of our responsibility to assist our developing friends with a genuine hand of friendship and support. I commented that:

The developed world has not found a successful form of providing aid to our neighbours in much the same way as we have much to learn in helping our own Indigenous Australians. In both cases we must persist, because if we fail we let our neighbours down and indeed our first Australians.

I travelled to Papua New Guinea last year with the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. The visit provided a great opportunity to assess firsthand where Papua New Guinea stands today. We met with a range of political leaders, police, businessmen and ordinary Papua New Guineans. The visit provided us with an insight into what is really happening there, not only the challenges by also the genuine opportunities for change.

Papua New Guinea is a developing country and it faces all the challenges that developing countries face. It faces the challenge of being a young country, having only achieved its independence in 1975. Its current situation is perhaps best summed up by Don Polye, the current Treasurer of Papua New Guinea, in a speech to the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council last year, where he said:

Some 36 years ago Papua New Guinea became in independent nation. The world watched and many predicted failure.

Despite the pessimism there is much for Papua New Guinea to be proud about. We have a strong economy. We have proud and vibrant people. We are not blind to our challenges.

Importantly we are learning to confront them. Our dreams have not progressed perfectly - whose do?

Let me be blunt. Our short history has been scarred by tribal warfare and ethnic clashes, shaken by the Bougainville conflict, damaged by the Asian economic crisis, betrayed by systemic and governance failures and shaken by the subjugation of women and children.

Yet the true test of a nation is not a recitation of its problems but rather how we work to overcome them.

In that candid assessment Mr Polye summed up where Papua New Guinea stands today. There are significant challenges, but we should not assume that PNG will not overcome them. However, it will take time. It will be challenging and it is essential that Australia stand shoulder to shoulder with PNG in meeting these challenges. It is important to note that, in economic terms, Papua New Guinea has seen 10 years of constant growth. In the year just gone, growth was over nine per cent. There are those who predict, after a predicted but small fall-off in 2013, growth in excess of 20 per cent as the ExxonMobil oil search LNG project comes on stream.

The current political situation is challenging from Australia's point of view but, for all of the allegations and the recent attempted military involvement, it is significant to note that the question of who forms government is before the courts, taken there by both the O'Neill government and Grand Chief Michael Somare. There is every indication that the decision of the courts will be accepted.

Papua New Guinea faces many challenges, particularly in the areas of health, education, guns, the forthcoming Bougainville referendum and, as the Treasurer highlighted, corruption. When one looks at corruption in Papua New Guinea, it is appropriate to acknowledge that in the time Papua New Guinea has been independent there have also been significant findings of corruption within Australia. That does not mean that we should disregard this issue, but it helps to put it in context. There appears to be genuine community concern about this issue, and it is increasingly reflected in the politics leading to the 2012 PNG election campaign. It is also pleasing to see the moves towards free education because, as in all developing countries, education provides a sound road for developing the most valuable resource—the people of Papua New Guinea themselves.

There are real issues in the area of health and I highlight three areas. First is the ongoing battle regarding HIV-AIDS. This is something that requires constant attention and constant support from Australia. Second, tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea is a significant issue. TB currently occupies 13 per cent of all hospital bed days in PNG and, of relevance to Australia, is the cause of 11 per cent of all deaths in Western Province, due north of Cape York. This is not only a problem for Papua New Guinea. It also impacts on Australia's northern borders and the people of Cape York. Added to this is the complication of the increasing incidence of multidrug-resistant strains of the TB virus. From Australia's point of view, it is essential that we maintain our previous support for the treatment of PNG nationals in the Torres Strait. There is also a real need to assist Papua New Guinea to build its microbiology capacity around TB to ensure that it qualifies for drug treatments provided by the World Health Organisation. This must be a dual approach. We must maintain our cross-border assistance and at the same time help Papua New Guinea meet the challenge locally.

Papua New Guinea has a devastating rate of maternal mortality, with 2008 statistics showing some 250 deaths for every 100,000 live births. That compares with the rate of eight deaths per 100,000 live births in Australia. However, Dame Carol Kidu, the country's only woman member of parliament, is reported by radio New Zealand referring to an even starker death rate of 733 per 100,000. She concludes that the issue should be treated as a national emergency. The United Nations Population Fund representative in PNG, Dr Gilbert Hiawalya, supports Dame Carol's assessment. He said:

The maternal deaths, mothers dying from giving birth or giving a life, is not on. The high mortality rate in PNG it is the highest in the Pacific region and the second highest in the Asia region because Afghanistan is the highest, so it's one of the highest in the world and I think it's important the leaders and all sectors of the community take the issue on hand.

This is an area where Australia can and must provide continuing support. There are of course other significant issues, and the challenges that confront Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville must be borne in mind. Australia, along with New Zealand and other Pacific nations, invested substantial funds, resources and effort in assisting Papua New Guinea to find a solution to the Bougainville conflict. Today, Bougainville is largely a peaceful society. Whilst there are issues in South Bougainville, it is remarkable how former combatants have moved on from the violence of the civil war. Bougainville has largely avoided the post-conflict crime that has dogged other post-conflict societies.

The peace agreement requires a referendum in the not-too-distant future. The management of that referendum and its outcome will be of critical significance to the future of both PNG and Bougainville. What is clear is that Australia's contribution was significant and well received. It is also clear that Australia must redouble its efforts to assist Bougainville in building its capacity. Any failure in Bougainville's move to a referendum because of a lack of capacity would raise serious and difficult issues for both Bougainville and PNG. One of the great challenges for Australia is the management of our aid budget. Consistently over recent years we have provided in excess of $450 million per year. Our aid program finds itself torn between the importance of delivering aid most effectively and, at the same time, ensuring that the money provided under our aid budget is actually spent on projects on the ground and avoids corruption. Anecdotal material would suggest that much of our aid budget is spent on the process of managing and protecting aid, thereby reducing the moneys actually available for projects. I accept readily that we must eradicate corruption from our aid delivery systems, but it also strikes me that there is an ongoing need to maximise our expenditure and to make our supervision less costly and more effective.

I want to pay tribute to Dame Carol Kidu, the member for Moresby South, the former minister for community development who took on the role as leader of the opposition in the PNG parliament yesterday. Carol has made a remarkable contribution to PNG—a Brisbane girl who moved to Papua New Guinea to marry Buri Kidu, later Sir Buri, Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea. After Sir Buri sadly passed away, Carol was approached by local people to run for national parliament. She has held the seat of Moresby South for a record three terms. She has fought a constant battle to better the lot of ordinary people, particularly those who are disabled and disadvantaged. She has been a strong supporter of the involvement of women in PNG politics. Dame Carol has indicated that she will not stand at the next election and it is appropriate that her enormous contribution be recognised and applauded.

Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour. Papua New Guinea is a good friend to Australia. Papua New Guinea faces significant challenges, but it is a robust, vibrant democracy and a nation that, with our help, will play an increasingly significant role in its own right in the Pacific. It is important that we acknowledge our responsibility to assist our good friend and equally important to acknowledge that we are part of one family.