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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3902

Mr CHARLES —On behalf of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, I present the report of the Committee entitled `Report on a visit to Papua New Guinea', incorporating a dissenting report, and I seek leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr CHARLES —Earlier this year the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence received what amounted to a request by the Government via official correspondence from the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). In that correspondence I believe that he, through the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), urged the Committee to think about setting up a delegation to visit Papua New Guinea to familiarise itself with the situation in that country and to meet the new leaders there. That was a positive suggestion by the Foreign Minister. The Committee reacted positively to that suggestion and seven members-I was fortunate enough to be the leader-visited Papua New Guinea on a familiarisation trip in April this year.

The report before the House is a relatively short, factual report on our trip. It does not make any political statements in regard to the number of subjects we discussed such as refugees, aid or defence co-operation, et cetera, except in the dissenting report-which I find disappointing-in which two members make comment in regard to the refugee situation on the border. No member of the Committee would disagree that there are refugees, but I think that that could have been argued somewhere else at another time. As I have said, it is a factual report.

The primary aim of the visit was to increase contact and understanding between the two countries at a parliamentary level and to provide an opportunity for members of this Parliament to familiarise themselves with conditions in Papua New Guinea during a period of important change in its internal situation and at a time which is very important to our bilateral relationships. For Papua New Guinea, our visit provided their political leaders and officials with a wider range of contact with Australian parliamentarians and gave them opportunities to express their concerns and views to us. I think there were only a couple of members of the Committee who had been there before, and that was a number of years ago. We must remember when looking at the Papua New Guinea leadership, with Prime Minister Wingti only in his mid thirties, and a new ministry, that the situation has changed quite dramatically from the post-war relationship that built up between our two countries.

The delegation reached a conclusion and made a recommendation. I will quote them from the report. The first relates to defence matters. It is:

The Australian Government in consultation with the Papua New Guinea Government should consider developing a program to assist in the provision of improved defence housing for Papua New Guinea Defence personnel.

We noticed that there was a problem with that in Lae when we were there. The report goes on:

Alternatively, the Australian Government may consider granting inflexibility in the use of a proportion of the Defence Co-operation Program funds in order for the Papua New Guinea Government to target priority defence needs-of course, defence housing could well come into this category.

Secondly, the major recommendation of the Committee is that we believe that a regular and reciprocal pattern of parliamentary exchanges should take place between our two countries. This would assist greatly with the build-up of the relationship between our two countries as an ongoing feature. The delegation recommends that course, possibly on a biannual basis.

The Committee visited virtually all parts of Papua New Guinea from Port Moresby to the border areas. We visited a number of refugee camps on our way across to Wewak. We went to Goroka, across to Lae, and back to Port Moresby. All that was by Caribou aircraft. I thank the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) for his tremendous co-operation and the members of the Royal Australian Air Force, who are mentioned in the report, for their assistance. Without them we could never have completed the trip. The availability of the Caribou made the trip so much easier. The Committee thanks the Prime Minister, Mr Wingti, who made all his officials and Ministers to whom we wanted to speak available. He was available to spend an hour with the Committee. He was most forthcoming. We appreciated his availability and his forthrightness. As I said, it was a fact finding and a familiarisation trip. This was so in Ok Tedi. Earlier in my remarks, I failed to mention that gold and copper mine in the middle of PNG. We also thank the Ok Tedi people for their hospitality.

Finally, I thank the members of the Committee, my deputy the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), who was of great assistance throughout the trip, the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) and the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Gayler) for their contributions on the trip. They are great members of this Parliament and their knowledge was very helpful on the trip. We also thank the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Kent), Senator Elstob, Senator Bolkus, and our secretary on the trip, Mr Phil Bergin, who helped us right throughout the tour. This visit was a first for the Committee. It was very worth while as we were in Papua New Guinea not only in our own right as a parliamentary Committee but also on behalf of the Australian Parliament and the Australian people, fostering the very good and sound relationship that our two countries have built up over many years. We wish that relationship to continue. We sincerely hope that the trip will add to and assist that co-operation and friendship in the future.