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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3905


Mr LINDSAY —by leave-From 19 to 24 April 1986 a delegation of members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence visited Papua New Guinea. The delegation consisted of Mr Charles, the leader of the delegation, Mr Bob Katter, the deputy leader of the delegation, Senator Bolkus, Senator Elstob, Mr Gayler, Mr Kent, Mr Philip Bergin, secretary to the delegation, and me. The delegation visited Port Moresby, Kiunga, Tabubil, which is the site of the Ok Tedi mine, Vanimo, Wewak, Goroka and Lae. Members had extensive informal discussions with Papua New Guinea Government and provincial Ministers and officials, and met agriculture, industry and business representatives. The itinerary included visits to the border camps at Niogamban and Blackwater, the Ok Tedi mine and a coffee plantation, and a tour of the Institute of Medical Research in Goroka.

The last Australian parliamentary delegation to Papua New Guinea before this visit was in August 1983. The last Papua New Guinea parliamentary delegation visited Australia in 1978. The visit was long overdue, and it was an important one. The decision that a delegation from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence should visit Papua New Guinea flowed from an initiative begun by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), in late 1985 and supported by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). The idea was welcomed by the Government of Papua New Guinea, and its Foreign Minister, the Hon. Legu Vagi, who extended an invitation to the Committee during his visit to Canberra in January 1986. The primary aim of the visit was to increase contact and understanding between the two countries at a parliamentary level. In that, the delegation was an outstanding success.

The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Kent) made reference to the plight of border crossers at the two camps I have just mentioned. The Australian Government has a very strong, a very definitive, policy in relation to this issue. It has been expressed on a number of occasions by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The issue of border crossers and border problems generally is principally the responsibility of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Indeed, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has welcomed the policy of the Wingti Government towards the border crossers, including a decision which was announced on 21 January 1986 that Papua New Guinea would accede to the 1951 United Nations convention and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees, and that the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees would be directly involved in refugee processing. We had a quite good discussion at both camps containing border crossers. I do not know whether refugees were located in these border camps, but I did see, particularly at the Blackwater camp outside Vanimo, a high degree of political sophistication and activism on the part of the people living at that camp. I will say no more on the question of border crossers because, as I have indicated, the Foreign Minister has already made a statement on the Australian Government's policy in respect of this issue.

I mention briefly the matter of Australia's aid to Papua New Guinea. In September 1985 the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea negotiated a new five-year aid agreement under which Australia would provide some $1.4 billion in aid to Papua New Guinea. The agreement provided for a reduction in Budget support by 5 per cent per annum. Overall, Australian aid would decline by 3 per cent per annum in real terms, with the difference being made up by an expanded program of project aid and technical assistance. Given the new leadership in Papua New Guinea and the indigenous bureaucracy of the Papua New Guinea Government, which I would suggest does not have the same degree of empathy with Australia as did the older indigenous people of Papua New Guinea, it is essential that we ensure that there is an adequate level of dialogue between the governments of Australia and Papua New Guines on the design and use of the aid program.

The Government of Papua New Guinea is not averse to seeking aid from other countries. It is not averse to establishing diplomatic relations, as is its right as a sovereign nation, with many countries that do not share the same traditions of freedom and democracy we share in Australia. Accordingly, I urge the Australian Government to devote a lot of time to developing a policy that can be used to strengthen the dialogue between the governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia on the design and use of the aid program.

Australia has conducted a defence co-operation program with Papua New Guinea since 1975 and expenditure in 1985-86 was of the order of $20m. The main components are loan personnel, consultancy studies and particular projects such as the pacific patrol boat. We visited Moem Barracks at Wewak, Murray Barracks at Port Moresby, and the Air Transport Squadron at Lae. At all those bases we were briefed by the commanding officers and we toured the facilities. I am most impressed with the level of defence co-operation that has been given by the Australian Government to the Papua New Guinea Government. There is an urgent need for the Australian Government to ensure that the Papua New Guinea Defence Force has an adequate re-equipment and training program. I was at Moem Barracks nearly 20 years ago. When I visited the barracks in April this year the deterioration was quite marked. It spelt out that the Papua New Guinea Defence Force was starved of funds.

I suggest also that it is essential that the Australian Government develop even closer links, through our Department of Defence, with defence officials of the Papua New Guinea Government to ensure that assistance can be given and so that they can develop a five-year program on defence expenditure planning. We have a number of agreements with Papua New Guinea. The consequences of Papua New Guinea being unable to defend its integrity will lead ultimately to the involvement of the Australian Defence Force in the protection and security of Papua New Guinea.

To sum up, the delegation was extremely productive for both Papua New Guinea and Australia. It was able to establish close rapport, not only with the government officials it had the opportunity to meet and discuss matters with but also with a number of other people involved in highly sensitive areas in Papua New Guinea. I refer, for example, to Bishop Etheridge at Vanimo, who is vitally concerned with the border crossers, and Bishop Deschamps, the Bishop of Daru, who has a lot to do with a border camp south of Kiunga. The talks with each of those two bishops were highly productive.

I would like to congratulate the leader of the delegation, the honourable member for Isaacs, on the expertise with which he led the delegation. He was a superb leader. He was able to ensure that there was a harmonious and extremely good working relationship between all members of the delegation. He was a credit to Australia in the way he conducted himself and in the level of leadership he provided. I would like also to pay tribute and give thanks to 35 Squadron, based at Townsville, which provided the Caribou aircraft to transport the delegation throughout Papua New Guinea. I pay tribute to the dedication, competence and cheerfulness of the crew, Squadron Leader Ross Pyers, Pilot Officer Chris Oborn and Warrant Officer Malcolm Monkton, who did a sterling job. In these brief remarks I would also like to pay tribute and express my gratitude to the Australian High Commissioner in Port Moresby, Mr Michael Wilson, who did much to ensure the success of the visit. The thanks of the delegation also go to our escort officer from the Australian High Commission, Mr Robert Webster.