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Australia and Papua New Guinea - a revitalised relationship: address at the Dinner for the Conference

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by the

Minister for Foreign Affairs The Hon Alexander Downer MP

at the Dinner for the Conference

Australia/Papua New Guinea : Crime And The Bilateral Relationship

"Australia and Papua New Guinea - a Revitalised Relationship"


Canberra, 11 November 1998)

(Check Against Delivery)

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"Australia and Papua New Guinea - a Revitalised Relationship"

Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Dinner for the Conference Australia/Papua New Guinea : Crime And The Bilateral Relationship, Canberra, 11 November 1998


Thankyou Mr Jim McDonald; Mr Renagi Lohia, Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner to Australia, Dr Beno Boeha, the Director of the PNG National Research Institute, Mr Mick Palmer, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Associate Professor Anthony Bergin, Director of Australian Defence Studies Centre and Professor Hank Nelson of the Australian National University, distinguished guests.

I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you this evening. As Foreign Minister I’m often involved in aspects of Australia’s important relationship with Papua New Guinea. I regard this part of my work as being of very high priority.

What I want to do this evening is give you some perspectives on that relationship. In doing so, I want to stress that, despite some of the more colourful media reporting, there is a very real strength in our relationship, that our ties remain strong and that Australia will continue to be a good friend and partner for the Government and people of Papua New Guinea. The

events of the last 16 months illustrate how efiectively the Governments of Australia and PNG can work together to achieve important results.

In keeping with the themes of this conference I want also to address the security issues that affect the relationship and which pose a challenge not only to Papua New Guinea, but also to Australia. As a friend and neighbour, Australia cannot and will not divorce itself from the problems that affect Papua New Guinea.

Recent History of the Relationship

When I first became Foreign Minister in March 1996, the bilateral relationship was not in great shape.There was a sense of fatigue and lack of direction in the relationship which I wanted to dispel.

I was particularly concerned that the Bougainville crisis was overshadowing the whole bilateral relationship, and not in a positive way. Australia’s interests in Papua New Guinea are diverse, complex and derived from a long historical association. But just as the Bougainville crisis was disrupting Papua New Guinea, so was it harming our core interests.

One of the things you must have as a Foreign Minister is patience.

In March 1996 the direction needed for future action on Bougainville was becoming apparent, but the time was not ripe.

1997 proved to be a turning point. Other speakers will address in detail the Sandline crisis and I won’t steal their thunder. What I will say is that the Australian Government’s strong and sustained opposition to the Sandline contract (a position supported by a number of countries in our region as well as by the United States and Britain) placed great strain on the bilateral relationship. While I did not enjoy the sometimes sharp exchanges that ensued between the Australian and PNG Governments in March and April 1997,1 have no regrets over the



position we took. I believe the strong opposition to the Sandline deal which quickly grew in Papua New Guinea also indicated that the Australian Government’s position was the only one a responsible Government could take.

Changes of government offer opportunities to start relationships afresh and to change policies. With the election of Bill Skate as Prime Minister in July 1997 came an opening and both sides have worked hard to maximise that opportunity.

I want to congratulate Prime Minister Skate for his decision to make the peaceful resolution of the Bougainville conflict a priority for his Government. He has shown remarkable commitment and flexibility in keeping the peace process moving forward. Another key factor, of course, has been the overwhelming sentiment of the Bougainvillean people that the fighting

must stop and the Province must be rebuilt.

I believe that the improvement in Australia’s relations with Papua New Guinea over the past 16 months is connected to the improvement in the situation on Bougainville. Australia is very pleased to have been able to work alongside regional partners - Fiji, New Zealand and Vanuatu - in contributing to the Truce Monitoring Group and its successor, the Peace Monitoring Group, on Bougainville. The remarkable progress in the peace process is in no small measure due to the efforts of the monitors.

Australia has also played an important part in the reconstruction of Bougainville. We have been involved in aid activity on the island since 1991, but until last year our activities were confined to Buka and the north because of the security situation. Recognizing the improvement in the security situation and the need to have aid reaching all parts of the

Province, I announced last year that $100 million of aid under the bilateral aid programme with PNG would, over five years, be devoted to reconstruction on Bougainville. This was in addition to existing aid commitments of around $36 million for Bougainville.

Where We Stand

Last year the Australian Government conducted a comprehensive review of its relations with Papua New Guinea. We felt the events of the Sandline crisis, coming after many months of strain in the relationship, justified a close examination o f where things stood.

The Australian Government looked very carefully at the whole spectrum of the bilateral relationship. We concluded that we have a number of vital interests in Papua New Guinea of both a commercial and security nature which require constant attention.

With that in mind I have visited Papua New Guinea three times since July 1997 and have devoted a great deal of time to developing the relationship.

You may ask why Papua New Guinea is so important to Australia? There are several reasons. It is our closest neighbour, and what affects your neighbour usually affects you too. From a security viewpoint it is obviously very important for us to have a stable and prosperous Papua New Guinea.

There is a substantial Australian community in Papua New Guinea, estimated at around 10,000 people. The Australian Government takes its consular responsibilities seriously, and this large community is another reason why the law and order situation in PNG is of great interest to us.

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Papua New Guinea is also the largest recipient of Australian aid - receiving $320 million a year largely to improve its health, education, infrastructure and law and justice systems. Our aid program is just one sign of our commitment to the economic and social development of

Papua New Guinea.

O f course Papua New Guinea is also very important for commercial reasons. It is our 17th largest trading partner with exports in 1997-98 worth over $1,152 billion, of which over half were manufactured goods. Given recent economic developments in East Asia and elsewhere, maintaining good trade ties with Papua New Guinea is clearly very important to us.

Papua New Guinea is an important destination for Australian investment, with total investment around $1,422 billion at June 1997. The proposed PNG-Australia gas pipeline project, which was the subject of a memorandum of understanding signed in August this year by the Governments of Australia, Queensland and Papua New Guinea, promises to be a major boost for the commercial relationship with total project investment projected to be $3.1 billion.

In addition, Australia and Papua New Guinea work together to manage our border in the Torres Strait. The special arrangements in place under the Torres Strait Treaty enable traditional inhabitants from both sides of the border to move with ease. Such arrangements

require a close working relationship and we enjoy excellent co-operation with PNG authorities under the Treaty.

That co-operation is also evident in multilateral organisations such as APEC and the South Pacific Forum. While our two countries often have different perspectives on issues that come before these organisations, we have little difficulty working constructively together. A recent example of that co-operation was our common effort to secure the endorsement of the United Nations for a regional peace monitoring force on Bougainville.

While trade and investment are important in our relationship, there is also a substantial human element. Since becoming Foreign Minister I have been repeatedly reminded of the close links between the people of Papua New Guinea and Australia. Of course the war years forged a

strong link and we must never forget the vital role the people of Papua New Guinea played in helping to defend Australia, but the links have been renewed and strengthened by succeeding generations.

A large number of Australians have lived and worked in Papua New Guinea and many Papua New Guineans have strong connections through education, business interests and family with Australia, particularly Queensland. The strength of these connections was clearly revealed during the recent drought and tsunami disasters in Papua New Guinea. I was touched by the

strong and immediate response by Australians to these events, and the speed with which the Australian Government responded to requests or assistance from the PNG Government underlined the special relationship that exists between our two countries.

When a mate is in trouble you do your best to help. That was the simple spirit behind Australia’s response to the disasters, both officially through the Government and spontaneously through the acts of ordinary Australians.

Having put into perspective the importance of our relationship with Papua New Guinea, I want now to discuss the security situation in Papua New Guinea and Australia’s role in helping address its problems in this area. While this conference focuses on this subject, I hope

I have given you all some understanding of the breadth and depth of Australia’s links with


PNG. It is all too easy to focus too closely on the law and order and security situation and forget the wider picture of the relationship.

Security and Law and Order

When PNG is mentioned in Australia’s media it is usually in the context of a natural disaster or a lurid account of crime or tribal fighting.

There are some honourable exceptions, including one of the speakers at this conference, Mr Sean Domey of the ABC, along with Mary-Louise O ’Callaghan of "The Australian" who provide frequent and detailed coverage of events in Papua New Guinea. Geoffrey Barker of "The Australian Financial Review" is another who retains a long-standing interest and provides in-depth reporting of political and economic developments in PNG. However, by and large the Australian media do not cover PNG as well or as regularly as they might or, perhaps, should.

I will not pretend that Papua New Guinea does not have some serious problems. The law and order situation is frequently cited by both Papua New Guineans and Australian companies in PNG as a major problem, and it is clearly harming business and making the country a less attractive place for investors. You only have to visit any major town and see the barbed wire and ever-growing army of security guards to be well aware of the problem.

But there are positives as well. Papua New Guinea has remained a vigorous (perhaps too vigorous, some colleagues in the PNG Parliament tell me) democracy since Independence and, despite some gloomy forecasts in the 1970s, has managed to maintain its democratic processes.

The role of Australia, as I see it, is to reinforce the institutions that contribute to nation building and help Papua New Guinea strengthen its capacity to govern a country of remarkable diversity and complexity.

Since 1987 we have been working together to strengthen the Royal Papua New Guinean Constabulary. The Police Project is about to enter its third phase - it is continuing projects like these that exemplify our commitment to the long haul. During the Sandline crisis the

RPNGC was placed under enormous strain, not least in managing its relations with the PNGDF, elements of which were in a highly excitable state. I am sure many would agree that the RPNGC did a magnificent job during the crisis and played a central role in controlling the unrest. They did this despite their own funding problems. Clearly it is an organization that continues to deserve support.

The responsibility for law and order does not, of course, rest with the police alone. In recognition of this, we have widened our efforts to provide assistance to the Judiciary, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Ombudsman’s Commission and the prison system. Further projects on the drawing board will assist agencies responsible for training and supporting Papua New Guinea’s legal profession.

Australia has also been active in supporting the efforts of the Government of Papua New Guinea to restore law and order to the troubled province of Bougainville.

As my earlier comments about the Peace Monitoring Group indicate, we have been a strong supporter of the peace process. Our practical commitment to help provide schools, hospitals, roads and materials to help people restart their lives underlines how seriously we regard the

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need to rebuild the Province. I am also pleased that we are able to include Bougainvilleans themselves in reconstruction efforts through employment on our aid projects.

A key factor for cementing peace is an effective civilian policing presence, one that both protects and respects the rights of citizens. As part of our support for the Lincoln Agreement in January this year, Australia along with New Zealand provided trainers, equipment and materials for an auxiliary police training programme on Bougainville. The first batch of 30

trainees graduated in June. Australia stands ready to provide further assistance o f this nature if requested by the Papua New Guinea Government.

One element I haven’t mentioned is Australian support for the PNGDF. Since October 1997 we have developed what is called the New Defence Partnership under which both countries have agreed to work towards a more constructive defence relationship.

I will not go into the details of this Partnership except to say that we want to continue to work with the PNGDF to help build a defence force that is professional, efficient, a loyal servant of the elected government of Papua New Guinea and which respects the PNG constitution. A great deal o f progress has been achieved in meeting these objectives and we look forward to continuing this good work with the new PNGDF Commander, Brigadier-General Singirok, on

the basis of the New Defence Partnership principles.

Effective governance

While the media tends to focus on the more dram;'tic aspects of lawlessness such as robbery, rape and other forms of violent crime, we also need to examine the more subtle problems that can arise when institutions do not function as well as they might.

Good governance fundamentally underpins poverty reduction and economic growth. Good governance means the effective management of a country’s resources in ways that are open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs. The rule of law is an

essential component of this, and the Australian Government has made assistance in this area a priority.

In recognition of this key role, the programme to improve governance and civil society in Papua New Guinea has been expanding over recent years.

The current governance programme is addressing institutional weakness in financial management, principally in the Department of Treasury and Planning. We are also assisting the Office o f National Planning and Implementation to manage more effectively its responsibilities in relation to provincial government reform and to encourage participatory planning processes.

Of course, good governance is not solely the responsibility of governments - civil society also has a key role to play. We have recently set up a community development scheme to fund and strengthen community-based organisations in Papua New Guinea.

In the specific area of corruption and civil society, the work of the Papua New Guinea chapter of Transparency International is very heartening. We have already given some support to them and I applaud their efforts to involve the Papua New Guinea corporate sector more fully in their work.

In addition, in the course of our discussions this year on the Aid Treaty Review, we are looking at introducing a new aid delivery mechanism post-2000 which will support

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institutions - both within and outside government - which have a proven track record of programme management and delivering results. This could include local governments as well as institutions like universities, non-government organisations and churches which all have an essential role to play in maintaining a healthy civil society.


I hope my remarks this evening have conveyed the high level of importance the Australian Government attaches to our ties with Papua New Guinea. Like most close relationships it has its ups and downs, but that is what happens in any family - and in many ways that is, I think, the kind of relationship our two countries have.

The key message I would like to leave you with is that for many reasons, and not just geographic proximity, Australia must continue to work with our closest neighbour. That means appreciating the strengths of Papua New Guinea - its strong democracy, its proud tradition of cultural diversity and national pride, and the beauty of the country itself - as well as frankly acknowledging its problems.

Australia can help Papua New Guinea solve its problems, but the only lasting solutions will be those that Papua New Guineans apply themselves. I have faith in the strength of Papua New Guinea - its people and its institutions - and believe that answers will be found to the problems that afflict it.

The challenge for Australians is to understand Papua New Guinea, so we can fully appreciate the problems it faces. We still have a great deal to learn about the land of the unexpected, but conferences like this one play an important part in helping to educate Australians about their neighbour, and I wish you well in your efforts.