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Address at a dinner in honour of the prime minister of Papua New Guinea



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L ea d er o f th e O p p o s itio n

C heck A gainst D elivery

ADDRESS BY

DR JOHN HEWSON MP

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

AT A DINNER IN HONOUR OF

THE PRIME MINISTER OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA

THE RT HON RABBIE NAMALIU

MONDAY 2 SEPTEMBER 1991

PARLIAMENT HOUSE CANBERRA

COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY Mi CAM

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 77 4022

The Federal Opposition is delighted to join with the Government this evening in extending a very warm welcome to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, to his wife, Ms Margaret Nakikus, and to all who are accompanying them on this visit.

It gives me a great deal of personal pleasure to welcome you, Sir, and to renew the association we established when I visited Port Moresby last year. I was very appreciative of that opportunity on that occasion to have extensive

discussions with you and with so many of your senior Ministers, and to experience some of that special hospitality that Papua New Guinea reserves for visitors!

I know that many members of the Coalition Parties who have also visited your country join with me in that sentiment - most notably people such as Tim Fischer and Peter Reith, who have visited over recent months, Robert Hill, who has visited

on a number of occasions, and Andrew Peacock, who has visited many times over a long period of close association with your country.

I am also pleased to welcome you as the leader of a country that is Australia's nearest neighbour, the second most populous country in the South Pacific, and a nation with which we share unique historical, economic, security, educational

and other links.

Those ties give our bilateral relationship a special and enduring importance.

They also give it a special and enduring complexity.

For the Coalition Parties, Sir, these facts lead us to a clear and logical policy conclusion.

Quite simply, the maintenance of a close, effective and co­ operative relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea should be among the highest of Australia's foreign policy priorities and should remain so for the foreseeable future.

In aiming for such a relationship, the Coalition Parties are not motivated purely by emotion or history:

- we aim for a close, effective and co-operative bilateral relationship because we believe that it is clearly in our wider national interest that we do so;

- we aim for a closeness in our relationship built on common interests and mutual respect, an effectiveness built on clear objectives and standards, and co-operation built on carefully targeted assistance and habits of consultation.

Mr Prime Minister, I wish to take this opportunity to assure you of the Coalition's firm commitment to these goals, and, perhaps even more importantly, to emphasise the priority which we believe Australia should attach to them.

The Coalition Parties have been arguing for some time now that Australia needs a new approach to our foreign policy priorities. We firmly believe that, for practical trade, investment and strategic reasons, that new approach can be to

the mutual benefit of both Australia and Papua New Guinea.

I am therefore looking forward very much to meeting with you tomorrow and to discussing these and other issues with you in more detail.

However, I aim not sure that I will be an adequate follow-up to Mai Meninga who will be seeing you just prior to our meeting.

But I should note that Mai and I have at least one thing in common - we both have Premierships to win!

And if I can be as confident of winning," as he currently is, I'll be very well placed indeed!

In two weeks from today, we will celebrate the 16th anniversary of the formal declaration of Papua New Guinea's independence.

Looking back on those sixteen years, Mr Prime Minister, you and the people of Papua New Guinea can be proud of many achievements

. Papua New Guinea has firmly established a system of democratic, parliamentary Government that serves its own specific requirements and that has been enhanced under your leadership;

. it has ensured that an independent judiciary and a free press are hallmarks of its democratic system;

. Papua New Guinea has maintained its sovereign integrity by a strategy of negotiated decentralisation to the provinces;

. in economic policy, Papua New Guinea has won a well deserved reputation with the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for sound macroeconomic strategy;

. and in regional affairs, Papua New Guinea has established itself as a respected and increasingly influential country.

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I believe it is important to emphasise these achievements at a time when some people prefer to emphasise only Papua New * Guinea's difficulties and challenges.

I do so not to escape reality, but to put PNG's current difficulties into proper and broader perspective.

Over the years, Mr Prime Minister, no-one has articulated better than you have the nature of Papua New Guinea's special difficulties and challenges - difficulties. such as creating the infrastructure for long-term economic growth, and

challenges. such as the social and cultural problems related to urbanisation, rapid population growth and economic modernisation.

In meeting these difficulties and challenges, Papua New Guinea has great strengths on which to draw and is right to be optimistic about its future:

. it has its own considerable political and economic achievements over the past sixteen years, to which I have already referred;

. it has its own extensive economic resources base;

. it has the ingenuity of its own people;

. and it has its many international friends, among which, I hope, Australia will always continue to be counted.

Furthermore, many of your own policies, Prime Minister, have enhanced these national strengths s

. you have achieved important Constitutional reforms; . your deregulatory changes and your encouragement of the private sector will enhance the climate for sustainable economic growth;

. furthermore, your recent constructive diplomacy on the Bougainville issue will contribute to the prospects for a peaceful negotiated settlement.

Of course, the challenge to maintain political stability, economic growth and national cohesiveness is an ongoing and interrelated one for any nation.

In Papua New Guinea, no-one denies there are special difficulties. But, equally, no-one should under-estimate Papua New Guinea's capacity for resolving them.

Sir, on a visit to this country in 1984 as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, you described what you saw as the three pillars in what so many people call the "special relationship" between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

You identified aid, trade and defence co-operation as the three main pillars of the bilateral relationship.

Seven years on, those pillars are the same but their internal composition is very different:

. in aid, the level of budgetary assistance is expected to decrease significantly and will be only partially offset by increased project aid;

. in trade and investment, bilateral ties have broadened and deepened remarkably with Papua New Guinea's bilateral and trade deficit closing steadily since the mid-1980s;

. and in defence co-operation, relations have been expanded to our mutual benefit.

We in the Coalition Parties see the developments over recent years in each of these three major policy areas of aid, trade and defence as very positive and to the benefit of our bilateral relationship generally.

We believe that today's agreement between both Governments on refocussing Australian security assistance on the law and order situation in PNG is important and sensible.

The Coalition Parties have long argued that rural development, long-term productive employment opportunities, education and the development of Papua New Guinea's human and resource assets should be the projects to which Australian aid should be increasingly directed.

We hope that these issues will also be given more specific attention in the near future.

But it is important to emphasise that we in the Coalition Parties see assistance of this kind as a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

There are many causes of the law and order problem, but lack of economic opportunity is a major one. Without a dynamic and expanding PNG economy, a solution to that problem will remain elusive and security assistance aimed at containing it will only prove limited and temporary.

It is that domestic economic revival which will be the key to PNG meeting its current difficulties and challenges. And it is that dimension of our bilateral relationship which is the priority for Coalition policy.

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I will conclude by noting that Australians have too often side-stepped what is the most important challenge in our relationship with Papua New Guinea:

. that challenge does not relate to the level of Australian financial assistance, nor the nature of particular assurances, strategic or otherwise;

. without demeaning the importance of such issues, the real challenge which Australians face is to learn how to share the perceptions which the people of Papua New Guinea themselves have of their own autonomy as citizens of a young, independent, and sovereign country.

Only when Australians meet that basic challenge will our bilateral aid, trade, security and other policies have a proper focus and a true sense of common interest.

That is not an easy task, but it is a necessary and proper one to which the Coalition Parties are firmly committed.

Mr Prime Minister, for all the reasons I have touched on this evening, you are a very welcome guest in Australia. On behalf of the Federal Opposition, I hope that your visit proves to be a most productive and enjoyable one.