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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21766

Mr KING (4:36 PM) —Without doubt, Papua New Guinea is a state that is passing through a crisis as we speak. In the last 10 years there have been at least three economic crises. In the recent election year alone, the fall in GDP was about seven per cent, notwithstanding an increasing GDP over the last 10 years. So the last two to three years have shown that the country is facing severe economic and social problems—37.5 per cent of the population are below the poverty line.

Notwithstanding that record of severe crisis both economically and socially faced by the country at the moment, there is a long and proud history of support by Australia for Papua New Guineans since the first discovery of that extraordinary country. I refer to the fact that in 1906 British New Guinea passed to Australian custody and care; in 1921, German New Guinea; and in 1949, following a UN mandate, the whole of the eastern part of New Guinea. On 16 September 1975, independence occurred, and since then the country has been seeking to establish itself as an independent and prosperous modern nation.

The reason that that broad outline of facts is relevant is that the motion that is before the House needs to be understood in context. Whilst I am prepared to support the general tenor of the motion, it is qualified support. At the end of the day, the people of Papua New Guinea and its government are facing a crisis which needs to be addressed before the issues that are the subject of the motion can be properly and appropriately dealt with. I have mentioned aspects of the economy. There are environmental challenges, even in the area of the region that we are speaking about, near the East Awin camp. There are major environmental problems. There are significant tribal differences and, indeed, continued fighting between various parts of the country—a nation of 715 languages and even more tribal groups. Violence and tribal differences have become even more pronounced than they were in the past and democratic values that have been sought to be instilled are observed more for their breaches than otherwise.

It is in that context that I refer briefly to the recommendations of the report of the January 2003 joint mission. I note that the honourable member who has just spoken was a member of that delegation, led by Justice O'Meally, a friend and former colleague. I want to say three things about the report. The second recommendation is one that I will briefly focus on. It recommends:

That the PNG Government review its laws and procedures for granting Permissive Residency to West Papuans ...

But, at the end of the day, that recommendation will be observed and put into effect by the Papua New Guinea government only if the broader issues of economic and social breakdown that I have raised are redressed, because they really form part of a broad administrative measure by a government that is functioning to full effect. However, there are some practical measures that could be carried out at little cost. The suggestion that PNG grant citizenship to children born in PNG who would otherwise be stateless seems to me to have some force, as does also the recommendation that the PNG government not forcibly deport or threaten the deportation of any West Papuan who may be at risk of serious human rights violation on return to West Papua. A third in that category is recommendation 19, which says:

That West Papuans be entitled to apply for Permissive Residency if they are prepared to meet the conditions required for that status ...

I have had long experience with Papua New Guinea over the years. I have appeared in the courts of that country and I have met many of its leaders. I understand the way in which the legal processes of Papua New Guinea occur, and, with that background, I care about the future of that country. Those are measures that could be put in place. I am aware that the legal system is capable of doing so, and they ought to be seriously considered. (Time expired)