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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 10874


Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (11:41): Today I have pleasure in speaking about a country that is very close and that is very dear to my heart. Papua New Guinea is our nearest neighbour and a dear friend to Australia. Having been married for nearly 27 years to a man who was born in Papua New Guinea, I have enjoyed the camaraderie and relationship I have with his family and the capacity that I have as a federal member to build relationships with many people who are leaders in Papua New Guinea.

On the 16 September, PNG celebrated the 40th anniversary of its independence. Thousands of people were in attendance for the official ceremony which was held on Independence Hill in Port Moresby. Australia was pleased to celebrate Independence Day celebrations in PNG together with them, and RAAF aircraft participated in a PNG fly-past. The celebration was marked with an additional commitment of $25 million over four years from the Australian government to upgrade the National Museum and Art Gallery. We will also provide $5 million annually over five years for the preservation of the Kokoda Track region. These projects showcase PNG's identity but also our deep connection to PNG and our cultural history. Celebrating the 40th anniversary of independence is a huge milestone, and I want to acknowledge and congratulate the government and the people of PNG for the progress they have made in the decades since achieving independence.

Australia and PNG have a special relationship built on a shared history and enduring people-to-people links. We share a border, economic interests and common legal frameworks. Australian business investment in PNG is worth nearly $19 billion, with over 5,000 Australian companies doing business there. It is very encouraging to see the economic performance of PNG driven by high international prices for exports, particularly agriculture. The trade between Australia and PNG is also valued by both countries, with two-way merchandise worth $5.9 billion and total trade worth $6.8 billion in 2013-14. This deep and diverse relationship that we have with PNG is recognised and apparent with our leaders and ministers, as they have close and regular contact. The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon. Steven Ciobo MP, travelled to PNG in early October.

As I mentioned earlier, there is also a close historical association between Australian and PNG, with over 10,000 Australian there at any one time and approximately the same number of PNG nationals in Australia. Australia is also supporting more students, particularly girls, to enrol in and complete education. Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls is critical to PNG's development. From a partnership point of view, the New Colombo Plan Scholarship program is an example of such opportunities. This is a signature initiative of the Australian government which aims to lift knowledge of our Indo-Pacific region by supporting Australian undergraduates to study in the region.

Women's participation is critical, particularly in their parliament. During the June 2012 elections, 135 women candidates ran out of approximately 3,500 candidates in total. 3 women candidates were successful in becoming new members of the house: the Hon. Delilah Gore, the Hon. Loujaya Toni and the Hon. Julie Soso.

An article 'Improving women's participation in PNG politics: learning from recent success' says:

According to Soso, external support from the UNDP's Practice Parliament training and the Centre for Democratic Institutions' inaugural PNG Women Candidates Training Strategy also helped her electoral prospects. Both training programs were organised by the PNG Office for the Development of Women, with the WCT funded through the Australian Aid Program.

It also is important to note that it took Soso a long time to overcome some of these challenges. She ran unsuccessfully as a candidate three times before she was successful in 2012.

While there are still many challenges that PNG faces in the way of political stability and improving the standard of public health and education, there is a bright future ahead. With over 852 languages and that many tribal groups, it is indeed a success story that Papua New Guinea has been able to successfully conduct an enduring democracy. With 80 per cent of the population on traditional lands, they have many challenges ahead, and I wish them every success as they pursue a future.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member for Macquarie.