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Transcript of opening statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Alexander Downer MP at the 16th Australia/PNG Ministerial Forum.

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DATE: December 15 2004



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Rt Honourable Sir Rabbie Namaliu, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration,

distinguished Papua New Guinea Ministers, Ministerial colleagues from Australia,

members of the Australian Parliamentary delegation, the President, Vice-Presidents

and executive members of the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council, ladies

and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to be in Lae today for the 16th Papua New Guinea-Australia

Ministerial Forum. Firstly, on behalf of the Australian delegation, a very warm thank

you, Sir Rabbie, and your ministerial colleagues for hosting this year’s Forum. It is

never easy preparing for large delegations visiting from abroad - so thank you for the

excellent arrangements that have been put in place. My colleagues and I received a

very warm welcome last night from the local member for Lae - I would again like to

thank the Treasurer, Bart Philemon, for the hospitality he extended to our ministers

during the course of yesterday evening. My colleagues and I are looking forward to

today’s meeting and to dinner this evening. It’s been a nice practice that we’ve gone

to the electorate of the hosting minister - I note that last year we went to Mount Lofty

in my electorate.

Before we begin to work through the agenda this morning, it is worth reflecting for a

moment on the fact that 61 years ago, in September 1943, Australians and Papua New

Guineans fought together to defeat the Japanese in this very town - in what some

writers now refer to as the Lae Offensive.

Facts like this do remind us that the relationship between Australia and Papua New

Guinea means far more than an aid program or the Enhanced Cooperation Program.

At its most fundamental the relationship is about the historical links between our two

countries and, most importantly, the people-to-people links. It is a multifaceted, deep

and enduring relationship. And, for Australia, it is one of our most important.

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That said, there is no doubt that over the next four years at least, the relationship

between Australia and PNG will be judged - including by our respective communities

- by our success in implementing the Enhanced Cooperation Program. As we all

acknowledged at Mount Lofty last December, the ECP represents a turning point in the

relationship. It is an historic shift towards a true partnership.

We will spend some time today discussing in detail implementation of the ECP and,

most importantly, the challenges that we face in ensuring that the core ECP objectives

agreed at Mount Lofty are met. We must be honest - those challenges are significant.

The easy stage of the ECP, in a way, is behind us. Now we face the hard slog of

making it work. I will leave more detailed comments on these issues to the relevant

items on the agenda, but for now I would like to emphasise that to ensure the success

of the ECP it will be crucial to maintain unswerving political commitment to it in both

Australia and PNG and for ministers in both countries to work frankly and openly

together to address problems or concern if and when they arise. It will be critical to

ensure that our populations understand that the ECP is not a magic wand.

The presence of 18 ministers in the room today is a demonstration of the level of

political commitment to the bilateral relationship in general, and the ECP in particular,

that we should strive to maintain.

There is a significant agenda beyond the ECP that we will also work through at

today’s Forum as Sir Rabbie you’ve mentioned much of that. Our two Defence

Ministers, my colleague Senator Hill and Minister Gubag, will discuss significant

enhancements to the defence cooperation program.

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We will review the situation on Bougainville and in the Southern Highlands - two

provinces, that for very different reasons, are critical to Papua New Guinea’s long-term stability.

We will discuss another issue - HIV/AIDS - the effective control of which is also

critical to PNG’s development.

And we will also review developments in the PNG Gas Project, including the proposed

PNG-Queensland gas pipeline - which, if it does proceed, would bring an exciting

new dimension to what is already a fascinating relationship.

On that positive note, I would like once again to thank you, Sir Rabbie, and all of your

ministerial colleagues, particularly Bart Philemon, the local member, for hosting us in

Lae today.