Thank you very much for the work that you do for the Lae Chamber of Commerce— also to Alan McLay, the Deputy Chair and also Australia’s Honorary Consul here in Lae. I would particularly like to acknowledge the presence of the Governor, your Excellency, thank you Governor Naru for your warm welcome today. My very dear friend the Honourable Loujaya Kouza, the local Member of Parliament, we’ve been out at the Lae markets today— it was a bit like campaigning, wasn’t it? 2017 is coming closer. There are also a number of members of Parliament from Morobe Province here today— Gisuwat Siniwin, thank you very much for being here, and Bob Dadae. I would also like to acknowledge Australia’s High Commissioner, Deborah Stokes, who is doing a fantastic job representing Australia and the interests of its people in Papua New Guinea.
This is certainly not my first visit to Papua New Guinea but it is my first as Australia’s Foreign Minister. On my previous visits, I always included a location outside of Port Moresby. Far too many people fly to Port Moresby and think they have seen Papua New Guinea – but, of course, they have not. In the past, I have visited the Southern Highlands, I have been to Goroka, I’ve been to Bougainville, but now I am in the second largest city in Papua New Guinea—the heartbeat of the national economy. Thank you very much for your warm welcome.
There has been an election in Australia and on the 7th of September, Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott announced that Australia was under new management and open for business. And by that he meant that Australia cannot rest on its laurels. Yes, we are the twelfth largest economy in the world with the fifty-third largest population, but we are facing challenging times. The global economy is not recovering as quickly as some would like. In Australia, we must ensure we do all we can to create an environment that grows our economy, that ensures there are job opportunities for the people of Australia and that we can lift the standards of living in our country and ensure that there is prosperity across our great land.
This means getting our own house in order. As a Government, we inherited significant debt and a budget in deficit and our aim is to pay down Government debt and put the budget back into surplus as soon as we can. It also means reducing taxes and some of the first legislation that the new Government introduced was to repeal the carbon tax and the mining tax. Both taxes have been a burden on business, didn’t achieve the desired outcome, and risked making Australia internationally uncompetitive.
We’re also determined to make the business environment much more welcoming by getting rid of unnecessary red tape and regulation. There will entire days of our Federal Parliament set aside just to repeal legislation. Some politicians boast about how much new and additional legislation they introduce—well, we are going to be proud of our effort in reducing red tape and unnecessary legislation and regulations.
Our focus is also very much on unleashing the potential of the private sector. Government should not be competing with the private sector. It should allow the private sector to do what it does best—encourage entrepreneurism, encourage that spirit of enterprise. Our view is that the private sector is the fundamental driver of economic growth. Our message is a focus on growth, prosperity, stability and security—that’s what we want to change for the people of Australia.
We are using the phrase “economic diplomacy” to describe our efforts in foreign policy and this includes our relationship with Papua New Guinea. Just as traditional diplomacy was about achieving peace, economic diplomacy is about achieving prosperity. It is in Australia’s national interest not only for our country to be prosperous and secure, but for our region to be prosperous and secure—our neighbours. Countries in the Indian Ocean, in the Asia region and in the Pacific are all part of our neighbourhood and we want to direct our efforts and our energies to ensuring that our neighbourhood, our region, is more prosperous, more secure. This means directing our foreign policy assets—whether it be our military and defence capacity, our economic and trade capabilities, our aid, our diplomatic efforts—to be focussed on our region and focussed on alleviating poverty and lifting standards of living through economic diplomacy.
It is a fact that foreign investment is essential to drive economic growth in countries like Australia and in countries like Papua New Guinea. Australia, in fact, has been built on the back of foreign direct investment from the beginnings of our modern economy a hundred and more years ago. Today, some of the major projects in Australia would not have gotten off the ground had it not been for the support, the investment, of other countries whose capital has flowed into Australia to develop these projects. For example, China is our largest two-way trading partner, built very much on the back of the mining and resources sector in Australia. But it’s been the investments from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom and others that have built the projects that have enabled Australia to provide the resources to the developing countries to our north and the developed economies of Japan, South Korea and others. We are ensuring that the rules around foreign direct investment are transparent and clear and we certainly welcome that kind of investment. I am sure that the Government of Papua New Guinea will likewise provide the kind of environment that attracts investment; that ensures that investment is transparent and that the Government is accountable for it.
We are also committed to a very ambitious free trade agenda. We want to find new markets and enhance existing markets for our exporters. We want new sources of capital and we can do that by integrating our economies through free trade agreements. We have a number in existence with the United States and Singapore and others. We’ve just concluded one with South Korea and we are ambitiously pursuing free trade agreements with China and Japan as well as a regional free trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership involving about twelve countries. Freer trade builds more resilient economies, provides jobs, provides capital, provides opportunities—and that’s what we intend to pursue.
In relation to the Australia—Papua New Guinea engagement, it has been long standing. We are the closest of friends; we are geographic neighbours; we have historic ties; we have a great and deep affection for each other. In economic terms, Australia invests significantly in Papua New Guinea. Our investment is valued at about $A19 billion. That’s almost as much as Australia invests in China so that gives you some idea of the size of the investment. Australian businesses have been present in Papua New Guinea for decades. I know there is a significantly and thriving business community here in Lae.
It’s my view that the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea has tended to be dominated by aid, on overseas development assistance. I think it’s time that we looked anew at our relationship and saw it as an economic partnership. The economy of Papua New Guinea is going through a transformation based largely on the significant resource projects here and the resources sector. But it is moving from that construction phase through to a phase of production and export. That means that other sectors of the economy must also be boosted to do well here, provide opportunities here. Agriculture is an obvious sector that needs to be stronger and more resilient—likewise, tourism. This would have to be one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries on earth. I know that there are many people around the world who would love the opportunity to visit this unique, fascinating, wonderful country. The people are so welcoming, the landscapes are so magnificent - yet it needs infrastructure, it needs significant infrastructure and capacity building.
So, when we talk about our aid program to Papua New Guinea, it will continue at around 520 million dollars a year. But it’s time for Australia to move away from basic service delivery, for that must be the responsibility of the PNG Government. We need to assist Papua New Guinea increase its productivity and support productivity-enhancing infrastructure. I have had some very positive conversations with the Minister for National Planning, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Works on how we can provide funding to enhance economic growth in this country.
We are also very keen for Papua New Guinea to be part of what is called PACER Plus. This is a free trade agreement for the Pacific. Australia and New Zealand will be part of it. The idea is for other Pacific nations to boost their economies by trading with each other, by opening their doors, by breaking down barriers and getting opportunities to be part of the global supply chains that can make all the difference to a local economy.
Our relationship in the aid area will mean that there will be opportunities for the private sector to become more closely involved in the delivery of projects. While we will still focus on health and education; infrastructure and leveraging the private sector will be a significant part of our focus.
One of the great assets of Papua New Guinea is its young people. There will come a time when there will be more young people in Papua New Guinea than old people. We need to provide young people every opportunity to gain an education, to gain skills, to be able to make a living to support themselves and ultimately their families.
We have a number of programs in place that will give young Papua New Guineans that opportunity—but I just want to mention two.
We have a Seasonal Workers Program for certain Pacific countries. A number of nations in the Pacific send workers to Australia to work during our agricultural and horticultural seasons. They have the opportunity to learn skills, to meet some Aussies, to have a job, to earn some money and come back here with those skills and that perspective. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to be taken up with great enthusiasm in Papua New Guinea. For example, the Tongan Government has sent 1200 seasonal workers to Australia in the last 12 months. Papua New Guinea has sent 26—I think we can do better than that. My message here and my message in Port Moresby is: let’s provide these opportunities for young people to come to Australia as seasonal workers and I’d like to see a much greater uptake.
There’s also a program we announced for working holidays. We have a visa category for working holiday visas. There are 100 places available but so far I think the paperwork is bogged down and we haven’t been able to get these visas out to the young people who would love the opportunity, I am sure, to come to Australia. So there is another plug for the Working Holiday visas.
Australia intends to send young people overseas this way. We have announced a new program called the New Colombo Plan which provides a Government scholarship for students in their undergraduate years at Australian universities to undertake a part of their studies at a university in our region, in the Asia Pacific. We have started with a pilot program this year with Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan. We hope to expand this program after the pilot to the Pacific, including to Papua New Guinea. The first round of offers have gone out and we have got hundreds of students who are about to take part in these courses in universities overseas.
What makes this different from other scholarship programs is that an element of the New Colombo Plan is an internship or a mentorship with a company or an organisation that is operating in the host country. So, young Australians will get to see how business is done, they will hopefully learn another language, understand the culture, make friends, develop networks with countries in the region and come back to Australia with new perspective and insights and skills.
It would be great for the individual student; it will be wonderful for Australia to have a whole generation of young people who have a much greater understanding of living and working in our region than perhaps previous generations. It will also be wonderful for the countries in which they are studying and living; for friendships for life can be established in this way.
One matter that is very dear to my heart is the empowerment of women. And as Australia’s first female Foreign Minister, I feel I have a responsibility to highlight some of the challenges that women in our region are facing. An economy will not reach its full potential unless all of the assets available to you are utilised. And half the population is female. I am sure that we all recognise that the economic empowerment of women is fundamental to a resilient and growing economy. Yesterday I had meeting with Minister Kouza and a number of leading Papua New Guinean business women, political leaders, leaders in the law and justice sector, private sector, public sector. We spoke about the obstacles facing women reaching their full potential, being able to take part in the economy, being able to take up opportunities that are available to them in this community.
One matter that is raised time and again was the issue of violence against women. Sexual and domestic violence is unacceptable in any form, anywhere—whether it is in Australia, in PNG, in Europe and in any other country. I am determined to work with the Papua New Guinea Government to stamp out sexual and domestic violence in Papua New Guinea and other islands in the Pacific.
Today, I announce that Australia will fund a new Papua New Guinean family and sexual violence case management centre here in Lae. This centre will comprise a team of individual case workers to ensure that women and children who have been subjected to domestic or sexual violence receive medical support as well as immediate shelter and legal support and other services that they need. We’ll be working with the Royal PNG Constabulary, we’ll be working to support Papua New Guinea’s Family Protection Bill that is going to pass through the Parliament I am sure. We want to work with senior magistrates and District Court clerks and others to enhance protection orders and work to prevent any further violence in the home or in the community. This is a three million dollar commitment to the centre over three years. It’s a new PNG organisation. It will be supported by the Australian Government, Oxfam Australia and the Australian National University to carry out monitoring and analysis. So that’s a demonstration of the commitment that we have to improve the standard of living here in PNG.
For the business community, it is so important that you likewise have opportunities to enhance the bilateral networks here. At the Ministerial Forum that was held between Papua New Guinean ministers and Australian ministers in Canberra last December we announced the establishment of an Australia-PNG network. This is an opportunity to enhance the connections that already exist and coordinate them so that we get a better outcome from our efforts. The Australian Government will provides $A1 million over three years for this initiative that will be hosted by the Lowy Institute in Australia and partner organisations here in Papua New Guinea. What it’s designed to do is enhance the links across business, civil society and academia, in both Australia and in Papua New Guinea. It’s going to have an interactive online hub to foster new partnerships so that we can share knowledge, share experiences, use social media channels to maximise its reach.
This will help us coordinate some of the other existing programs—I have mentioned two: the Seasonal Workers Program and the Working Holiday visas. We also have the Emerging Leaders Dialogue, we have scholarships available for the young people of this country, we have volunteering opportunities and we have twinning initiatives—twinning between the public sector in Australia and the public sector here in Papua New Guinea. So they are just some of the ways that I think we can enhance our relationship, so that it moves from the aid donor-aid recipient to a true economic and strategic partnership.
Here in Lae, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of our Australian Federal Police officers who are part of an overall initiative that sees 50 AFP officers in Port Moresby and in Lae in addition to the 17 that are already in the country. As we walked through the Lae Market earlier, it was quite evident that people are appreciative of their presence - that the officers from the Royal PNG Constabulary are appreciative of the opportunities to enhance their skills, build their capacity.
After all, we need to see law and justice in this country in a way that enhances confidence, that enables business to thrive, enables people to go about their daily lives without fear of an attack or criminal activity. So, if the Australian Federal Police are able to achieve increased confidence amongst community members, within the police force itself, but also for businesses, they would have been able to achieve the task we have set for them. I just want to thank AFP for their work, particularly in Lae.
One of the reasons for coming to Lae, apart from meeting with the business community, was to see the ANGAU Hospital. There are historic links between Australia and Lae going back to the Second World War, the battle of the Bismarck Sea—in fact the High Commissioner told me that her father was here in the Australian Defence Forces during the Second World War. At that time, ANGAU was established: the Australia-New Guinea Administrative Unit. In 1964, a hospital was built in Lae. Well, fifty years on, I think it is pretty evident that that hospital is past its use-by date. As part of the agreement with the Papua New Guinea Government over the Manus Island detention centre, we agreed to partner with the PNG Government in the redevelopment of the ANGAU Lae hospital.
I visited the site today, I saw some work that is already underway to improve the amenities and the facilities there, but much more needs to be done. There is a master planning initiative underway to develop a master plan for ANGAU. We have committed to partner, go fifty-fifty, with the PNG government to develop a new hospital. But it’s got to be about more about just the building. A hospital is about the people who work in it, the people who manage it and the people who receive care there. We have a good example in the Lae Private Hospital and it’s good to see Sherron Lewis here, who we have got know over recent months. We have to ensure that there is a willingness and commitment to not only develop the hospital but to maintain it—maintain it as a world class entity. The money will be spent, but we need to make sure that the equipment is maintained, that the infrastructure is maintained, that the workers in the hospital are trained to the best of their ability and that the level of health care provided is of the highest possible standard. That’s the commitment that we have to the people of Lae and the surrounding provinces. We look forward to working with the Lae community to realise this vision of a world-class hospital here in Lae to join with the private hospital that already exists.
Lae is not only a business hub. I understand that of the 7.8 million people in Papua New Guinea, about five million people orient towards Lae for services. So this is an important centre for many reasons. I want to congratulate the businesses here who do so much to keep the community buoyant and focusing on a more dynamic future, for that is what we want for the Australia-Papua New Guinea relationship. It’s a close relationship—we are the dearest of friends—we have great affection for each other, but what we need to share is a vision for a more dynamic future, where the citizens of this great country and the citizens of Australia together share peace and prosperity. Thank you for your attendance here today.
QUESTION: My question is in regards to agriculture in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea’s Institute of National Affairs has recently released statistics suggesting in excess of eighty per cent of Papua New Guineans are engaged in agriculture in Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately, consecutive governments in Papua New Guinea have largely ignored the needs, neglected the needs, of farmers in Papua New Guinea. Indeed, recently, ultimately, Australian aid money has been reallocated away from agriculture towards health and infrastructure development, which of course is necessary. However, my question is: are we likely to see any reallocation of those funds back towards agriculture at all in the next five years, to seek tangible improvements in agriculture in Papua New Guinea? What advice would you have for Papua New Guinea’s Government in regard to the agricultural sector, which has largely been bypassed because of the mineral and gas industries?
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you for the question. The point I was making earlier—the point that I have been making in Papua New Guinea since I arrived—is that with the transition of the economy here, much like in Australia, to the production and export phase of the mining and resource boom, it is necessary to focus on other sectors of the economy that must be boosted to assist with the transition of the economy away from the constructive phase of mining and resources. Agriculture is an obvious sector that can fill what gaps might be there. Our aid budget is currently under discussion with the PNG Government and the emphasis is on health, education and infrastructure, but also underpinning that—economic growth, including empowerment of women, and that would essentially come through the agricultural sector. We also have the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research—ACIAR, which does fantastic work in supporting recipient countries in areas like crop yields, varieties, getting product to market and providing greater opportunities for people who rely on agriculture either for subsistent reasons or for export.
The Australian Government had a great program called the Enterprise Challenge Fund. This provided small grants to agricultural producers whereby they could buy whatever necessary machinery they needed to build a business based on agriculture. One great example was a company that bought a spice-making, herb-producing machine—oils and spices and the like—and was able to get products from about 100 or more families from around Port Moresby—vanilla pods and cocoa beans and the like—and put it through this processing and produce products that were sold around the region and into Australia. In fact, some of the more fashionable shops in Double Bay, Sydney, had these products on their shelves. I thought that that was a great example of just a bit of seed money providing those opportunities. We will continue to do that because it is a part of enhancing productivity, thereby prosperity, in Papua New Guinea. This is a message that I have certainly passed on to the PNG Government. I hope that ACIAR will be able to work in conjunction with NARI, which is an equivalent organisation here, so that we can produce the appropriate research to ensure that the agricultural sector continues to develop.
QUESTION: <Inaudible> We have a serious problem here with counterfeit drugs. What can Australia do to help us investigate and get rid of these people that are actually killing <inaudible> people?
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you for the question. We of course are concerned, as any citizen in this country would be concerned, that counterfeit drugs can make their way into Papua New Guinea. Not only is it an economic fraud on the country, it is a terrible health risk. We support the establishment of an independent health procurement agency and my discussions with the ministers yesterday, the establishment of that agency is underway. I believe that this will resolve some of the issues we have seen in recent times about the tendering processes, about meeting international standards and the like. So, if there’s an independent health procurement agency it should stamp out, or at least reduce the risk of counterfeit drugs making their way into Papua New Guinea. We stand ready to assist the PNG Government with any advice or experience we have in that regard. So I hope that that will be a thing of the past.
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