I congratulate the Lowy Institute for opening this dialogue, by the sounds of it by Jenny and Serena, it has met absolutely the objectives that we were looking for and I believe it is now a very important part of the Australia-PNG dialogue. I hope that this will be the beginning of an annual event that will take this relationship to a whole new level.
I am really delighted to have the opportunity to address the 22 emerging young leaders. I am not sure why I’m saying emerging, they already appear to be leaders in their own right and in the few moments I have had to speak to them, it has been heartening to know how much they’ve got out of today’s discussions. Reuben was telling me that he got so much out of the discussions, particularly on the economic front, and I think it’s wonderful we’re able to ensure that the issues of concern come to both PNG and Australia at every level across societies and communities.
Yes, we are friends, we are neighbours, we are partners and we have a shared history, a shared geography. But I believe that there is still so much more that we can do with the Australia-PNG relationship to broaden it, to deepen it, to diversify it, to get away from some of the historical stereotypes, to treat each other as equal partners in every way. For me, this kind of dialogue meets precisely the level of people to people links that we should be encouraging.
As Michael indicated, I claimed and said on numerous occasions as Shadow Foreign Minister that the Australia-PNG relationship should be one of our highest foreign policy priorities and I can ensure you that it is.
Prior to taking on this role as Foreign Minister, I visited PNG on a number of occasions and since becoming Foreign Minister, Rimbink Pato, the Foreign Minister, and I have been checking each other’s diaries to find a time when we are both in PNG at the same time so that we can have our first official meeting. It seems PNG is going to get there first and I will be welcoming the ministerial dialogue to Canberra the week after next. But shortly thereafter I will be going back to PNG for my first official visit. Rimbink and I have met each other in various places all over the world in the last few weeks and we are certainly looking forward to having that very wide ranging discussion when I get back to PNG.
I have had a long love affair with Papua New Guinea and it started when I was 14, and a teacher at my secondary school went on to work in Popondetta as a teacher and she decided that 14-year-old precocious schoolgirls in Adelaide needed to learn a little more about our neighbour to the north. So she arranged for 14-year-old girls in my class to be pen-pals with 14-year-old boys in PNG. I was mad about it for all of 12 months and with the attention span of a 15-year-old, I sort of wandered off and didn’t ever write back and well he didn’t write [inaudible due to laughter]. I often thought what happened to Oscar and the other day going through my papers I found a photo — that’s Oscar [inaudible due to laughter]. I will ask the Foreign Minister if he can get PNG intelligence to track him down.
After this my older sister was a medical student at Adelaide Uni and for her intern period she went to Port Moresby, perhaps inspired by my pen-pal, and she worked at Port Moresby Hospital. She came home with such extraordinary stories, this was about 1975, of the wonderful time she had that she inspired in me a deeper interest in PNG. In fact, my sister and I have spoken about PNG so often that my niece, my sister’s daughter, has now decided to give up her teaching career in Adelaide and she’s going to PNG for 12 months next year to teach in Goroka. So it has been a long standing interest.
As Shadow Foreign Minister my visit led to PNG were just wonderful. The people were so welcoming and so friendly, we travel all over PNG, also to Bougainville and I have seen the breathtaking, beautiful environment, from the rainforest and the beaches and the islands and the villages and the mountains. It is just superb. If you haven’t been there, you must, put it on your bucket list, on your priorities, on your bucket list.
I think that it is a real challenge for the younger generation in PNG for the country is going through a transformation. An economic transformation that has enormous ramifications, driven very much by the energy projects, the PNG energy project for start, could in itself transform the economy. The challenge will be to ensure the revenues that flow from these projects are captured and spent for the benefit of future generations, and that’s you. So there is a real responsibility to ensure that the current government and future governments always have in mind the need to build the [inaudible] of the country for the future for the young people.
I have been delighted to see a number of the projects that the Australian Government supports in PNG. But we must never think of ourselves as the aid-donor and the aid-recipient. We are partners in developing the PNG economy, and we in Australia can assist, so we should assist, for Australia can offer experience and advice and that is our responsibility to do so.
I think one area where we can really work closely together is in skills and education. I have visited the Australian Pacific Technical College in Port Moresby, that has been training so many young people in various trades to assist in building the economy in PNG. I also think there is more that we can do with exchanges. I know that many young PNG people come to Australia on scholarships but I believe it is time for many young Australians to go to PNG to study there, to learn there.
A number of you would have heard that the new Australian Government has announced Australia’s New Colombo Plan. Sixty years ago, Australia signed up the original Colombo Plan which offered students in our region the opportunity to come to Australia to study at our universities, live with our families, get to know Australia and Australians and then go home, hopefully with wonderful memories of their time in Australia and the friendships they have and will last a lifetime.
Over about a 30-year period, from the 1950s to the 1980s, about 40,000 people from the region came to Australia as Colombo Plan scholars. Whenever I travel through the region, I’m always struck by the number of Prime Ministers or Vice-Presidents or business leaders who talk about such affection about Australia because of their experience as a Colombo Plan scholar. We decided it is time to do that in reverse and we’ve announced an Australian Government scholarship scheme which will provide opportunities for undergraduates in our universities to undertake part of their course at a university in the region.
It is a huge project. I have enormous ambitions for the New Colombo Plan. But we have to get it right, so we have started with a pilot program for next year in four locations — Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong — and once we have got the model right and we have addressed these visas and work permits — because an element of this is the opportunity to work as an intern in the host country, and not only from an Australian business but for host country businesses — once we have got the model right, we want to invite countries to join so Australian students can go there. I have already held conversations with the PNG Government about PNG becoming a part of the New Colombo Plan. So I look forward to the day when we have equal numbers of Australian students studying in PNG and PNG students studying in Australia.
I was delighted to have seen the other day that our AFP contingent — Australia Federal Police contingent — has arrived in Port Moresby. They are there to support the PNG police force and this is another example of where we can work closely together to share experiences and share skills.
I see that representatives of the PNG-Australia business council are here tonight, and that’s the business council that has been operating for about the last 30 years. That’s another opportunity for young people to be involved in people to people links through our business councils, through a number of associations that exist.
It is a wonderful relationship, there is real affection between the people of Papua New Guinea and the people of Australia. It is incumbent upon us all to ensure that this relationship is nurtured and that it flourishes and I believe initiatives such as the emerging leaders dialogue will be the foundation for the future of this relationship and that the very best days of the Australian-PNG relationship lie ahead of us. Thank you.
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