Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

Donna thank you for that beautiful Welcome to Country, Lady Katherine Lepani, Peter Botten and his wife Gillian, the representatives from the Rugby League World Cup 2017, Consul General, friends of PNG, friends of Australia.

I’m absolutely delighted to be here this evening to celebrate the achievements of a team from another country and while that might not be what you’d expect from an Australian Member of Parliament my presence here tonight reflects the very deep abiding and enduring friendship between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

We are here to celebrate the achievements of this magnificent group of women led by Captain Cathy Neap. I met Cathy in Port Moresby on one of my visits and she was undertaking a rugby league training clinic at a school and I knew that we had a very special woman working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and here she is as the captain of the PNG Orchids, the first female Rugby League team in Papua New Guinea. Congratulations Cathy.

We’re also here to recognise the role that this team is already playing and will continue to play in terms of the leadership and mentorship that they will provide for young women, not only in PNG but I believe across the Pacific and they will inspire young women in PNG to take up sport, to get involved, to be leaders, become active in the social and economic life of Papua New Guinea.

I don’t underestimate how proud your families and friends and colleagues will be of you as you take on England next weekend for the first game. I know that you’ve played the Jillaroos and we won but you won the next game, and I can’t think of a better outcome than a Jillaroos-Orchids grand final. Your hard work and your dedication has brought you rewards and I hope that that’s a lesson for young people in PNG.

I also want to thank Oil Search, an extraordinary company that has defined corporate social responsibility in Papua New Guinea. Oil Search has been recognised by the United Nations Development Program for its commitment to goal number five of the Sustainable Development Goals that embraces women’s empowerment, ending violence and discrimination against women. I have visited Oil Search and their operations in PNG on many occasions and I’m always struck by the deep engagement that Oil Search and its entire team have with the people of Papua New Guinea. They are making a significant difference and supporting the social and economic development of PNG.

I’m particularly delighted that Peter Botten is one of our New Colombo Plan champions. As Peter said, this is a Government initiative to provide undergraduates in Australian universities the opportunity to live and study and work in one of forty locations in the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific and it gives Australian students new perspectives and insights and understanding of our place in the world and the countries in which they are hosted. We only introduced the program in 2014 but already 100 young Australian undergraduates have undertaken New Colombo Plan placements in PNG and I’m delighted that Oil Search has come on board as a business champion and a couple of our students have already undertaken internships with Oil Search in PNG.

As Peter said, part of our aid program is to support the empowerment of women. Papua New Guinea is among the largest recipients of overseas development assistance from the Australian Government and has been over many years, and we work in partnership with the PNG Government to ensure that we get the best outcomes, the best results, for the people of PNG.

One of the very significant aspects of our program in PNG is the empowerment of women. In fact, I’ve required a target to be placed on our aid program to ensure that at least eighty percent of our development activity takes into account the impact on women and girls.

For example if we are building a school we have to focus on access for girls. If we have a training course, can women, can girls be part of this training course. If there’s a conference we have to make sure that women’s voices are heard.

The three pillars of our empowering women programs focus on economic empowerment. We support PNG women learn financial skills, business management skills, we supply funding for infrastructure in the markets, we support them having access to finance.

A second pillar is leadership. We want to empower more PNG women to take leadership roles in their families, in their communities, in business, in politics, and while we’ve gone a little bit backwards on the political side of things, but I’m hoping that amongst the young women I see here that we have some aspiring PNG politicians. In fact, I’m sure that we have some ministers, perhaps even Ministers for Sport amongst the women who are here this evening.

Recently, I announced a new women’s leadership initiative when I was in New York for the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week, and this program will connect successful women entrepreneurs in Australia with emerging female entrepreneurs in the Pacific, including PNG. I think that this mentoring program will have enormous benefits as we connect women in all fields across a diverse array of areas with emerging female leaders in our region.

I told Ivanka Trump about our program and as you know she’s President Trump’s daughter, she’s very interested in female entrepreneurship and she was so taken with the idea of connecting successful female entrepreneurs in Australia with entrepreneurs in the Pacific that she wants to know more, to understand if she could introduce such an initiative through her Trump Foundation in the United States.

This is so important for us to do all we can to ensure that women and girls in PNG have every opportunity to reach their potential. For a nation that ignores or overlooks the talents and abilities and skills and energy of their women will never reach its full potential.

We are also addressing the issue of violence against women, and we have numerous education programs as well as practical support for women who are subjected to violence. It is a scourge.

PNG is not alone. Other nations including Australia, struggle with this challenge but we want to do all we can to ensure that the beautiful people of PNG, our dear friends, are able to live happily and in harmony and to ensure that each one of them is able to pursue their dreams.

So ladies and gentlemen, as I said at the outset, I could not be more thrilled to be here tonight to witness the launch of the PNG Orchids on the world stage, and I hope that the girls here appreciate the opportunity that they’ve been given but also the importance of the role that they are playing in the lives of young girls in PNG.

My mother used to tell me that girls can do anything. So never let others define you, never let others place limitations on you, believe in yourself, believe in what you can achieve and we’ll see great things from the PNG Orchids.

Congratulations!

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