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14th Papua New Guinea - Australia Ministerial Forum Joint Statement

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 15 November 2002

The 14th Papua New Guinea-Australia Ministerial Forum was held at Parliament House, Port Moresby on 15 November 2002 and was attended by Ministers from both Papua New Guinea and Australia.

The Hon. Sir Moi Avei, Minister for Petroleum and Energy chaired the Ministerial Forum and led the Papua New Guinea delegation which included Hon. Bart Philemon, Minister for Finance and Treasury, Hon. Sinai Brown, Minister for National Planning and Monitoring, Hon. Dr Puka Temu, Minister for Public Service, Hon. Kappa Yarka, Minister for Defence, Hon. Sir Peter Barter, Minister for Inter-Government Relations, Hon. Sasa Zibe, Minister for Environment and Conservation, Hon. Mark Maipakai, Minister for Justice, Hon. Andrew Baing, Minister for Fisheries, Hon. Yawa Silupa, Minister for Internal Security and Hon. Patrick Pruaitch, Minister for Forestry.

The Australian delegation was led by The Hon. Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs and included Senator The Hon. Robert Hill, Minister for Defence, The Hon. Philip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator The Hon. Nick Minchin, Minister for Finance and Administration, The Hon. Dr David Kemp, Minister for Environment and Heritage, and Senator The Hon. Christopher Ellison, Minister for Justice and Customs.

The Papua New Guinea delegation welcomed the Australian delegation to the 14th Ministerial Forum on behalf of the Government and people of Papua New Guinea.  The Australian delegation thanked the Papua New Guinea Government for hosting the 14th Ministerial Forum and acknowledged the warm welcome and hospitality extended to all delegates.

The Forum acknowledged the importance of the annual Ministerial meeting in providing both Governments the opportunity to review developments relative to the conduct of their bilateral relations in the past twelve months since the last Forum, and to identify new challenges and opportunities before them.  The Forum further acknowledged the importance of building on existing Ministerial and Government-to-Government contacts as a means of strengthening and expanding relations between the two countries.

Ministers emphasized mutual support and cooperation in the management of key areas of the bilateral relationship, especially the political, economic and financial reform programs currently pursued by the Papua New Guinea Government.  Ministers also welcomed the opportunity to review progress in other key areas of the bilateral relationship, including Economic and Development Cooperation, Defence Partnership, Immigration and Border Management Cooperation, Trade and Investment issues, Environmental Cooperation and Bougainville.

The Ministers acknowledged that despite the difficulties being faced, Papua New Guinea is making good progress in implementing the finance and public sector reform program.  The Australian Government will continue to provide technical assistance to support the reform process.

The Australian Government also acknowledged efforts taken by the PNG Government to engage with the IMF and the World Bank.

Ministers acknowledged the important role Australia’s aid program is playing in supporting PNG’s development.  Australia is ready to consider on a tranched basis, the reprioritization of up to K100 million from the development assistance program to meet the priority needs of the government of Papua New Guinea in the context of the 2003 budget.

The Ministers noted that the PNG Incentive Fund is being successfully implemented and that a joint Australia/PNG review of the fund will soon be completed.

Ministers noted that the PNG Government’s reform program had been extended to include the reform of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.  Ministers underlined the importance of this reform and welcomed the recommitment of the new PNG Government to downsize the Defence Force.  Ministers noted that this was a priority area for Papua New Guinea and that Australia will continue to assist in this area.  The Australian Government urged PNG to double its efforts.  It would need to meet targets before Australia would release the second tranche of financial assistance (AUD 20 million).

Ministers acknowledged the high level of consultation and discussion between officials from both countries which has taken place recently on the PNG-Queensland Gas Pipeline.  Ministers noted that these consultations were continuing.  Ministers agreed that the gas pipeline was an important project which had the potential to provide considerable economic benefit to both countries.  Ministers noted the role of Governments in facilitating the project and that the project should proceed on its commercial merits.

On the broader question of the trade and business relationship between the two countries, Ministers welcomed the participation of representatives from the respective business councils.  The business representatives advised the Forum that key issues for them at this stage include governance, education, improved visas and work permit policy and administration, infrastructure development, implementation of major projects, structure and delivery of development assistance programs and the future business/government consultative mechanisms.

The Ministers were informed that the government and business must not be seen by the other as some sort of opponent of competitor.  Rather, there is a symbiotic relationship in which each relies on the other.  The relationship must have institutional strength.  It must not, nor should it be, influenced by changes in leadership or personalities in either group.  Without effective government, the environment in which business is conducted is unpredictable and uncertain, and crucial investment streams become thin.  Without effective business, there is no national economic development to create employment and to feed the revenue streams needed by government to provide services to the people.

On other key issues in the relationship, Ministers acknowledged the importance of the consultations undertaken during the visit in March by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Hon. Philip Ruddock and Prime Minister Howard’s visit to Papua New Guinea in August this year.  Issues of importance were discussed during each of these visits including the Asylum Seekers processing centre in Manus and PNG’s Structural and Reform Programs.  Australia expressed its appreciation to the Government of Papua New Guinea for its support in establishing the processing centre for asylum seekers in Manus.

Ministers noted that substantial progress had been made on the development of a program of cooperative activities which would support Papua New Guinea in conserving its significant biological diversity values and help it meet its international environmental obligations.  Australia has worked with Papua New Guinea to create conservation management tools.  The Ministers were briefed on the progress made since the WSSD Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa in October this year.  The importance of sustainable development and bio-diversity related issues were discussed.

Ministers also acknowledged the important work done in maintaining an effective program of security cooperation in the Torres Strait to prevent the illegal movement of people across the Strait.  The Australian delegation advised the PNG government on a number of collaborative and cooperative measures being undertaken by the Australian Government on the PNG Torres Strait Border including in dealing with illegal arms and weapons trafficking, people smuggling, illegal people movement and drug trafficking.  The PNG delegation acknowledged the Australian Government’s assistance in implementing the border and security arrangements and expressed the government’s preparedness to assist in this regard.

Ministers discussed the extension of the Moratorium on Mining and Drilling of the Seabed in the Torres Strait before it expires on 14th of February 2003.  They agreed in principle to extend the Moratorium subject to the formulation of a Management Plan.

Ministers acknowledged the progress that has occurred over the last twelve months, particularly the passage in Parliament in March 2002 to advance the peace process on Bougainville.  The Australian government was requested to further extend the term of the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville.  Ministers urged the speedy conclusion of the weapons disposal program.

Australia is prepared to consider further assistance to Bougainville through the aid program.  Ministers welcomed Papua New Guinea’s reaffirmation of its desire to achieve peace in Bougainville by peaceful means.

The Forum accepted the invitation from Australia to host the 15th Ministerial Forum in Australia in 2003.

Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs                                          

Moi Avei, Minister for Petroleum and Energy and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration