The inaugural Australia-Papua New Guinea Roundtable, chaired by Senator Matthew Thistlethwaite, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, was held in Geelong on 5 April 2013.
Distinguished participants included Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Public Service, Sir Puka Temu, Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Mr Kerenga Kua, Vice Minister for Treasury, Ms Delilah Gore, and Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney, and Member for Corio, Mr Richard Marles.
Roundtable discussions examined ways to boost trade and investment, promote security and stability, and advance strong community-level bilateral relations.
Participants acknowledged the special relationship Australia and Papua New Guinea enjoy, and noted that strengthening trade and investment links were re-shaping the bilateral relationship and playing an increasingly important role.
Participants acknowledged the importance of the resources sector to Papua New Guinea’s economic growth and the opportunities this presented for increased economic cooperation. Participants stressed the importance of diversifying trade and investment links into other areas such as tourism, education, agriculture and fisheries.
Participants noted the importance of regulating resource-led economic growth to better manage and stagger revenue returns and the need for economic growth to reflect improved living standards across society, particularly in rural communities. They agreed on the importance of continued bilateral cooperation to support sustainable economic growth in Papua New Guinea, and highlighted the need to ensure that this growth was translated into increased government revenue and the effective delivery of government services.
Participants welcomed Papua New Guinea’s progress in establishing a Sovereign Wealth Fund, noted Australia’s experience in establishing the Future Fund, and stressed the need for transparent and accountable systems to be put in place to ensure revenue from resource extraction was translated into development outcomes and underpinned investor confidence.
Participants encouraged business and political leaders to continue to work to facilitate the freer movement of people and goods between our two countries, recognising the bilateral, as well as developmental, gains that could be made through trade and economic integration.
In relation to security cooperation and stability, participants highlighted the long and proud history of Australia-Papua New Guinea defence cooperation and its enduring nature. Australian Defence Force support for the conduct of Papua New Guinea’s successful 2012 elections was highlighted. Participants noted that ongoing attention to the bilateral defence relationship was needed to both maintain and build understanding and trust, especially at the operational level.
Participants acknowledged that the shift in economic and strategic weight in the Asia-Pacific region was influencing defence policy in both countries and was increasing the need for open dialogue on strategic issues as well as for strong bilateral and regional cooperation based on our shared values and common strategic interests.
Participants recognised the important role of police forces in providing security for our communities. The current shortage of police in Papua New Guinea was acknowledged as a major challenge to maintaining effective law and order. Participants welcomed and noted the importance of ongoing support from Australia for the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, and the benefits of ongoing law enforcement cooperation, particularly in the areas of capacity building and combatting corruption.
In relation to the bilateral relationship more broadly, participants acknowledged the strengthening of the relationship in recent years, the many close institutional and personal links that underpin the relationship, and the importance they play in overcoming simplistic and out-dated perceptions in both countries. The Kokoda Track was highlighted as a strong symbol of the special status of the bilateral relationship, both past and present.
Participants recognised that the bilateral relationship was evolving and welcomed the shift from an aid focus to one of economic cooperation. They welcomed the new people-to-people links that were emerging as a result.
Participants encouraged academic alumni, business and public figures to assist in building a greater understanding of each other’s countries and to better promote the contemporary relationship. They called on the commercial media in both countries to report accurately on bilateral issues and to explore issues beyond traditionally popular areas such as sport.
Participants noted the importance of fostering education and cultural links, and the promotion of contact between the next generation through student exchange and youth forums.
Participants concluded that the contemporary bilateral relationship was particularly strong and was set to strengthen further in future years. They welcomed the inaugural Australia-Papua New Guinea Roundtable as a valuable new forum to enhance existing bilateral architecture and to support relations between our two countries.