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13th Australia - Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum Joint Statement

Canberra, 27 February 2001

The 13th Australia – Papua New Guinea

Ministerial Forum was held in Parliament House, Canberra on 27th February 2001. The Hon Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs chaired the meeting and led the Australian delegation which included Senator the Hon Robert Hill, Minister for Environment and Heritage, the Hon Peter Reith, Minister for Defence, The Hon Mark Vaile, Minister for Trade, the Hon Philip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs, Reconciliation and Aboriginal Affairs, Senator the Hon Nicholas Minchin, Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator the Hon Chris Ellison, Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator the Hon Rod Kemp, Assistant Treasurer and Senator the Hon Kay Patterson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Papua New Guinea delegation was led by the Hon Bart Philemon, Minister for Foreign Affairs and included the Hon Moi Avei, Minister for Planning and Implementation and Bougainville Affairs, the Hon Kilroy Genia, Minister for Defence, the Hon John Tekwie, Minister for Trade and Industry, the Hon Herowa Agiwa, Minister for Environment and Conservation, the Hon Puri Ruing, Minister for Justice, the Hon Jimson Sauk, Minister for Police, the Hon Alfred Pogo, Minister for Transport, the Hon Chris Haiveta, Minister for Petroleum and Energy and the Hon Sinai Brown, Vice Minister for Bougainville Affairs.

The two delegations acknowledged the importance both countries attached to the annual Ministerial meeting and the opportunity it presented to review developments in the bilateral relationship over the previous twelve months and to identify the new challenges on the agenda. Both delegations acknowledged the value of close Ministerial level consultation on these issues and the importance of building on the solid personal contact between Ministers and senior officials from both countries established over the years.

The two delegations reviewed the comprehensive range of issues which make up the bilateral relationship. Ministers acknowledged the strong progress Papua New Guinea has made in cementing the reform program begun by the Morauta government since coming to office in July 1999. Ministers acknowledged the difficulties faced by the PNG Government in introducing and maintaining a broad program of economic, financial and political reform but at the same time recognised that such a program was essential if Papua New Guinea were to correct the problems of the past and give Papua New Guinea the best opportunity to meet the challenges facing its people. Ministers commended the PNG Government on the progress made to date, especially the passage of legislation to promote stability and integrity in the country's political and parliamentary processes.

Australian Ministers confirmed that they stood ready to continue to support the PNG Government in the implementation of its reform program and would continue to provide financial and technical support to Papua New Guinea. Ministers noted the importance of Papua New Guinea maintaining the closest cooperative relationship with the International Financial institutions and, in this regard, noted the progress made recently in reconciling difficulties with World Bank officials. Ministers noted that Papua New Guinea had assured the international community that it remained committed to the reform program agreed to with the international financial institutions.

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 PNG Government's recent announcement of its intention to substantially restructure the Defence Force. Ministers noted that this was a priority task for Papua New Guinea and that close attention will be paid to this issue over the next few months leading to an early commencement of the restructuring exercise. The Australian Ministers reaffirmed the commitment of the Australian Government to PNGDF reform and restructuring.

Ministers noted that continuing Australian assistance under the Development Cooperation Treaty remained a vital part of the relationship. It greatly aided the development of Papua New Guinea and provided very valuable support to the PNG Government's own reform program. Ministers noted the improved performance of the development cooperation program with the successful introduction of the Incentive Scheme. Ministers acknowledged the importance of Papua New Guinea's National Charter for Development.

Ministers acknowledged the high level of consultation and discussion between officials from both countries which has taken place over the last six months on the financial arrangements covering 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 and business communities and the presentation of their joint report on the 2000 Business Action Plan and the 2001 Business Action Plan. Ministers welcomed the suggestions made by the Business Councils for improving two way trade and investment and asked that they continue to develop solutions to these important issues in consultation with officials from the two governments through the working group process. A report will be made to the next Forum on further ways to strengthen the trade and investment relationship between the two countries. Ministers noted that the most recent trade statistics showed a balance of trade in 2000 in PNG's favour with exports from PNG valued at $1.4 billion while imports to PNG were valued at $0.98 million.

On other key issues in the relationship, Ministers acknowledged the importance of the consultations undertaken during the visit in September 2000 by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill, to strengthening bilateral cooperation on a number of important bilateral environmental issues.

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 environment obligations. Australia has worked with Papua New Guinea to create conservation management tools. Progress on a range of other areas was also noted including reporting and monitoring systems for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), turtle conservation, tree kangaroo conservation, and chemical management. Australia expressed its appreciation of Papua New Guinea's continued support of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary proposal. A commitment was made to continue to build a cooperative and supportive relationship which could contribute to a sustainable management of Papua New Guinea's unique and biologically diverse environment.

Ministers also acknowledged valuable outcomes arising from the discussions between relevant PNG Government Ministers and Mr Ruddock, Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs, Reconciliation and Aboriginal Affairs in October 2000. These consultations have strengthened cooperation aimed at preventing illegal third country nationals entering Australia. Both sides looked forward to the proposed visit by an Australian inter – agency delegation to Port Moresby in the near future to develop further bilateral cooperation in the area of border management. In this regard, 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. Ministers also acknowledged the important deliberations at the Torres Strait Joint Advisory Council Meeting in Cairns in January 2001 and the progress made there in resolving outstanding issues concerning the operation of the treaty and its impact on the daily life of the inhabitants of the Torres Strait. Ministers undertook to examine its recommendations.

Ministers acknowledged the progress that has occurred over the last twelve months, but particularly the last three months, towards reaching a settlement to the Bougainville dispute. Ministers agreed that the Kokopo Agreement of 26 January 2001 in which the terms for a referendum on the future political status of Bougainville was agreed by the national government and the Bougainville leadership, was a major development in the peace process.

Ministers noted that important talks had taken place in Townsville on the issue of a weapons disposal plan and on the terms of autonomy for the province. Ministers acknowledged that the consultations in Townsville had helped to clarify the position of the parties on the question of a weapons disposal plan for the province and had seen some progress on this vital issue. Ministers noted that further consultations on a comprehensive agreement will continue next week. Ministers encouraged the parties to find a solution to the weapons disposal issue.

Ministers noted that Australia remained prepared to assist in the resolution of the Bougainville dispute. Australia had provided the venue to the latest round of talks and was prepared to consider future options to help facilitate the resolution of the dispute. Ministers noted that Australia had made a significant contribution to bringing peace to Bougainville through its aid program and its contribution to the neutral regional Peace Monitoring Group. Ministers noted that the commitment of $100 million in aid to Bougainville would be expended by mid 2002 and that Australia was prepared to consider further assistance to Bougainville through the aid program. Ministers noted that the Peace Monitoring Group was not a permanent presence on Bougainville and that it had been reduced in strength from 300 to 190. Ministers acknowledged that reductions in the size of the Peace Monitoring Group would continue to occur. Ministers welcomed Papua New Guinea's reaffirmation of its desire to achieve peace in Bougainville by peaceful means.

Ministers noted recent developments in the region, particularly developments in the South Pacific and in Indonesia.

The Forum accepted the invitation from Papua New Guinea to host the 14th Ministerial Forum in 2002 in Lae, Morobe Province.

Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Bart Philemon, Minister for Foreign Affairs

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