Papua New Guinea
28th Papua New Guinea-Australia Ministerial Forum Joint Communiqué
2 September 2021 Canberra, Australia and Port Moresby, PNG (held virtually)
- The 28th Papua New Guinea–Australia Ministerial Forum was held virtually on 2 September 2021. The Forum was co-chaired for Australia by Senator the Hon Marise Payne, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and former Minister for Women, and for Papua New Guinea by the Hon Soroi Marepo Eoe, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
- Participating Ministers for Australia were: Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance; the Hon Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Defence; the Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care; the Hon Karen Andrews MP, Minister for Home Affairs; the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment; and Senator the Hon Zed Seselja, Minister for International Development and the Pacific; and for Papua New Guinea: the Hon Ian Ling Stuckey MP, Minister for Treasury; the Hon Westly Nukundj MP, Minister for Immigration and Border Security; the Hon Renbo Paita, Minister for National Planning and Monitoring; the Hon Sir John Pundari CMG KBE MP, Minister for Finance; the Hon Wera Mori MP, Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change; the Hon Jelta Wong MP, Minister for Health and HIV/AIDS; the Hon Bryan Kramer MP, Minister for Justice.
- Ministers welcomed the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership (CSEP) by Prime Ministers Marape and Morrison on 5 August 2020. One year on, Ministers acknowledged CSEP as a significant milestone in the bilateral relationship that provides an overarching framework for our enduring and dynamic partnership across all sectors. Ministers welcomed agreement by senior officials on a CSEP Action Plan that outlines priorities for implementing CSEP over the next year. Ministers noted that the Action Plan would be updated annually and key achievements in implementing CSEP highlighted at Ministerial Forums. Ministers agreed that officials would consult the Australia-PNG Business Council and Business Council of PNG on CSEP implementation.
- While noting the impact of COVID-19 on our people-to-people links over the last eighteen months, Ministers affirmed their commitment to keeping these links strong. They agreed that the impacts of the pandemic require us to strengthen our partnerships in the region and work together to emerge from the crisis.
Advancing the Papua New Guinea – Australia Relationship
COVID -19 Response and Recovery
- Ministers noted the significant efforts of both countries to protect the lives and livelihoods of their peoples throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Papua New Guinea acknowledged Australia's responsiveness during the pandemic through the Partnerships for Recovery and PNG COVID-19 Development Response Plan (CRP). Ministers welcomed Australia's delivery of over $340 million in COVID-related assistance to PNG, including support under the Australian Government's Pacific COVID-19 Recovery Package - to date, comprising $52 million in grant-based budget support to PNG to bolster health and education services, and $15 million for child nutrition and social protection, women's access to markets and protection of other civilians affected by COVID-19.
- Ministers noted Australia's comprehensive support for COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific. Australia is delivering $523.2 million under the Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative, $100 million for the Quad Vaccine Partnership, and $130 million to the COVAX Facility's Advance Market Commitment. These commitments, combined with the availability of Australian domestic stock, means supply is not a constraint to vaccine rollout in Papua New Guinea. Ministers noted the continued serious threat posed by COVID-19, particularly the Delta strain, and underlined the importance of the earliest possible vaccination of target populations in both countries, including to underpin re-opening of international borders. Minsters also committed to explore vaccination certification arrangements to facilitate the movement of people.
- Ministers noted the strong vaccination rates in Western Province (South Fly), and interest in expanding vaccination support to communities adjoining the Treaty Villages. They acknowledged that the result had been made possible by the strong partnership between the Australian and PNG Governments, and the Western Provincial Health Authority.
Economic Partnership for Prosperity
- Ministers reflected on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on both countries' economic growth trajectories and discussed our continued joint commitment to and support for the PNG Government's economic, fiscal and state-owned-enterprise (SOE) reform objectives. Ministers noted such reforms would strengthen the resilience of PNG's economy and help mitigate the risks of future economic shocks. Ministers noted Australia's 2020 loan of US$400 million, linked to Papua New Guinea's economic reform program, and welcomed the conclusion of PNG's IMF Staff Monitored Program in mid-2021. Australian Ministers were encouraged by Papua New Guinea's intention to pursue a further reform program with the IMF, and to continue its SOE reform program with the Asian Development Bank.
- Ministers agreed on the importance of continued cooperation between relevant agencies to prepare for an eventual reopening of international borders. They acknowledged the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for Papua New Guinean and Australian businesses operating across each other's borders, and welcomed efforts to resolve these challenges, including Australian funding to underwrite Air Niugini flights to Australia, pre-departure COVID testing at Jackson's International Airport, and travel-exemption arrangements for workers in the resources sector, a critical contributor to the PNG economy.
Development, Infrastructure, Trade and Investment
- Ministers acknowledged that CSEP provides a framework for driving deeper development cooperation and positive outcomes in health, education, climate, inclusion and protection of marginalised groups and empowerment of women and girls. Ministers agreed to continue refining our development cooperation, including to address Papua New Guinea's need for high-quality economic and social infrastructure. Ministers acknowledged the increase in Australian bilateral funding for health and plan to give greater priority to education and affirmed that PNG's own budget prioritisation of health and education would be critical for progress to be made.
- Ministers emphasised the transformative opportunities available to Papua New Guinea through increased participation in Australia's labour mobility initiatives. Ministers noted the role of Australian States and Territories in approving recruitments and setting quarantine requirements, and the importance of boosting vaccination rates for labour-mobility workers. PNG Ministers emphasised the role of labour mobility for PNG's economic recovery.
- Ministers discussed the important opportunities arising from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP) and how AIFFP-funded projects could continue to deliver outcomes for Papua New Guineans, promoting growth and stability and assisting PNG recover from the impacts of COVID. Ministers noted the core AIFFP objective of financing high-quality, climate-resilient infrastructure utilising local PNG labour.
- Ministers agreed to prioritise a review of bilateral trade and investment arrangements under CSEP, including to assess how to grow economic cooperation between our two countries. Ministers acknowledged the importance of cooperation between Australian and the PNG customs services to achieve strategic goals relating to customs, revenue collection and trade modernisation.
- Ministers noted the importance of, and welcomed the contribution made by the Papua New Guinean and Australian business communities to the bilateral relationship. Ministers committed to improving the business enabling environment to encourage further trade and investment and support recovery from COVID-19. Ministers welcomed the continued positive engagement that both Governments have with the Australia-PNG Business Council and Business Council of PNG. They noted, in particular, concerns raised by the Councils in relation to travel between Australia and PNG and undertook to consult further with the Councils on this issue. Relevant Ministers looked forward to discussing a range of issues with the two Councils at a virtual Business Forum.
- Ministers emphasised the importance of the resources sector in generating investment and growth in our respective economies. They underlined the importance of ensuring a predictable business environment, including consultation with business stakeholders on prospective legislative and policy changes.
- Ministers noted Papua New Guinea's endeavours to develop non-extractive sectors, including efforts to expand the agriculture sector. Ministers acknowledged Australian support to the coffee and cocoa sectors, general biosecurity surveillance activities, and to help contain African Swine Fever in Papua New Guinea. Ministers welcomed Australia's announcement of funding new biosecurity support to control animal diseases, and new funding for laboratory upgrades which will make Papua New Guinea a leader in the region in animal diagnostic testing.
- Ministers agreed on the importance of ensuring economic growth is inclusive, provides benefits across society and generates livelihoods for women and girls. Ministers recognised gender equality as a priority for both countries and encouraged Papua New Guinea in its efforts to ensure greater participation by women in the PNG Parliament and economy.
Strategic Cooperation for Security and Stability
- Ministers recalled their Leaders' commitment in CSEP to elevate bilateral security cooperation through the development of a Bilateral Security Treaty. They re-affirmed this commitment and agreed that officials should commence scoping discussions in October 2021.
- Ministers welcomed the fact that our close security partnership continued to grow in 2020 and 2021, despite the challenges of COVID‑19. Australian Ministers thanked Papua New Guinea for the assistance provided to Australia by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) in response to the 2019-20 bushfires. PNG Ministers expressed appreciation for the assistance provided under the Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) to Papua New Guinea's COVID-19 response across intelligence, operations, logistics, health and infrastructure.
- Ministers acknowledged the enduring value of the DCP. Ministers noted our agreed priorities in 2021 across the land, maritime, and air domains to advance Papua New Guinea's security, infrastructure and capability priorities, and to promote people-to-people links and interoperability between the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and PNGDF. Ministers acknowledged the volume of professional military training and education opportunities which will continue to grow over the coming year. They committed to working together to empower women within our respective militaries, with women, peace and security now a standing item for all strategic Defence dialogues. Ministers noted the enhanced partnership between our Defence Departments over the past two years.
- Ministers welcomed the newly established Flights of Excellence program, noting its significance in restoring PNGDF's sovereign military aviation capability. They also welcomed continued progress on the Ships of Excellence program, including the handover of Papua New Guinea's second Guardian-class Patrol Boat, and Australia's commitment to capability enhancements through arming of the Guardian-class Patrol Boats, with a third patrol boat to be completed in 2022. Ministers welcomed the two-fold increase in infrastructure investments under the DCP and reaffirmed their commitment to the Lombrum Joint Initiative, which is making good progress through the main works package at Lombrum Naval Base in Manus Province.
- Ministers acknowledged the close institutional ties between Australia's and PNG's law enforcement and border agencies and committed to ongoing cooperation to detect, deter and disrupt transnational crime and serious organised crime as it impacts Papua New Guinea, Australia and the Pacific. They also committed to continued close cooperation and capacity development between the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) under the PNG-Australia Policing Partnership (PNG-APP).
- Ministers agreed on the important role law and order plays in underpinning progress on economic and social development, strengthening governance and combatting corruption. They committed to further enhance cooperation under the PNG-APP through a renewed focus on leadership and recruitment and the development of a training centre of excellence at Bomana Police Training College.
- Ministers welcomed the announcement of a second phase of the Justice Services and Stability for Development Program, which will support the delivery of effective and inclusive justice services across PNG with a particular focus on strengthening community-level justice mechanisms. Ministers emphasised the need to continue prioritising efforts to combat gender-based violence, corruption, and transnational crime through our law and justice partnerships.
Climate Change and Other Matters
- Ministers underscored their commitment to the Paris Agreement, to taking practical and ambitious action to reduce emissions in order to keep within reach of the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, and to reach net zero as soon as possible. Both countries are looking for practical, scalable solutions to decarbonise and grow their economies and expressed their interest in collaboration on this, including in the lead up to COP26.
- Ministers welcomed continued cooperation on our shared maritime border, including upholding COVID-19 border closures and the suspension of traditional visits under the Torres Strait Treaty in order to protect communities on both sides of the border. Ministers agreed that any decision to reopen the border in the Torres Strait would need to be informed by expert health advice and in consultation with the local communities. Ministers emphasised the importance of secure border arrangements across the Torres Strait to combat transnational crime and enhanced cooperation on development in Treaty Villages and Western Province. Ministers agreed on the need for early consultation on any development proposals in or near to the Torres Strait Protected Zone that could impact on the interests of either country, particularly the traditional inhabitants as defined in the Torres Strait Treaty.
- Ministers discussed the importance of free, fair and transparent election processes, and noted that general elections are scheduled in Papua New Guinea in mid-2022, and that Australia will also conduct an election in or before May 2022. As vibrant and inclusive democracies, Ministers agreed that secure and safe elections are an essential expression of our peoples' freedoms and must be fully supported and adequately resourced by governments.
Ministers agreed to hold the 29th Papua New Guinea–Australia Ministerial Forum in 2022.