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Papua New Guinea

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Papua New Guinea country brief

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has an estimated population of approximately 9 million (World Bank). The PNG mainland and its six hundred islands have a total land area of 452,860 square kilometres. Most people living in PNG are Melanesian, but some are Micronesian or Polynesian. PNG has over 800 known languages. English, Tok Pisin (Pidgin), and Hiri Motu (the lingua franca of the Papuan region) are the official languages.

The spectrum of PNG society now ranges from traditional village-based life, dependent on subsistence and small cash-crop agriculture, to modern urban life in the main cities of Port Moresby (capital), Lae, Madang, Wewak, Goroka, Mt Hagen, and Rabaul. Some 80-85 per cent of the population directly derive their livelihood from farming, and 15-20 per cent of the population live in urban areas. Population growth is estimated to have been 1.9 per cent in 2021 (World Bank) with more than half of the population under the age of 23.

The road to independence

The Papua and New Guinea Act, passed in Australia in 1949, confirmed the administrative union of New Guinea and Papua under the title of 'The Territory of Papua and New Guinea' and placed it under the International Trusteeship System. The Act provided for a Legislative Council (established in 1951), a judicial organisation, a public service, and a system of local government. The first House of Assembly, which replaced the Legislative Council in 1963, opened on 8 June 1964. In 1972, the name of the territory was changed to Papua New Guinea and elections saw the formation of a ministry headed by Chief Minister Michael Somare, who pledged to lead the country to self-government and then to independence. Independence from Australia was proclaimed in 1975, and Somare became the first Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.

Political overview

System of government

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional monarchy. The Head of State is HM King Charles III, represented in Papua New Guinea by a Governor-General, currently His Excellency Sir Robert Dadae. The Governor-General is elected directly by Members of the National Parliament and performs mainly ceremonial functions.

Government structure

Papua New Guinea has three levels of government - national, provincial and local. The National Parliament is a 118 member unicameral legislature elected for five-year terms by universal suffrage. The Prime Minister is appointed and dismissed by the Governor-General on the proposal of Parliament. The Cabinet – known as the National Executive Council or NEC – is appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Supreme Court, National Court, and local and village courts form an independent justice system.

Political system

Members of the National Parliament are elected from 96 single-member electorates and 22 regional electorates. The regional electorates correspond to Papua New Guinea's 20 provinces, plus the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and the National Capital District. Members from regional electorates also serve as provincial Governors. Each province has its own provincial assembly and administration. Under PNG’s Constitution, national elections are held every five years, with the next national election scheduled for 2027.

Up to and including the June 2002 general election, members of parliament were elected on a first-past-the-post basis and, due to the large number of candidates, they frequently won with less than 15 per cent of the vote. After the 2002 election a system of limited preferential voting was introduced, under which voters are required to list a first, second, and third preference. The current allowed minimum threshold for victory is 18 per cent.

To date, all governments have been coalitions. Historically, there has been a high turn-over of parliamentarians at general elections. In 2002, for example, around 75 per cent of sitting members lost their seats. In the 2022 elections, the figure was 38 per cent, a much lower turnover rate than all previous elections.

The PNG Constitution protects new Governments from Parliamentary motions of no-confidence during the first 18 months of a five-year term. Once the 18-month moratorium expires, a successful no-confidence motion may result in a new Prime Minister forming a government without the need for a national election. If the no-confidence motion occurs during the last twelve months of a five-year term, a national election must be held. Changes in government following motions of no-confidence have been a characteristic of PNG politics since independence.

Bilateral relations

Geographic proximity and historical links have given Papua New Guinea a special place in Australia's foreign relations and the bilateral relationship is one of our most complex and wide-ranging. Government relations are underpinned by the Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership of 2020 and the Joint Declaration for a New Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership, which is built on the Joint Declaration of Principles of 1987 (revised in 1992). Our leaders and ministers are in close and regular contact, including through an Annual Leaders' Dialogue and the Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, an annual high-level meeting between the two countries.

To learn more about Australia-Papua New Guinea bilateral relations visit Our Engagement in Papua New Guinea.

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