Address to PNGAA Symposium Dinner: Julie Bishop

Address by the Hon. Julie Bishop, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, officially representing the Hon. Tony Abbott, MP, Prime Minister of Australia, at the PNGAA Symposium Dinner held at NSW Parliament House on 17 September 2014

Thank you Charlie (Lynn). Yes I am an AFL fan (go the Eagles—but not this year). Mind you I have been introduced to the wonderful world of Rugby League and I’ve decided that my team is going to be … the PNG Hunters! You just have to get them in but I’m patient!

Major General Michael Jeffery and Marlene Jeffrey, High Commissioner Charles Lepani—a dear friend, a great supporter and somebody to whom I look for advice, on many occasions, in relation to the PNG-Australia relationship, Consul-General Singin, Andrea Williams, Charlie Lynn, MLC, and other state colleagues from the State Parliament here, Andrew Laming—my Federal Parliamentary colleague, Christine Forster who is in fact a Sydney City Councillor but she’s a sister to someone who is quite important in my life: my boss Tony Abbott!

I’m absolutely delighted to be here amongst friends of Australia, friends of Papua New Guinea.

It’s an honour to address the PNG Association of Australia because Papua New Guinea holds a very special place in my heart. I have grown to love this country and its people. I can’t claim to have the long family connections that Andrea and John, and many others in this room, can but like so many Australians, Papua New Guinea has intersected my life over the years.

My Year 9 teacher at school thought, rather presciently, that the 14-year olds in her charge should learn a bit more about Australia’s closest neighbours. And so it was that I, and the other girls in my class, became pen-pals in 1970 with a class of 14-year old boys at Martyrs School in Popondetta.

Sadly, my correspondence with young Oscar of Oro Province petered out, but recently I spoke of my penpal and produced a faded photograph that he had sent to me. Well, that started the PNG Post-Courier on a hunt for Oscar. And Charles, we can confirm that many people named Oscar claim to be my penpal. It did produce a few front page stories during my recent visit.

A few years after that, in October of 1975, my sister Patricia undertook her medical internship in Papua New Guinea and she came home with the most wonderful stories of her work in Goroka. Today, her daughter, my niece, Isabel, is a volunteer teacher at Buk bilong Pikinini in Goroka; and this week my sister has returned to spend time with Issy in Goroka and to revive the memories of her time there so many years ago. So Papua New Guinea has captured my imagination as a place of extraordinary landscapes, rich history and, of course, the most warm-hearted people.

And my family does have a deep connection: from my uncle Ross, my mother’s brother, who fought in PNG in the Second World War, my great-uncle Harry Penny founded the Teachers’ College in Papua New Guinea, probably in about 1964. And when I became the Member for Curtin back in 1998, my political mentor, and my greatest supporter in this Perth electorate was Dame Rachel Cleland and I’m so delighted that her son Bob Cleland is here this evening because Dame Rachel spent so much time over cups of tea telling me about their work in PNG as Don was the Administrator from 1952 to 1956.

And so now as Australia’s Foreign Minister, in a busy first year—in fact tomorrow is the anniversary of my swearing in as Foreign Minister—I have continued my interest that developed even more deeply when in Opposition, visiting PNG a couple of times this year, with a third visit planned for December. Meeting people doing significant work in maternal and child health, teachers in children’s literacy, women taking leadership roles and meeting with the diverse Australia-PNG business community, as well as the politicians. For of course I’ve hosted the PNG Ministerial Forum in Canberra. I’ve spoken to the PNG Emerging Leaders’ Forum at the Lowy Institute, I’ve launched the Australia-PNG Network and the new Ligue bilong Laif rugby league participation program. I’ve met business leaders at the forefront of greater economic diplomacy between our nations. I’ve met my counterpart and friend, PNG Minister Rimbink Pato, at so many international meetings, including most recently at the third UN Small Islands Developing States meeting in Samoa that Rim now calls me sister, I call him brother.

Our Government, from the highest levels, has made it clear that our relationship with PNG is a foreign policy priority for us. Prime Minister Abbott made a four-day visit to PNG in March with Justice Minister Keenan. Our Veterans Affairs Minister Ronaldson, my Parliamentary Secretary Brett Mason, our Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, have all visited PNG in our first year.

While there is an understandable focus on the world’s trouble spots at present, it does concern me that too few Australians understand the depth and breadth of our relationship with PNG and how it’s evolving in the 21st century. Sadly, too many Australians still have a negative stereotypical view of Papua New Guinea that focuses too heavily on the challenges and not enough on the great potential.

Last month, the Economist magazine cited PNG as Asia’s fastest growing economy in 2015, observing that it is quote “a country that most investors will not have considered but PNG tops the regional rankings with a GDP of 14.8% owing to a huge increase in its energy exports as a giant new Exxon-Mobil-led LNG project comes on stream”.

I speak of our bilateral ‘economic partnership’: a mature relationship and long-standing, but a relationship with still so much potential. Australians should have a deeper understanding of the long history between our nations in order to better appreciate our dynamic and contemporary partnership.

PNG is on the cusp of great change and Australia and PNG must continue to work together as close neighbours, trusted partners and the dearest of friends so that we make the most of the opportunities in coming years.

For a start, our shared history. As this audience is well aware, Australia’s modern relationship with PNG reaches back to the nineteenth century and then, in 1902, to formal passing of responsibility for the administration of the Territory of Papua to the brand new federated Commonwealth of Australia. Thereafter, Australia and PNG have been together, in war and in peace.

While many think of the Great War, of Gallipoli, the Western Front—that’s what springs to mind—the very first Australian soldier killed in World War 1 died much closer to home, in what was then the German colony of New Guinea. Senator Michael Ronaldson was in PNG on 11 September this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this conflict.

When the Australian Navy and Expeditionary Force was formed in August 1914, its aim was to destroy German wireless stations operating in the Caroline Islands at Nauru and New Britain, which were communicating with German ships in the Pacific aiming to sink Australian troop ships on their way to Europe and the Middle East. The Expeditionary Force was made up of 1500 militia infantry and 500 naval reservists.

On 11 September 1914, shore parties landed in Rabaul and Kabakaul and pushed inland to the wireless station at Bita Paka. They were engaged by German reservists and Melanesian police. Six Australians were killed and another five wounded, 30 New Guineans were killed.

Among the six Australians killed that day was Captain Brian Pockley of the Australian Army Medical Corps—a Sydneysider—and he became the first Australian casualty of the Great War. Pockley’s comrade, Able Seaman Billy Williams, had been shot in the stomach. Pockley gave his Red Cross badge to another solider to carry Williams to the rear. Pockley himself was injured next; they both died that day aboard the HMAS Berrima. Rabaul fell unopposed to Australian forces just the next day, and Australia wrested control of New Guinea over the coming weeks. This is a story of which too few Australians are aware. However it became the precursor to a much closer relationship between Australia and its island neighbour.

After the War, Prime Minister Billy Hughes told the Paris Peace Conference in 1919: “Strategically, the northern islands (such as New Guinea) encompass Australia like fortresses. They are as necessary to Australia as water to a city”. In 1921 the Versailles Treaty awarded the newly-named Territory of New Guinea as a mandate territory to Australia.

Many more Australians are familiar with PNG’s place in World War II, the suffering of so many Australians on Kokoda, the fighting on New Guinea’s northern coast and islands, and the heroic actions of those who became known, with the deepest affection, as the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. I thank Charlie Lynn and so many others here this evening, for your dedication in keeping alive Kokoda’s legacy.

PNG was the site of other military “firsts” for Australia during the Second World War.

The landing at Lae in September 1943 was the first amphibious assault by Australian forces since Gallipoli. It was also part of the operation that included the first successful airborne operation of the War in the Pacific. Ultimately, the Allies captured both Lae and Salamaua: something Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey declared “a signal step on the road to victory.” The operation also influenced military thinking about the value of airborne operations.

Then in 1949, the territories of Papua and New Guinea came under a single Australian administration. Much has been written and said about the history of Australia’s administration of Papua and New Guinea, and I’ll leave it to others to define Australia’s impact and influence.

However, that joint history was distinguished by the rise of an entirely new breed of Australian public servant: the kiaps, who were an intrepid band of travelling officials with a most ambitious mandate. Part magistrate, police officer, anthropologist, and doctor—with a good measure of engineer, surveyor, agricultural scientist and general sage thrown in—the kiaps were the face of government across most of the diverse nation that is now PNG. I hope a few of them are here tonight, and I acknowledge their presence.

The kiaps had wide powers, and the contribution they made in helping prepare PNG for independence was profound. I know you’re going to be discussing their role in more detail tomorrow, but can I say how very pleased I am that last year the kiaps had their fearless, yet sometimes dangerous, service officially recognised. The awarding of the Police Overseas Service medal acknowledges the important role they played in bringing justice, law and order to many areas of PNG, and establishing the groundwork for an independent PNG legal system. I suspect we will not see their like again.

In the post-independence era, our bilateral relationship, quite rightly, has transitioned to cooperation and now partnership: one where we work together in both our nations’ interests. We do this across so many areas—trade and investment, economic development, governance, health, education—but it seems fitting in this centenary of the Battle of Bitapaka to mention our current defence relationship.

Today, we have a strong and wide-ranging defence partnership with PNG that builds on our shared war history, but which is also firmly focused on the future. One area in which the PNG Defence Force has made a valuable contribution to peace in the region is through its decade-long involvement in bringing stability back to Solomon Islands. The 600 PNG personnel deployed to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) that operation brought with them a great deal of vital Melanesian knowledge which has been central to RAMSI’s success.

They were also an example of the best of the spirit of the Pacific: the nations of our region working together to assist a neighbour. PNG is now building on these experiences through its participation in the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Darfur and in South Sudan.

And Australia is supporting PNG to implement its 2013 Defence White Paper; Papua New Guinea’s first Defence White Paper in almost 15 years: an entirely home-grown document that sets out an ambitious agenda to modernise and professionalise the PNGDF.

We are working together to make the PNG Defence Force a serious contributor to security and stability in the region and beyond, and a capable defence partner for Australia and a regional leader in its own right.

We’re also helping PNG with the assets it needs to make a real difference. Later this year, a Royal Australian Navy landing craft will be gifted to the PNGDF as a training ship, along with a three-year package of support. That training will help revitalise the PNG Defence Force Maritime Element.

We continue to support PNG’s involvement in our Pacific Patrol Boats, which protect PNG’s maritime security and its economic prosperity. Defence Minister David Johnston and I announced in June that Australia will replace the current fleet of patrol boats across the Pacific, including for PNG: that means four new boats.

The Coalition Government has made a strong commitment to support PNG’s hosting of APEC in 2018, and of course the Pacific Games of 2015, particularly the security arrangements for APEC: it’s a huge undertaking, which will be attended by the leaders of 21 APEC economies including the United States and China. The Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police will both provide support. PNG’s hosting of APEC will be a tremendous opportunity for PNG itself as well as for deepening even further Australia-PNG defence, intelligence and police links.

I’m also delighted about some of the most recent developments in our relationship.

Papua New Guinea is at the heart of three of the Abbott Government’s signature foreign policies: economic diplomacy, the New Colombo Plan and the empowerment of women and girls in our region.

From next year PNG will be a full participant in our New Colombo Plan. Just as the original Colombo Plan brought over 40,000 students from Asia to study and live in Australia between the 1950s and 1980s, under the New Colombo Plan Australian undergraduates from our universities will have the opportunity to study in our region, including in Papua New Guinea: to not only study but research, undertake work placements and internships, and of course foster new people-to-people connections.

It has been a mammoth undertaking to get the New Colombo Plan up and running so quickly since we took office. In less than a year, 1300 undergraduate students from Australia have been awarded and taken short and long-term education opportunities in the pilot locations of Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The New Colombo Plan will be a transformational experience for young Australians, and help to deepen the relationships between the people of our region. And I’m looking forward to the universities in PNG becoming part of this student exchange.

We want young Australians to have their eyes opened to the opportunities that are available in the region, and in Papua New Guinea, to know more about—and better understand—the rich culture on our doorstep and to come home with new perspectives, ideas and insights; and with connections that will last a lifetime. I feel sure the students we send to PNG will develop a lifelong affinity, and perhaps even become active participants in the economic growth that is obviously the key to PNG’s future.

Papua New Guinea is an economy and a nation in transition, with its huge LNG project moving from the construction phase to production and export. PNG has enormous natural resources that can be used to the benefit of its people and help diversify its economic base. These resource developments are an opportunity to bring long-term beneficial change to PNG and that is why Australia has strongly supported the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund; to ensure the people of PNG benefit from their resources and good fortune for generations to come.

Australia’s overarching foreign policy principle of ‘economic diplomacy’ will also contribute to PNG’s development. We are pursuing an agenda of economic growth, not only for Australia but for our partners in the Pacific—not endless aid money—for we want to ensure that economic growth is sustainable. That is surely the pathway out of poverty and disadvantage. South Korea and China are two examples of the power of economic growth to lift large numbers out of poverty.

I note that Peter Botten from Oilsearch will be speaking at this conference tomorrow. Peter’s experience of the enormous contribution the private sector can make to PNG’s development is well worth hearing. Oilsearch demonstrates the contribution the private sector can make and is making in areas where we know PNG must improve: maternal and child health, fighting malaria and HIV.

I have refocused Australia’s aid program to ensure it makes a greater positive difference over the longer term. We’re working in partnerships with the PNG Government and with the private sector as part of our new aid paradigm.

The greater participation of women in the economic life of a country is also a vital key. Currently, women hold less than half the jobs in the formal sector. Many businesses see the crippling effect of violence against their female staff as a hindrance to business growth. This is why I am delighted to support the Business Coalition for Women: a vibrant network of over 40 firms in PNG working to reduce the barriers for female staff so they can reach their full potential and help grow PNG’s economy.

I am also pleased to be able to offer a package of support to increase women’s access to financial services, and increase women’s access to markets. Just two weeks ago in the presence of Charles Lepani I signed an MOU with Westpac—and I hope to do so again with ANZ—to increase women’s financial participation and literacy in the Pacific, with a particular focus on PNG and Fiji.

Australia has a primary responsibility to partner with the nations of our region and to support their efforts at improving the standard of living of their citizens. PNG, and the Pacific more broadly, are vital to Australia’s interests. Stability and security and prosperity in the Pacific is important for the people of our region so there can be a brighter future for the next generation of Pacific leaders.

Australia will always be a close friend and neighbour of Pacific nations, but we are also a regional power, with the responsibilities that entails. History shows we have long been good friends with the people of PNG. Our commitment to that relationship must never waiver.

We are on the cusp, I believe, of a new relationship that is a genuine partnership, as PNG embraces a new era for its 21st century. This relationship will see Australia and PNG working more closely together in the wider Asia-Pacific region. We have worked together in Solomon Islands and we will intensify our cooperation in the context of APEC.

PNG’s invaluable cooperation through the Regional Processing Centre on Manus has helped Australia and the region to dismantle the criminal people smuggling trade; and end the humanitarian disaster that saw 1200 men, women and children drown at sea trying to reach Australia via the people smuggling trade. I thank the PNG Government for their cooperation and their support.

As we head into the celebration next year for the 40th anniversary of independence, there is so much more we can do together as partners in the region to promote peace, prosperity, cooperation: in education, in sport, in exchanges between the public and private sectors.

I am pleased to see so many supporters of our vital relationship with PNG here in this room this evening. I wish you well for your symposium discussions tomorrow, and I look forward to the contribution you will undoubtedly have to make to this most remarkable of relationships and I truly believe that the very best days of the PNG-Australia relationship lie ahead of us.

A number of photos from the Dinner are here.


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