Transcript from the Press Conference held by Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Prime Minister James Marape on 22 July 2019
Prime MInister Scott Morrisson has welcomed Prime Minister Marape, his Ministerial delegation and his delegation of Governors from Papua New Guinea to Australia for Guest of Government status. Papua New Guinea is the first country to visit this Australian government under this status.
The transcript from the Press Conference held by Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Prime Minister James Marape on 22 July 2019 follows:
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: Welcome everyone. It is a great honour and privilege to host Prime Minister Marape and his Ministerial delegation and his delegation of Governors from Papua New Guinea here for Guest of Government status and it’s been a great privilege that Prime Minister Marape has been my first Guest of Government status visitor to Australia. And I’m also incredibly pleased that it is Papua New Guinea who holds that status as the first country to visit, particularly post the election in this formal status, and I think that speaks absolute volumes about the closeness of the relationship between our two countries and the excellent opportunity that both Prime Minister Marape and I have had since his elevation to Prime Minister recently to establish a very strong rapport and a very good friendship and I look forward to continuing that in the years ahead. Beginning last night with a very friendly dinner at The Lodge, together with Jenny and Rachel, and they’ve been out enjoying Canberra today and we look forward to seeing them again very shortly.
Today, we’ve made some important agreements, and those agreements are to elevate our relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea to a comprehensive, strategic and economic partnership. Taking the relationship to annual leader-level dialogues and a series of other arrangements which bring together the totality of the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea. There is an economic relationship, one that’s about enabling the joint prosperity of both of our countries that is supporting and enabling the health and well-being and education of our citizens.
There is a relationship which is tackling and addressing the security challenges that we face together and we work together in addressing. And thirdly, in improving and building on all of the connections that we have – whether it’s through programs like our secondary school program, or indeed, a passion that we both share with rugby league, or indeed, the relationship between our church programs and church leaders, which is an ongoing part of our connections. And indeed, a broader part of the Pacific Step-Up program. And today in particular, we’ve agreed and we’ve made further announcements regarding a $250 million investment in the electrification program, which will bring low-cost electricity generation to the Ramu Grid. There are also additional projects that relate to the Enga Province electrification project, and this, of course, is part of that broader relationship that we have with the United States, Japan and New Zealand in supporting what is a transformational project for Papua New Guinea, combined with the Coral Sea Cable Project. On top of that, we have $54 million which is going into the rural primary health services initiatives, and another project of $10 million going into a broader program on immunisation, which will see some 400,000 children in Papua New Guinea, across 12 provinces, receive immunisation. And also, $15 million to support the next phase of the controlling the drug-resistant tuberculosis programme. And this is for those in the north of the country, particularly up in North Queensland, and I acknowledge also the work that Warren Entsch has done on this initiative over many years, he’s been very conscious of that issue of drug-resistant tuberculosis and its impact on those provinces of Papua New Guinea and this is an important continuation of that work.
There is also the Defence partnership which is celebrating 40 years and working together in the PNG initiative at Lombrum in Manus is an important part of what Australia is doing in the region and we thank Papua New Guinea for their invitation to join with them in that facility, together with the United States. And finally, there are the initiatives that we’re pursuing on security in relation to a longer-term policing programme which particularly involves the Bomana Police Training College. This is supporting the Royal PNG Constabulary, policing operations, improving their community service level delivery and training capabilities and also welcoming a PNG secondee into the Pacific Fusion Centre.
So as you can see from the announcements that we have made today and elevating the relationship that this is a broad, and it is a deep relationship. But above all, it is a relationship of family, and it is the relationship of true friends. True friends between Australia and Papua New Guinea. So Prime Minister, I welcome you very warmly to Australia and I thank you for bringing the delegation here to us today. I thank you for the discussions that we’ve been able to have, and I’d like to invite you to make some remarks.
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: Thank you Prime Minister, the Honourable Scott Morrison. On behalf of the delegation I lead, let me thank yourself and your lovely wife for hosting us at The Lodge and hosting us in Canberra and in Australia. Since we arrived yesterday, your warmth and heart has responded so well and you could evidently see in the good warm morning this morning, we are very happy to come into Canberra. Our coming into Canberra is not coincidental or accidental. It’s a visit by choice in a world of many bilateral relationships. We felt that nothing is more important, no relationship is more important than our relationship with Canberra in the first instance. And with Australia, the Government-to-Government, person-to-person, and more importantly, as head of states, we need to establish rapport and a reciprocal goodwill, and kind gesture. And upon Prime Minister Morrison’s invitation for my visit, I place other state visits on hold until I visited Australia. And I realised that I’m on record as being the first official state visitation by a leader of another country into Australia, and expressly in Prime Minister Morrison’s term as Prime Minister in this Parliament.
So that is a greater honour and privilege that my delegation that I lead, and myself, truly are blessed with and we’re happy to come and have exchanges Prime Minister-to-Prime Minister. We’ve had good exchanges, not only over the dinner table but more importantly in our private conversations this morning. Prior to our combined meeting with respective ministers that is we feel have common activities on both sides of the Torres Strait seas. So, our discussions were fruitful and meaningful, and our engagements were positive. Consolidating on our relationship that we’ve had with Australia, and all of you would know that PNG and Australia have shared history, [inaudible] history, economic history, our political history. Our histories go beyond 1975 when we gained independence. It precedes time, and it predates back to when the first human beings lived in this part of the world, so to speak.
And so, our relationship is deeper and our get together on this occasion is to consolidate our relationships that we’ve had over time. But more importantly, building bigger, better relationships as we go into the future in a world where the use of ICT and the digital economy and the digital platform can bring far corners of the world to your doorstep and to your economy and to your country.
So PNG, living in a very strategic part of our region in the middle of Asia and Pacific, we feel that we have a greater role in linking up Asia to Pacific, Pacific to Asia. You can walk across to Asia from PNG. You can paddle across to Asia from PNG. You can paddle across to Pacific from PNG. We are placed in a very strategic hub. The strategic placing of our country can be of better use to also consolidate on the economic potentials and propensity of our region, but more importantly, of our country, for the mutual benefit of countries in the Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand.
We come to Australia as friend and family, as Prime Minister Morrison has indicated. We will be friends and family for a long, long time, of course friends and families have issues that we need to sort out and we don’t have many differing issues as North Pole is to South Pole, we operate in the same space. Our meeting this morning is to consolidate on some of the issues that we need to build on as leader-to-leader, that will set the pace for our Ministers to have their dialogue, the annual dialogue, and we will consolidate going into the future.
The future I envisage for PNG is not a future of economic insecurity. PNG must be economically secure. Once PNG is economically secure, we secure borders and we, in turn, become a very, very healthy and fruitful contributor to the peace and wellbeing of the region that we proudly all belong to. I believe the Pacific Island region is one of the best places, if not the best place, globally speaking. We need to keep the peace and serenity and the environment pristine as we have, something that is a global asset and our contribution to the global upkeep. And PNG and Australia can be leaders on those fronts, in our response to environmental protection. Our response to good border security. Our response to the wellbeing of our citizens. More than PNG and Australia and the region, and because of cultural affinity, PNG has, with the region, we will have a greater role to play in supporting, also, the Pacific Island group of nations and we need to build a robust economy, a strong economy, a solid country that is not so much dependant on our foreign aid, and that is the direction myself and the new group of leaders in PNG are now taking our country into. Into harnessing better from our resources, into diversifying into our sustainable industries especially in agriculture, sustainable forestry, sustainable fisheries, shifting away from total reliance on just oil and gas and gold, so to speak.
So our interest to grow the economy is strong, and we can only gain from a stronger Australia, a better partnership with Australia, a more deeper and richer partnership with Australia and we appreciate, in totality, every effort Australia has put into its contribution to us thus far and the future contributions that the Australian people, Australian government will continually give us, some of which announced this morning by Prime Minister Morrison. Something that we don’t take for granted. For every help given to us is a help indeed, and we warmly appreciate every help and we look forward to reciprocating whenever we can.
Having said on reciprocal, let me also place on record our view that PNG has been a good investment hub for Australian businesses. On record, the Australian businesses who are currently investing in PNG, the total volume of investments stands at 17 billion Kina. That is the biggest of any foreign investment in our country. We have over 5,000 Australian companies operating in and out of PNG. And so over time, that reciprocal benefit setting has been happening for some time, and the propensity for PNG to grow into an economic powerhouse is great, and I take this time also to sell my country as a good investment destination. We are looking at German investors in the area of downstream, in the areas of downstream in agriculture, in the areas of downstream in forestry, in the areas of downstream fisheries. Currently, our fish find a market in the European markets. We would like to sell more of our tuna into Australian markets, so to speak. So these areas where I’m using the opportunity, Prime Minister, if you don’t mind to sell my country as a very good greenfield investment destination. We inherit our government structure similar to what you have here. The court system is totally independent from our executive in Parliament. Our system of Government is also fair and friendly. What of our agreement companies subscribed to, so long as they are consistent with the laws in our country, then our Government and any business partners will stand to honour.
So PNG has always been a very good investment destination for many Australian companies, for which we are grateful. They have been a part of our economy and our country for so long, and they will be, and myself coming here, at the invitation of Prime Minister Morrison is to consolidate relationship at the highest level between two political leaders. But more importantly, may this cascade down to Government-to-Government, people-to-people, business-to-business, so that what we have built on in the last 44 years and beyond, can transcend and translate into a deeper, fuller, better meaning, so that we don’t have just aid and donor recipient, given recipient side of the relationship. But more in these sort of environments that we are setting now are truly mutually beneficial economic partnership relationships going into the future.
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: Thank you Prime Minister. Unaccustomed to this courtyard, it is a very civilised process on questions today. We’re going to have four questions to meet the schedule that we have. And we are starting with, where’s Phil? Phil Coorey.
QUESTION: One for Marape, welcome to Australia. Could I ask you while you’re here, have you or will you request the assistance of the Australian regulators as part of your commission of enquiry into the $1.2 billion UBS loan affair?
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: I think that that is part of the process when the commissioner of the inquiry will set in place, I think we have instrumentalities of government to have those changes going on. So when the need be, those requests will be funnelled through in the correct procedure and protocols required of it. And we would very much welcome any information that can be obtained from this side of the… from within Australia to assist in coming to the fullest conclusions as to what has transpired in the now infamous UBS saga or UBS transaction. But let me confirm to the Australian media – we are setting up an inquiry, and our Parliament was privy to the report that was done by the Ombudsman Commission that really was more geared towards ascertaining the level of involvement by those of us who subscribe to the leadership code. But the inquiry in our view and our Government’s view stands to fully ascertain to the scope and nature of every player in the entire UBS deal, which would also predate the timing of which the UBS transaction was inked. So obviously, when the need is required for trans-border data and information sharing, then we will place that request with proper protocols of the inquiry.
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: Thank you, Brett Mason from SBS.
QUESTION: Thank you. Prime Minister, you’ve spoken about Australia’s Step-Up, but there are some growing calls for Australia to step down from offshore detention. Prime Minister Marape, would you like to see the Manus Island detention centre closed? And Prime Minister Morrison, are you prepared to do that if that’s what the Prime Minister asks of Australia?
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: Let me start off by saying that the detention centre on Manus Island is closed, has been closed for some time. There is no detention centre on Manus Island. I think it’s important that Australians are no longer told that somehow there is a detention centre that’s operating on Manus Island. That has been a process we’ve been working through now for some time. The accommodation facility at East Lorengau which now accommodates, there are about 300 odd people on Manus Island currently who are refugees and that is down from 1,353 at the peak when Labor were in power. So we’ve made substantial progress. The detention centre at Lombrum is closed and we’re working very closely together with the PNG Government in terms of the service arrangements which continue for those who continue to be resident on Manus Island. And that includes a tender process on the contract which has had a lot of attention on it here, which we mutually agreed would be put in place and the existing contract extended until that tender process had been completed to allow a new service provider to step up. Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: Yes, as confirmed by Prime Minister Morrison, there is no more detention. People are living freely in Manus, and also some have moved to Port Moresby for medical reasons and are moving around freely. And I’ve expressed clearly to Minister Dutton that we need to establish a schedule and timetable towards full closure of the entire asylum processes. PNG has always stood in, and stepped in to assist Australia in times of need, as you have always done to us also, we will ensure that we have a mutually workable timetable and closer program that is healthy for all of us, but more importantly, healthy for those people who have been part of us in Manus and now in PNG for some time now. Some are classified as refugees. Those who are classified as refugees, the Refugee International Convention of refugees and resettlement will apply. Some are not classified as refugees, we’ll work with them to ensure they resettle, given encouragement to move back to their home of origin or where they’d like to move. Those are works in process that both governments have agreed to establish a schedule going forward. And for us, to find some closure in the Manus asylum seekers. But let me agree with Prime Minister Morrison, there is no more detention. We’re in the process of resettling the entire people out from PNG, within PNG, and common decency will apply to those human beings who are with us in Port Moresby and Manus right now.
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: Thank you Prime Minister. Ben Packham?
QUESTION: Prime Minister Marape, you’ve said that you want to take back PNG’s economy. Can I ask what that means for your engagement with China? Are you concerned about the governance impacts of Chinese investment? And will you take a harsher line on that investment? And can I ask Prime Minister Morrison, does Australia have any concerns about undue foreign influence in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific neighbours?
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: You will take the concluding part of this question. But let me say in terms of foreign investment, we deal with every investor in the same playing field, in the same policy outlook. We are friends to all, enemies to none, so to speak, in the greater foreign policy context. But we are in the business of attracting genuine business into our country. In fact, our local target, as we have said now into the next two or three years we want to bring in over 200 new investors, foreign investors into the country. Whether they are from Chinese or Australia or right across the world, is inconsequential and irrelevant to us. We will have an equal playing field for every investor, so long as they subscribe to the rules and regulations of our country. Every businessman and woman is welcome in our country, and the Chinese investors will not receive any special treatment and preference, just like Australian investors will not receive any special favour or treatment. And our Government is looking into the business of tailoring specific investment policies to ensure that as investors come in, they win for the shareholders but our people also, including the different layers of government that we have, provincial governments especially, winning for the provinces and aren’t trying to restructure the way that we do business including better with the provincial governments becoming part of this but also in the economic actives in the sub-regional economies of our country. So taking back PNG is really not a strange ideology, it’s all about empowering our citizens to participate in business activities themselves instead of becoming spectators and allowing outsiders to come in. And we have different layers and levels of businesses. In the first instance, those who want to come into our country will be policing our investment front. You must have a minimum of $10 million or more to come into our country. We are so used to consultants and visitors coming in with almost nothing and later on, 10 years, 20 years later they walk out with good businesses. We’re in the business of attracting genuine and honest businessmen and women into our country and that is the policy vision that embraces taking back PNG is all about. For PNG shareholders and PNG business partners and the country itself being participant in business and being empowered in business, as well as foreign investors that we bring into our country, who must of course win for the shareholders.
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: Only to add to that, and I think you’ve heard from Prime Minister Marape, I think a very comprehensive statement on the steps that PNG are taking to ensure their economic independence and our engagement whether in support or assistance in partnership with Papua New Guinea as with all countries in the Pacific region is simply to have the objective of ensuring each and every one of those nations are as independent and as sovereign and as much in charge of their future as they possibly can be. That’s always been our objective. That’s what we’ve always done. We’re not new players in this region. Our investment each year in Papua New Guinea in ODA is over $600 million a year now. The overwhelming bulk of our ODA is in the Pacific region and that has been the focus of our Pacific Step-Up. It’s about ensuring an independent sovereign group of nations, which we both look forward to meeting again with at the Pacific Island forum which is coming up in Tuvalu very shortly. Andrew Probyn from ABC.
QUESTION: Thank you Prime Minister. Mr Marape, on Manus issues again just I’d like if you could, could you tease out what you mean by ‘timetable’? Would you like people to leave Manus and Port Moresby by the year’s end? And on a related matter, you would know that New Zealand has a long-standing offer to accept 150 refugees from Australia. I understand that the arrangement that PNG has reached with Australia doesn’t preclude that, doesn’t preclude PNG seeking a similar arrangement with New Zealand. Will you do so to further encourage people to leave PNG and Manus? And Prime Minister Morrison…
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: That’s a trifecta there…
QUESTION: I haven’t finished yet. And Prime Minister, what attitude would you bring to that?
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: I’ll let you start, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: It’s a work in progress for us. As I said, the Manus asylum seeker program was a program that both governments initiated and agreed to participate in in 2013-14 and thereabouts. So both governments will also work and have a hand in bringing this thing to a conclusion that is mutually beneficial.
QUESTION: So you have approached New Zealand?
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: Not yet New Zealand, but we are working with this. This is a matter between Australia and PNG so we both must agree on what is the timetable going forward and our Ministers will be in those engagements and on a later date, one of us will announce a program going forward to bring this thing to a close. Exactly what shape and form will take place is a matter for further consultation discussion and we will agree that this thing will come to a close at some stage down the line.
PRIME MINISTER MORRISON: 260 people have already been transferred to the United States and I think that’s an indication of the significant progress that we’ve been making. The detention facility in Manus has been closed now for some time and the process in differentiating between those who were in Papua New Guinea who are refugees and those who are not refugees, and therefore shouldn’t be in Papua New Guinea, Australia, or anywhere else. They should return to the country from which they’ve come from because they’ve been found not to be refugees. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that they should have some sort of permanent or even temporary residence privileges in Papua New Guinea, who is a signatory to the convention, or indeed Australia. So we’re just going to continue to work through the issue pragmatically as we have. I think we’ve made extraordinary progress. The terrible scourge of people smuggling is something that Papua New Guinea and Australia have worked closely together to frustrate and defeat but the challenge remains present, as we know, and the reports and the briefings that have been provided by the Minister for Home Affairs testifies to. So this has been an important part of arrangements we’ve had in the part and now we’re dealing… let’s not forget we’re dealing with the problem of people who found themselves on Manus Island because of the failed border protection policies of the previous government. That’s who is on Manus Island. That’s who is there. And so we’re still dealing with the legacy of the policy failures of the previous government. I want to thank the Prime Minister and I want to thank the Government and people of Papua New Guinea for the very practical way they’ve worked with us. An important part of we’ve discussed today is ensuring that we continue to work closely with the people of Manus Island and it’s great to have Charlie Benjamin, the Governor of Manus Island, who is here as part of the Prime Minister’s delegation. It’s been good to be able to reassure him once again that we’ll continue – whether it’s managing those issues or the development of facilities at Lombrum by the Government of Papua New Guinea – that we’ll continue to work closely with them. But on that note, I want to thank you all very much for your attendance and I want to thank again the Prime Minister for being here with me today. He and I are going to try and bring good some fortune to my Sharks on Thursday night at Shark Park. I believe in miracles, as you know, so hoping for one on Thursday when we go up against the Cowboys. Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: Thank you very much.