Introduction

Thank you very much for that introduction Peter.

I’d like to start today by thanking Prime Minister O’Neill for his comments this morning.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests – good morning, and what a pleasure it is to be here today at the 34th Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo.

I’ll start with a confession: this is my first time at this event, hosted by the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council.

In my new role as the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to work on the Australia-PNG business relationship.

That said, I’m very conscious of how unique and important this relationship is.

Bilateral relationship

In much of Australia, I think it’s fair to say that many people don’t often think about just how close our relationship is with our closest neighbour.

In some ways, our countries and cultures are very different.

But the fact is: at the nearest point, there are around six kilometres separating Papua New Guinea from Australia.1

Where I’m from in country New South Wales, there are houses which sit further apart than that!

We are neighbours, brought together at the outset by our geography and our history.

Right now, we have hit the 75-year landmark celebrated by veterans in both our nations.

We have just commemorated, or are soon approaching, the 75th anniversary of some of the big battles of the Pacific War – some of those extraordinary moments that brought our two countries together.

The Battle of Buna-Gona, the Battle of Milne Bay – and of course, who could forget the Kokoda Track campaign?

Over the decades since 1945, of course, we’ve added to our common history with links in education, mining and resources, and so many other areas.

For many years, at the government level, a lot of what we did together focused on our aid relationship – PNG has long been, and remains, our largest development partner.

But the nature of the work we do together has changed.

Increasingly, recognising that we have common interests in both regional security and prosperity, we are working more closely together as partners on a range of issues.

One example of where we are great collaborators, in 2018, is in telecommunications.

Australia has been a strong supporter of developing PNG’s infrastructure over many years, including its telecommunications infrastructure.

Now, with the undersea cable project and our work on cyber security, we are working together to strengthen this critical infrastructure for the decades ahead.

Obviously, that work fits very well with your theme for APEC – Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future – but there are many other places in which we do work, and can work together, more closely.

Our economic relationship today has taken some pretty deep roots.

Australian companies currently have around AU$18 billion invested in Papua New Guinea.2

There is over AU$6 billion in annual goods and services trade between our two countries.3

More than 4,600 Australian companies export goods into PNG,4 and others have found their own ties across the Strait.

It’s not just mining they’re doing – it’s also banking, finance, agriculture; it’s pretty much any industry that you can find across the spectrum of the PNG economy.

Many of these companies are here today – it’s one of the reasons why this Forum, over 34 years, has grown to become the key venue for dialogue and connection.

Our two countries have worked very closely, together with Business Councils, to address key issues and move forward for a stronger economic partnership.

I know, for example, that many of you here from the Australian business sector are particularly keen to keep the focus on transparency and governance issues.

I’m pleased to note that we had a good conversation yesterday at the Business and Development Roundtable, focused on cooperation across public-private partnerships.

It’s a key piece of the puzzle, this continued engagement between government and business.

I’d like to acknowledge the important work of our hosts, the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Forum, in driving increased trade, investment and economic development opportunities between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Nurturing stable policy environments, ensuring open consultation on proposed changes, observing treaty commitments on trade and investment, continuing dialogue on a whole host of policy issues – this is what makes for any healthy bilateral economic relationship, and this is what we strive to achieve each day between Australia and PNG.

From the perspective of the Australian Government, we see strength and opportunity in where our two countries are heading.

That’s why last year, my colleague, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, opened our Australian Consulate-General in Lae.

Lae will be familiar to many of you here from the business world; perhaps less so to wider Australia.

It is a major transportation hub – the largest cargo port in Papua New Guinea – and home to agricultural, manufacturing, services and resources industries.

It is somewhere where we knew we had to have our boots on the ground if we were going to be really serious about the future of our economic ties.

One more sign that our relationship continues to mature, year after year – and this year will be no different.

It’s shaping up to be a year of many firsts.

The first Australia-PNG Economic Cooperation Dialogue, to see that this push forward continues to have support from the highest levels of both governments.

The first Trade and Investment Working Group [in March 2018], to see that we continue to address market access issues and build deeper ties where it counts.

And of course, with APEC, the first time that a Pacific country stands in the spotlight of global economic attention.

Global and regional context

We are both countries in the Indo-Pacific: the vast region from the far side of the Indian Ocean to the west coast of the United States.

As the Government made clear in the Foreign Policy White Paper, released in November, the Indo-Pacific is a region that has emerged as perhaps the most dynamic engine of the global economy.

In this context, Papua New Guinea is uniquely significant to Australia.

Building on this economic and strategic partnership is a priority for me and for the Australian Government.

Front and centre of all of this is, of course, the 2018 APEC Summit.

PNG’s decision to host APEC this year is a highly significant development, one which shows the leadership being driven by Prime Minister O’Neill, and one which Australia is very keen to support.

I am pleased to know that Australia has been able to provide useful policy development and security assistance.

APEC has the potential to be a transformational opportunity for Papua New Guinea.

It is important for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it is a sign of how far PNG has come.

It is an opportunity to showcase the business potential of PNG to the world – a stable, reliable democracy and an attractive commercial environment.

It is an opportunity to cement PNG’s place as a growing leader in our region.

The decision to focus this APEC summit on the digital economy is a theme that I know will resonate with many countries, and tie in with a number of development opportunities.

The opportunities that are created through technology and through a changing global environment will be the same opportunities that can underwrite the future economic success of our two countries and of our region.

Harnessing the digital economy allows our region to evolve and to become resilient to future economic volatility.

For so many individuals and communities in Australia and in PNG, this is a game changer.

Secondly, and importantly, APEC this year will be a major opportunity for our two countries to continue to make the case about the importance of free and open trade and investment.

In 2018, we’re all conscious that there are strongly protectionist headwinds around in many parts of the world.

In tough economic times – and frankly, the global economy has struggled, in many ways, for a decade now – it is quite understandable for local communities to focus on jobs under threat.

But as two countries that benefit greatly from trade – our respective minerals export industries are great examples of that – it is incumbent on us, during tough times, to keep making the case about the growth and competitiveness that comes from opening markets to trade and investment.

APEC will be a great opportunity to do just that.

I am pleased with news that this year has inspired PNG to revise some of their own domestic economic policies, and to look out to the possibilities in the region.

In doing so, it is important that PNG as host of APEC is able to demonstrate strong regional leadership on free and open markets and investment.

Last year, the Australian Government welcomed the news that PNG would be reconsidering its position on the Pacific-wide PACER Plus free trade agreement – a strong signal of this region’s commitment to trade liberalisation.

Australia is pleased to be supporting an independent study into the potential benefits for PNG of deeper trade engagement, including through agreements such as PACER Plus.

It’s great to know we’re continuing this very important conversation.

The Australian Government welcomed news that PNG continues to invest in our New Colombo Plan scholarship program – particularly in providing practical hands-on experience in the private sector.

I know, for example, our 2018 China scholar Nick McLean is looking at an internship with Newcrest Mining in PNG.

We also welcome PNG increasing their participation in the Seasonal Worker Programme.

These are great steps in building a broader economic partnership – and with so much potential to build even further in the coming months and years.

Conclusion

For host governments, large summits such as APEC can be a logistical nightmare – and I must congratulate Prime Minister O’Neill for hosting a number of very successful initial meetings already.

With the main APEC Leader’s Week just around the corner, I look forward to seeing some great outcomes.

This is, as I said earlier, my very first Aus tralia-PNG Business Forum and Trade Expo.

When this event first started back in 1980, the organisers were clearly ahead of their time – foreseeing an economic relationship that in 2018 stands in strength, cooperation, and resilience.

This year is in so many ways the next step – and APEC is just the start.

I encourage each of you to make the most of what this event has to offer, and what this relationship has to offer.

Enjoy yourselves – I look forward to the coming months, and I look forward to seeing you all again for the wrap up of APEC, and at the Forum next year.

Thank you.

1 Torres Strait Regional Council website (based on distance from Boigu Island)

2 ABS catalogue 5352.0 (end of 2016); DFAT, Papua New Guinea Branch

3 ABS catalogue 5368.0

4 ABS catalogue 5368.0.55.006 (2016-17)

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