Thank you for the warm welcome. It’s an honour to represent Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull MP, here today. Given the campaign, the Prime Minister was unable to join us but he has asked me to pass on his best wishes for the forum.
Can I start by adding my acknowledgement of country.
I would like to particularly acknowledge Your Excellency, Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, and your many ministerial colleagues who are here today; Mr Bruce Davis, Your Excellency, Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea; Mr Loi Bakani, Governor of the Bank of Papua New Guinea; Mr Greg Pawson, President, Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council; Mr David Toua, President, Business Council of PNG; Dr Barry Kirby; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
The important message from today’s forum and trade expo is that Australia and Papua New Guinea have a stake in each other’s success. Our two countries are the largest, most diverse countries in our neighbourhood – the vast Pacific. For this reason, we help set the stage for how the world sees and engages with our whole region.
Our stability, our prosperity is important for all of us and for all of our neighbours. A strong, vibrant business sector is an essential ingredient. So this relationship – the Australia-Papua New Guinea relationship – is particularly important to me, for our Government, today and for the years ahead.
As you know, I come to this portfolio with over thirty years’ experience in the multicultural space.
Over the years, I have seen firsthand the richness of Papua New Guinea’s many cultural facets. Having taken up my responsibilities for international development and the Pacific, I took a much closer look at the many things that Australia and Papua New Guinea have in common.
We start with proximity and the fact that our borders are only a short boat trip apart.
We have both experienced prolonged periods of economic growth, driven in part by our mining and agricultural exports.
We are both blessed with large reserves of natural resources, and both well-situated in our region to meet the growing demands for those resources from our Asian neighbours in the north.
We share history, which still strongly binds many in Australia and PNG. I understand that next year is the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.
We have a strong interest in working together to face challenges in our region. Many of those challenges that we face are the same too.
Global downward trends in the economy mean that we cannot simply rely on the mining boom of the past few decades. Nor can we assume that prosperity in the past guarantees prosperity in the future.
Both Australia and Papua New Guinea need to offer secure, predictable environments in order to attract foreign investment.
Both Australia and Papua New Guinea need to diversify our economies, and we must do this now, to ensure returns for the future.
Focusing on developing our infrastructure, education and services sectors will broaden the base for economic growth, and offset any downturns in the energy and resources sector.
Excellent opportunities exist for us both through PACER Plus. The negotiations will lift the economies of our region more broadly, and intensify economic management across the Pacific. After all, it is in our mutual interests for close neighbours – and the region as a whole – to continue to grow. This creates jobs, brings people out of poverty, provides education and health care for people, and meets growing infrastructure needs.
Indeed, that is why even through our development assistance, we now focus much more on working closely with the PNG Government to ensure conditions are favourable to attract investment and boost economic growth.
The theme for today’s forum is “Today’s investment – tomorrow’s returns”. I think that theme neatly captures the idea that we have a stake in each other’s success – partnership, for us, is the path to future prosperity.
We have been investing in each other’s prosperity for a long time.
In 2009, the Australian Government made a particularly significant investment in PNG. At the time, we saw great potential in a project to develop our nearest neighbour’s economy through its LNG sector. So Australia, through the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, or EFIC, took a chance on a PNG-led project –PNG LNG. This investment was based on a strong belief among Australian government and business in PNG’s potential.
It was also based on the confidence in PNG’s business sector, with great opportunities for growth.
Relative to the size of the project, the investment was small, but it helped get the project off the ground. Because of the early money invested by EFIC, other, larger investors were attracted. It meant that Australian exporters could obtain finance to pursue contracts for the construction phase of the project.
But importantly, it filled a gap in financing of the project that the private sector probably couldn’t have met. Over its estimated 30 year life-span, that investment will pay significant dividends for Australian investors, for the PNG economy – and most importantly – for the people of PNG.
In addition to its contribution to PNG’s economy over the coming decades, we welcome the work the project is undertaking with local communities in its areas of operation. These initiatives target education, health, agriculture and women’s empowerment and aim to broaden economic opportunities for surrounding communities.
The Australian Government is involved at the community level too. Together with PNG LNG, we are working on an initiative to improve local justice delivery in Hela Province by funding a community safety adviser to work with the provincial government. This is a great example of the power of a small investment opening up great opportunities for the future.
There’s another investment I want to talk about today and that is our investment in women. For too long, half of Papua New Guinea’s population has not had the support or ability to participate in growing the country’s economy. This is changing, but there is more to do.
And how inspiring was it to hear Stephannie Kirriwom speak at dinner last night of her experiences as an Archer Leadership Scholar of the Kokoda Track Foundation. Tapping into this resource of resilient, smart women in PNG – opens up more opportunities across the economy more generally, with everyone standing to benefit.
There is also a critical role for the private sector in this pursuit. The Business Coalition for Women in PNG is forging a new discourse about the positive commercial bottom line that can be achieved by supporting women in the work force. The Coalition, a group of companies and corporate leaders, is working together to drive positive change for women and businesses in PNG.
I’m proud to say that it is Australia’s flagship women and business program in PNG. Australia places great importance on ensuring that our development assistance, designed in partnership with the PNG Government, supports improving women’s leadership, increases economic opportunities for women, and focuses on the safety of women.
We want to see more companies operating in PNG doing the same. Nestlé Oceania in Lae, PNG’s second largest city, is a great example. Nestlé Oceania has operated a manufacturing plant in Lae for 28 years. It produces Maggi 2 Minute Noodles, amongst other products. The brand is one of the most recognised food brands in PNG. It employs over 500 people locally, around 30% of whom are women.
Impressively – and unlike figures in similar operations here in Australia, 67 per cent of the management team at the manufacturing plant are women. What is also impressive about Nestlé’s Lae plant, is that not only does it supply globally competitive products, it also supplies the local market in PNG. There are huge logistics and shipping challenges involved in doing so. But despite those challenges, Nestlé distributes affordable products specifically designed for a domestic market, to communities across PNG.
Ladies and gentlemen, the importance we place on this relationship is reflected in the size of our development assistance to PNG – targeted and delivered together with the PNG Government. It is our largest development assistance project, at just over half-a-billion dollars in 2014-2015.
But we don’t see this relationship as just a development one any more. It’s much broader than that – it is a real economic partnership. This is reflected in the quantity of Australian investment in PNG.
Australian investment in PNG is valued, as Greg said, at around $19 billion. That is double Australian investment in Indonesia, and one-third that of Australia’s investment in China.
Today, the private sector plays a key role in supporting the relationship between our two countries.
Business generates greater trade and investment and develops the economic and personal links between PNG and Australia that are necessary to continue successes like PNG LNG, Nestlé and the many other companies, here today, who contribute to our closest neighbour’s prosperity.
Over the next two days, business and personal connections will be made, future investments discussed, and potential partnerships floated.
I encourage you all in this endeavour because I know that those connections will mean greater opportunity and prosperity, for PNG and for Australia.
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