I am delighted to attend this forum again on behalf of the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcom Turnbull.
Mr Turnbull was pleased he had the opportunity to meet many of you when he visited Port Moresby last month.
I would like to acknowledge my fellow keynote speakers, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, and President of the Business Council of Papua New Guinea, Mr David Toua.
The Prime Minister reiterated, and can I reiterate and support, your comments about the importance of this year as a milestone year for both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The visit of both our Prime Minister and our Governor General to commemorate the events of World War II is a testimony to the strong friendship that our two countries share.
As Prime Minister O’Neill said earlier, today’s conference theme, ‘Navigating the Cycle: Creating Opportunities in Challenging Times’, is most relevant for both our countries.
This is my third visit to Papua New Guinea and the second time I have attended the Business Forum.
On these occasions, I have met the outstanding entrepreneurs and business people who are building Papua New Guinea’s and Australia’s economic future.
On my visits to Papua New Guinea, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit different areas, and, for example, see the work being done to build the coffee industry in Goroka; to meet women business owners and leaders working in the Highlands; to visit thriving businesses such as the Goroka Bilum Weavers Collective; and to meet successful business like New Guinea Fruits and Wantok Clothing.
And as someone who loves to sew, I watched the way Wantok did their print and their clothing printing.
I love to sew so I was given a beautiful piece of material – which, Prime Minister, I hoped to have turned into something by the time of this visit, but regrettably, my many travels means that I will have to come back next time with my Wontok original design!
These businesses and entrepreneurs highlight the possibilities that abound, even in difficult times.
I will talk this morning about cycles that Australia and Papua New Guinea are navigating: economically, in the development sector, and in the political cycle.
Harnessing the opportunities that present themselves in those cycles requires long-term focus, planning and commitment.
Australia and Papua New Guinea have both been hit by recent international economic downturns, including the Global Financial Crisis from 2008, and the decline in commodity prices in 2014.
These are global economic events, which Australia and Papua New Guinea weathered better than the global average.
We have both recently handed down difficult budgets that sought to rein in spending while promoting economic growth.
We are at a difficult point in the economic cycle, but there are signs of improvement.
Business sentiments in both our countries are positive.
We are both geographically situated to take advantage of the dynamic markets and growing middle classes of South-East Asia.
Technology, including mobile phones and solar power, is creating opportunities.
Major resource projects are in the wings for both countries, including – in PNG – the Papua LNG, Frieda, Wafi-Golpu and Solwara 1 projects.
Despite low commodity prices, we expect that the construction phases of these projects, taken together, can bring as much to Papua New Guinea’s economy as the $26 billion PNG LNG project.
Whilst there may be reasons for optimism, we do need to expect periodic downturns and plan for them now.
Globalisation has provided enormous benefits and lifted millions of people out of poverty.
It also, though, leaves us vulnerable to international shocks.
One of our best defences against these shocks is diversification of our economies.
The resources of both our countries go beyond minerals and energy.
We both have great assets in agriculture, in forestry, in fisheries, in tourism – and enormous potential for growth if we invest in our people.
We need to focus on how we can add value to those resources.
I have been advised that Papua New Guinea intends to phase out round-log exports, and invest in its own timber milling industry.
This is a good example of adding value to exports and boosting domestic returns.
The best time to invest in growth is now.
In 2009, at the heart of the Global Financial Crisis, the Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments both made investments to help kick-start the PNG LNG project.
We gave confidence to large corporate investors.
We created significant benefits for Papua New Guinea, which will continue long into the future.
Long-term economic growth requires investment in our people and in our infrastructure.
Under our bilateral aid partnership, Australia’s investment support development priorities, which have been identified in conjunction with the Government of Papua New Guinea.
For many years, Australia has partnered with PNG to prioritise health and education.
A healthy and skilled workforce drives industry, innovation and development.
In March this year, I was pleased to visit the Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae – where Australia has supported the construction of a new hospital theatre, a new dental clinic, a new 20-bed maternity ward, as well as making improvements to the Lae School of Nursing.
I was pleased that Foreign Minister Pato joined Foreign Minister Bishop and I in Lae in March, and saw for himself what our contribution has achieved.
Indeed, after our visit, I wrote to my counterpart Minister Charles Abel and I encouraged him to also visit and see what we had done.
It was great to meet the hospital staff and hear directly from them about the impact that our investment has made on the daily lives of so many people, but most especially the mothers and the babies.
Australia will continue to abide by the PNG Australia Aid Partnership Arrangement 2016-2017, which was signed by our respective governments in March 2016.
This includes continuing to meet our $207 million commitment to 2020, to redevelop the Angau Hospital and improve the health systems in the Morobe province.
Properly maintained the benefits of these investments will grow for generations to come.
The Australian Government is also making other significant investments in infrastructure, at home and in PNG.
Up to half of Australia’s $550 million development program in PNG is dedicated to infrastructure that will increase productivity and produce better paying jobs.
Australia is funding the maintenance of 1,400 kilometres of PNG’s most economically important roads.
And, of course, the private sector is also contributing.
The 25 megawatt power station recently constructed by ExxonMobil provides 20 per cent of Port Moresby’s power.
Exxon Mobil intends to commence construction of a 50 megawatt station this year.
Another example is Newcrest’s sponsorship of midwifery scholarships under the Australian Government’s Australia Awards.
Navigating economic cycles requires long-term focus.
We need to look beyond the next upturn or downturn.
We need to identify the opportunities and risks across multiple future cycles.
This is something that the private sector does uniquely well.
Most of the businesses represented here today have been operating in Papua New Guinea for decades.
Indeed, 5,000 Australian companies currently do business in PNG.
The Australian Government invests more than $100 million per year in Aid for Trade initiatives to prime that engine.
Employment within Papua New Guinea’s private sector has doubled in the last decade.
Governments can help navigate the economic cycles by creating a business-enabling environment, removing barriers to trade, and providing certainty to investors.
And then it is over to you.
We have looked at economic cycles – societies also go through cycles of development and demographic change.
The last 50 years have seen changes to the social fabric and standards of living in both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Over the last decade, real GDP per capita has risen by more than 12 per cent in Australia and by more than 30 per cent in Papua New Guinea.
However, there is still much more to do to raise the prospects of the most disadvantaged in our respective societies.
Australia and PNG have very different demographic challenges.
Australia has an ageing population, with a quarter of our people over 50 years of age.
Papua New Guinea’s population is comparatively young, with a third of its people under the age of 15.
This could provide a demographic dividend for Papua New Guinea in coming decades.
The challenge will be to provide meaningful opportunities for young people, particularly those in remote and rural areas.
Our different demographics offer synergies for our economies.
Australia has employment opportunities in agriculture, in tourism, in hospitality, in aged care and in disability services, but we struggle to fill from within Australia’s labour market.
There is great scope to increase Papua New Guinean participation in Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program.
In addition, Australia would welcome Papua New Guineans travelling to Australia under our work and holiday program.
We are also exploring other potential programs to attract Papua New Guineans to work in Australia, where Australia has labour shortages.
Increased labour mobility will not only provide valuable skills, it will provide experience and most importantly it will provide remittances for Papua New Guineans.
We would encourage greater uptake of these opportunities.
An area of development I am particularly focused on is gender equality and the elimination of gender-based violence.
Women who are free to flourish and fully participate in the economy boost development and prosperity for all.
And I know, Prime Minister, your own wife is a very active advocate against gender-based violence, and we continue to work with Non-Government Organisations and your Government on gender-based issues.
Foreign Minister Bishop and I were fortunate to celebrate International Women’s Day in Papua New Guinea this year.
We met an impressive group of women studying science, technology, engineering and maths at the Divine Word University in Madang.
Later today, I will meet with women working in senior positions across a range of sectors such as law, finance, energy, health and education.
Women such as these will drive future cycles of change and development in the interests of their families, their communities and ultimately their nation.
Less than a year on from Australia’s election, and as Papua New Guinea embarks upon one of the most logistically complex elections in the world, I would like to briefly reflect on our political cycles.
Australia is pleased to support PNG’s election process.
The challenge all democratic governments face is that it can be difficult to maintain investment certainty across potentially changing governments.
An independent, robust public service makes a real difference.
I was pleased last year to visit The Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct here in Port Moresby, one of our joint initiatives.
1,600 public servants have already received training to help them to serve the government and people of Papua New Guinea to a higher standard.
We are currently witnessing significant changes in the international order.
Emerging powers are asserting increasing influence.
The benefit of open markets is being questioned.
Any shift towards protectionism would be retrograde and would slow economic development, particularly for trade-oriented countries like ours.
Our prime ministers recently discussed the need to speak with one voice about the value of open markets and free trade.
As we respond to changes in the international political environment, Australia and Papua New Guinea can work together to advance our shared interests.
Australia welcomes the growing role that Papua New Guinea is playing within the Pacific.
This aligns with our own intent to step up engagement across the region.
We are increasing our cooperation on regional issues, including climate change, maritime security, and illegal and unregulated fishing.
Next year, the world will come to Papua New Guinea like never before, as it hosts APEC.
APEC features one of the biggest annual gatherings of world leaders, and an intense year-long program of up to 200 government and business meetings.
These meetings will be opportunities to show Papua New Guinea’s business, tourism and investment potential.
But any APEC can also pose enormous logistical and other challenges for nations.
Policy preparations appear relatively well advanced, however as Australia knows from our own hosting, it is critical to get the logistics – if you are to get the logistics right, if you are to hold a successful yearlong event.
Australia is providing policy development and security assistance to Papua New Guinea.
Regrettably, we will not hear from Ms Sim this morning, and from the APEC secretariat, about preparations for APEC and the support that APEC member countries can continue to provide to ensure that PNG hosts a successful summit.
Australia’s support is further evidence of our enduring partnership with Papua New Guinea.
But there is potential for even stronger relations between us.
At the Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, we committed to explore ways to improve market access.
Australia has opened a Consulate-General in Papua New Guinea’s commercial hub, Lae, to promote trade and investment ties.
We are working to make it easier for tourists and business people to move between our countries.
There are currently 288 Papua New Guineans undertaking long-term study in Australia through our Australia Awards program, as well as about 150 Papua New Guineans completing short courses every year.
We are also funding 45 Australian students to live, study and work in Papua New Guinea this year under the New Colombo plan.
Last weekend, I represented Australia at the Governors Meeting of the Asian Development Bank.
The reform of its balance sheet and lending arrangements mean the funds available for lending in our region will double.
Australia is keen to ensure that proposed financing of about US$300 million for Papua New Guinea to expand health services and US$900 million for the Highlands Highway, will have lasting benefits for the people of Papua New Guinea.
In seeking international finance, it is always important to ensure the obligations around loans are clear, transparent, and based on principles of good governance.
Equally important, we need to put in place good systems so that initiatives funded out of this finance are high quality and meet the needs of the people of Papua New Guinea.
I spoke at the outset about the importance of focusing on the long-term when navigating cycles.
The relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea is an enduring one.
We will always be neighbours.
Our relationship is an evolving one.
It is evolving into a strategic and economic partnership, which will help create not only regional prosperity, but also the safety and security of both our nations.
Can I conclude by wishing you well in your deliberations and thanking you for your kind attention.
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