My last visit to Papua New Guinea — in March — had a strong business theme.
Of course, that’s as it should be.
While I was there, I was delighted to participate in two functions organised by the Council — in Lae and Port Moresby.
And my visit to the Newcrest Hidden Valley mine in Morobe province was a reminder of business’s critical role in generating wealth and opportunity.
It was a welcome and fascinating diversion from the beaten track.
The theme of this year’s business forum is Today’s Opportunity, Tomorrow’s Prosperity.
It’s a theme that’s both well chosen and timely.
Papua Guinea is entering a period of great opportunity.
It stands on the verge of a great resource boom.
It has a new generation of leaders waiting in the wings.
It has an energetic and creative population.
It has a vibrant business community that knows how to make a difference.
And it has a true friend living next door prepared to support its development objectives — and with which it is inextricably linked.
With such opportunities, Papua New Guinea really can — with good management — embark upon a period of genuine prosperity.
These days, when opportunities in Papua New Guinea are mentioned, most observers immediately think of the PNG LNG project and the much-vaunted PNG resource boom.
The resources industry has made a massive contribution to PNG’s growth; boosted, of course, by the construction of the 16 billion dollar liquefied natural gas project.
(Australian companies have already won contracts with the LNG project worth at least three billion).
But the PNG economy isn't just about resources, the benefits are flowing over into the service industry. The growth of mobile phone services in PNG in recent years bears testimony to this.
Last financial year, trade in the services sector was worth nearly 1.3 billion dollars between our two countries.
Given the strength of these two sectors, it should be no surprise to know that PNG was the seventh fastest growing country in the world in 2011.
Last year sealed a decade of uninterrupted expansion and it’s projected to grow a further 8 per cent this year. Bilateral two way trade currently stands at $7bn.
The strength in PNG’s economy is a major achievement given the difficult global economic climate of the last four or five years.
We have, in part, firm macroeconomic management to thank for that.
These developments create the potential to transform the PNG economy and provide a basis for better futures for all the people of Papua New Guinea.
The PNG political arena is undergoing a transformation as well.
It’s clear that the Independence-era generation is beginning to move on.
And we're currently witnessing a transition to a new generation of leaders.
It’s a generation that’s well educated and comfortable with the technological and economic change sweeping the country.
They grew up in an independent Papua New Guinea.
And they'll have the opportunity to build on the work of their predecessors.
They inherit a heavy burden of responsibility — because they'll become the custodians of the nation’s institutions.
It’s no secret that, over the past few months, PNG’s constitutional processes have come under unusual strain.
Australia believes the issues underlying this strain can be resolved only by the people of PNG themselves, speaking through an election.
So we've very much welcomed Prime Minister O'Neill’s commitment that this year’s election will proceed in accordance with the PNG Constitution.
We appreciate that there are real challenges for the PNG authorities in preparing for and conducting the election.
So Australia is working to help the PNG Government improve its capacity to do so.
I don't propose to go into detail about this help tonight.
But I can say that the level of assistance we are providing to support the conduct of the PNG national election in 2012 is unprecedented.
I'm sure the business community — like the Australian government —attaches great importance to the election being held on time.
After all, business isn't just an important contributor to PNG’s development; it’s an important stakeholder.
Business has a genuine interest in — and, I believe, a profound commitment to — helping PNG become a prosperous, stable and confident nation.
Businesspeople have a deep knowledge of and affinity for the people and culture of Papua New Guinea.
And businesspeople are well placed to help the nation’s leaders translate the revenue from natural resources into better lives for its people.
The Australian Government is ready to work with business to help increase opportunities by supporting sustained economic development through private-sector-led growth.
Opportunities create opportunities — and opportunities properly taken can generate lasting prosperity.
I'm looking forward to going back to Papua New Guinea after the election.
It’s an exciting time for the country, its economy and the bilateral relationship.
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