RICHARD MARLES: PNG is the largest player within the Pacific, and we were very keen to make sure that this was the first country that I visited, and we really want to emphasise the place that PNG holds within our own national interest, within our own set of global relationships, that this is a really important country. We consider PNG to be, you know, right up there in the closest group of friends that we have. You know, one of the things I am really keen to try and do in this role, is raise the level of the bilateral relationship that we have with PNG, within the Australian public debate, and within the Australian consciousness. You know, we have incredibly strong historical ties with PNG, obviously, military history. There are lots of people in Australia who have spent time in PNG, and lots of Australians who were born in PNG, so there are lots of social ties in that sense as well. But I think, given that, it really, you know - I think PNG ought to have a larger place within our consciousness than it does.
COMPERE: Why do you think it doesn't have the profile you think it deserves, and what can you do to improve it?
RICHARD MARLES: They're big questions, and in part, I'm not sure why it doesn't have a bigger profile. In some respects it is a mystery to me. I mean, this is - PNG is our closest neighbour. It’s a country significantly larger in population than New Zealand.
In answer to the question, what can we do about it? Look, I - you know, that’s a work
in progress. Partly I want to start talking about it. I really want to raise the profile of
the relationship within the parliament, within our parliament.
I think that, in terms of how we see our place in the world, and what we see as being the sort of critical global issues of interest to this country we need to be making clear that this ranks right up there.
COMPERE: Some big issues in the relationship are, of course, PNG’s predicted economic boom, resource boom, and aid, the issue of aid. Firstly on the resource boom. What role do you see Australia playing in terms of PNG’s potential resource boom?
RICHARD MARLES: We're two countries which are both experiencing the resources boom, and so, you know, I think there are learnings that we have had, in relation to how to make sure the country gets a dividend from the resources boom, which is, you know, positive to our future. We want to share that learning with PNG.
I think that the resources boom here, you know, has the potential to be transformational, but it has to be gotten right, and I think the PNG government is really aware of the need to get that right.
We're working closely with PNG in the development of the LNG project. We've extended a $500 million loan through EFIC, which I think has been really important, in terms of encouraging investment in the LNG project. I think, you know, a really good news story about the relationship between ourselves and PNG is in the work that’s been done around the sovereign wealth fund, which we see as being an important mechanism to make sure that that dividend does come to the benefit of PNG, out of the resources boom. So, you know, I don't think you could get a better synergy between the two countries at the moment, in terms of what’s going on in Australia, and how we can help in, you know, our experiences, providing learnings for PNG, and we really want to help them make sure that this is a positive moment in their history.
COMPERE: I know you're new in the job, but do you have any thoughts on the effectiveness of Australian aid in PNG?
RICHARD MARLES: The first thing to say about that is that PNG is a really significant part of our aid; that’s probably to state the obvious. But it’s our number two recipient of aid. As you'll be aware there’s been a review of the DCT, which, you know, I think has been a really good review, and it’s come up with some important recommendations around how that aid can be delivered in a more effective way, and a more efficient way. The observation is made that aid at the moment is perhaps spread too thin, and needs to be a bit more focused. The observation is also made that it would be a more efficient way to go about things to reduce the proportion of aid which is spent on technical assistance.
I think those observations were largely agreed with at the forum in Alotau, and both governments are now working on a response to the review. So, I think, the review will be a really important document in informing our policy in relation to aid to PNG, both for us and in fact the PNG government. And, as I say, there will be a formal response by the government to that review, as there will be from the PNG government. And I think that will be a really important development in making sure that we deliver our aid in PNG in a way which is more effective, more efficient, but also for the PNG side is - you know, they feel is delivered in a way which gives rise to a better result.
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