The 16th Mining and Petroleum Investment Conference and Exhibition, Sydney
I want to begin by acknowledging that we meet today on the country of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to Elders – past, present and emerging.
I also want to acknowledge the First Nations people of Australia and the Pacific who are in the room today.
It's a great privilege to be here today to speak at the Papua New Guinea Mining and Petroleum Investment Conference and Exhibition.
Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Papua New Guinea for the first time in my capacity as Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
My visit was the third by an Australian minister in a span of eight weeks – a clear demonstration of the Australian Government's commitment to Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour and one of our dearest friends.
And I'm looking forward to returning to Papua New Guinea next week.
I managed to fit a lot in during my few days there last month – from launching an AFL partnership with Papua New Guinea…
To visiting Kwikila Village and District Hospital, where I had the privilege of seeing community health workers and village volunteers vaccinating babies, and listening to the stories of those workers, volunteers and mothers…
To taking part in the commemorations for the 80th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.
It was really special to be in Kokoda for those commemorations, for a campaign which symbolises the longstanding, deep commitment between the people of Australia and the people of Papua New Guinea.
I also had some very productive meetings with Papua New Guinean ministers on a good range of topics.
Throughout the course of my visit, it really struck me how closely Australia and Papua New Guinea work together in almost every sector.
And so today, I'd like to take a wide-ranging look at our relationship, and how we are proudly working with Papua New Guinea as their partner of choice across so many sectors.
Something I want to highlight, and something that the Australian Government has repeatedly stressed, is that we want to listen and understand Papua New Guinea's priorities and needs.
That's true across the board – in infrastructure, in trade, in security, in development.
And that is one of the reasons our Australian ministers have been so active in visiting Papua New Guinea and indeed so many other Pacific countries.
We want to listen, and we want to understand.
For example, Papua New Guinea and Australia both recognise that high-quality infrastructure is vital for economic prosperity.
So we are working through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific to provide almost $800 million in grants and loans to support major capital projects across Papua New Guinea.
Our focus in all these infrastructure projects is quality and sustainability.
These projects include investments to extend electricity access to tens of thousands of households, clinics and schools for the first time.
They include investments in road maintenance, to keep communities and provinces connected.
And they include investments to support upgrades and refurbishments for priority ports that keep Papua New Guinea's trade links open.
A great deal of those projects will be transformative for the communities and the regions they are in.
They will support sustainable economic growth in Papua New Guinea for many years to come.
When it comes to development cooperation, Australia is proud to be the largest bilateral development partner to the Pacific, including $600 million annually to Papua New Guinea.
And we are very proud to have allocated $1.9 billion this financial year in aid for Pacific nations – the largest annual contribution Australia has ever made to Pacific development.
Our development assistance runs the gamut from health to education to security.
And again, we work to ensure that this assistance responds to local priorities.
All of our investments in Papua New Guinea are squarely aimed at helping Papua New Guinea achieve its economic and development priorities.
We've provided budget support loans of around $1.2 billion in 2020 and 2021, to help Papua New Guinea repair its budget out of the pandemic.
And we are supporting the Papua New Guinean Government's efforts to make Papua New Guinea a more attractive place for business activity and investment.
We're keenly aware of how much the mining and petroleum sectors contribute to Papua New Guinea's economy.
And this of course is another area of close connection between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
We are both countries with abundant natural resources.
We are both countries with significant mining sectors which have been fundamental to our economic development – supporting growth, exports and jobs.
Many of the Australian mining and petroleum companies represented at this conference have made significant investments in economic and social development, spanning decades of engagement with communities from Western Province to the New Guinea Islands.
Most recently, we commend the role played by these companies and philanthropic organisations in limiting the impact of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea.
We welcome this continued investment to provide a platform for growth and stability to strengthen Papua New Guinea's budget and economic resilience.
We are working with the PNG Government to promote confidence in the sector…
By investing in important connecting infrastructure like roads and ports…
And by helping with the structural reforms which will help encourage a sound, predictable regulatory system to stimulate greater business investment.
We recognise the constructive role played by the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum in this space.
Our countries also share close personal relationships, forged through our shared history, and through our proximity across the Torres Strait.
The Albanese Government has spoken a lot about how our modern, multicultural nation engages with the world around us …
And how our diversity gives us the ability to engage with almost every corner of the world.
That is particularly true of Papua New Guinea.
I often tell Australians that there are only four kilometres between Australia and Papua New Guinea – you could swim between our countries at their closest point, if you were prepared to brave the crocodiles!
That strait that separates us also connects us …
In particular, the First Nations peoples in Northern Australia share cultural and historical links with Papua New Guinea.
Generations of Papua New Guineans have lived, studied and worked in Australia.
And Australia is better for it.
We'll keep building those links culturally, through initiatives like our new Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy.
This will increase the engagement of the ABC into the Pacific, and partner with Pacific media to help to develop and mentor journalists.
We will keep building our people to people and our economic links by strengthening and expanding our Pacific labour mobility scheme.
There are currently more than 1,000 workers from Papua New Guinea working in Australia through the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme – the PALM scheme.
And we know that there is a lot of potential to build on this.
Any rural or regional Australian business with an unmet need for labour can apply to be part of the PALM scheme.
We're very conscious that this scheme should be mutually beneficial.
We know that Pacific workers participating in this scheme send remittances back to their home country which average $15,000 a year.
And many Pacific workers gain valuable skills while working in Australia.
The Government is expanding the scheme beyond its traditional focus on agriculture into new sectors like tourism, hospitality and aged care.
The Government is also strengthening this scheme to make it more beneficial for both Australian employers and Pacific workers.
We're working to strengthen worker protections and support for worker welfare.
We're also building a greater focus on working with businesses to incentivise skills development and promote circular migration.
Right now, Papua New Guinea is a net importer of labour – so there's an opportunity for Papua New Guineans to come to Australia, to work, to build their skills on the job, and then to take those skills home and work in domestic industries, building that capability in Papua New Guinea.
We're currently working in partnership with the aged care sector to create incentives for businesses to co-invest in funding Certificate III qualifications in Australia for workers through the PALM scheme.
As we work together on petroleum and mining, and indeed, all of our shared interests, we are also very conscious of the need to do so in a way that is sustainable.
When I say sustainable, I mean in a way that does not create an unmanageable debt burden for Papua New Guinea.
And I also mean in a way that takes into account environmental and climate concerns.
I'm pleased to see the focus on climate and sustainability during several sessions at this Conference.
Because the new Australian Government has been very clear in our commitment to tackling climate change.
The Foreign Minister and I have said many times that we know that climate change is an existential threat for our Pacific region.
85 per cent of citizens in Papua New Guinea rely on rain-fed agriculture.
And as the changing climate affects those low-lying areas, as well as the highlands which are prone to frost, Papua New Guinea's food security is going to be greatly affected.
In Australia, extreme weather events like fires and floods are becoming more and more common, too.
The Australian Government takes climate change seriously.
We have already enshrined into legislation a carbon emissions reduction target of at least 43 per cent by 2030, and net zero by 2050.
We are working towards a target of 82 per cent of Australia's energy supply being renewable within the decade.
And, recognising the outsize impacts climate change is already having on Pacific nations like Papua New Guinea, we have launched a bid with the Pacific to host a UN climate change Conference of the Parties in 2026.
I recently had the privilege of attending the Climate Change Conference – COP27 – in Egypt, and had some very useful discussions with many Pacific representatives there.
Our response to climate change includes a strong focus on promoting Australia as a renewable energy superpower …
We want to see Papua New Guinea join us in capitalising on the benefits of the green transition.
We've seen significant interest from globally recognised companies to kickstart investment in major green hydrogen projects.
And through the Indo-Pacific Carbon Offsets Scheme, the Australian Government is supporting Papua New Guinea in establishing a carbon market backed by rigorous governance systems for carbon credits.
I mentioned the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific earlier …
We would like to see the Facility supporting Papua New Guinea's renewable energy ambitions, including through facilitating private sector investment.
We are also supporting Papua New Guinea's disaster resilience and climate adaptation through our development investments.
And we are establishing a new Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership.
This financing partnership will support medium to large scale climate infrastructure and resilience projects as well as small scale renewable energy projects.
Australia and Papua New Guinea are great friends, and enduring friends.
Papua New Guinea is Australia's closest neighbour.
Our histories are linked.
And so are our futures.
Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong recently reflected on the history of Australia and Papua New Guinea's relationship, and in particular, on the occasion of Papua New Guinea's independence in 1975.
The Papua New Guinean independence movement was led, of course, by Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare – the father of the nation – papa blo kantri.
On the Australian side, the Australian Prime Minister at the time, Gough Whitlam, understood that:
“A partnership of equals was the only sustainable basis for an enduring relationship with our nearest neighbour.”
Together, Somare and Whitlam forged a partnership that lives on today.
And our two nations continue to work in the spirit of that partnership – one of respect and trust as equals.
I hope you find the next few days instructive and illuminating.
Thank you for your time today.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7840
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555