Remarks to PNG NRL bid corporate dinner

  • Speech, E&OE

[In language greeting]I apologise, but I promise I should be getting better after my fifth trip, but I'm not. But I'm going to keep working at it. Keep working on it? Can I acknowledge Prime Minister Marape, Ministers of the Marape Government, Governors, Members of Parliament, the PNG NRL bid board and Chairman Sonk in particular. Thank you for the kind invitation to say a few words. Although I think between Prime Minister Marape and Chairman Sonk, I think almost everything has been said. But I will try and bring an Australian perspective for a couple of minutes. A mercifully short Australian perspective, but I would like to say a couple of things.

First, I want to reflect on our shared past. Prime Minister Marape talked about it in his address, but I think it's really important in this context that we reflect on the shared past of our two nations, which goes back thousands of years. In fact, it goes back 60,000 years, where Australia's first inhabitants left Papua New Guinea and walked to Australia 60,000 years ago. And as recently as 10,000 years ago we were one island continent, only 10,000 years ago. And 2,600 years ago is the earliest recorded evidence of the people of the Gulf of Papua and the people of the Torres Strait trading together. And that's where I think that wonderful number four in Queensland came from, I suspect. And as Prime Minister Marape said, only 48 years ago, we were one nation. We were only one nation 48 years ago.

So, we've got an incredibly important shared past. Shared past built on spilt blood. I've had the honour of visiting Isurava at Kokoda, where Papua New Guineans and Australians fought side by side to defend freedom and lost their lives. I had the immense privilege of attending Bomana War Cemetery on Anzac Day this year and watching as the fog rolled back to reveal the 3,000 graves. Graves of not just Australians, but of Papua New Guineans. And there's a little known fact that there are over 8,000 Australian war-dead buried in three cemeteries here. Around 8 per cent, 8,000 out of the 100,000 Australians who fought and died for our country are buried on Papua New Guinean soil. That is a shared past we must honour every day. And you honoured it, sir, when 100 Papua New Guinea Defence Force personnel came and helped us in 2019 during the bushfires in our time of need. So, that shared history is there.

But also I'd like to reflect on our shared future, a shared future both economically and people to people. It's a little known fact that Australia invests more in Papua New Guinea than we invest in India or Indonesia, and we're proud of that. We're proud of the fact that we're your third largest export market. We're proud of the fact that there are 4,000 Australian companies active in Papua New Guinea right now. And we're especially proud of the fact that there are 1,500 Papua New Guineans right now working in Australia under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme making a vital contribution to the Australian economy, sending back, on average, 15,000 Australian dollars a year. And Prime Minister Marape and Prime Minister Albanese have committed to growing that to 8,000 by 2025. And I'd love to see many more working in our country, contributing to our economy, sending money home and getting really important skills to come back and set up businesses to help grow your economy. And so that's the economic vision that I have for the Papua New Guinean and Australian relationship; investment, jobs, exports from PNG. But the one I'm especially proud of is our people-to-people connections.

Moving forward that shared past, that past of thousands of years of shared history into the future. And I'm proud to say that rugby league is at the centre of that. Rugby league must be at the centre of it as the only two nations where rugby league is the dominant sport. And I'm proud to say that. We have an obligation and a privilege to bring it together. And I'm so inspired by Prime Minister Marape's vision, the Mandela vision, the Mandela-Marape vision, of using rugby league to bring the nation of Papua New Guinea together. And I'm here to say that Australia is really privileged to be part of that. There's a little known fact that the first State of Origin in Australia was played in Papua New Guinea, played in Papua New Guinea in 1945, between Australian service personnel. Now, some dodgy Queenslanders like to claim that they won that game, but I think the jury is out on that. I think there might have been some sort of Greg Inglis-style New South Welshman playing for them.

But the history of rugby league in this country is strong. The history of Australian involvement in Papua New Guinea is strong and we want to be part of that. It's not a popular thing to admit in this room and certainly not popular in my electorate near Newcastle, but I'm a proud Roosters fan. And I grew up watching Adrian Lam playing and performing at the highest level. And if only he just kept playing for the Kumuls and didn't play for the Maroons it would have been a good thing. But from Adrian Lam to now Justin Olam, we've got a huge Papua New Guinean contribution to rugby league in Australia and we want to see it grow. We want to see it grow. Not just to bring our people together, not just the United Nations, as Prime Minister Marape said, but to give the kids of Papua New Guinea the future they deserve, because sport, and in particular rugby league, brings healthy lifestyles, it brings discipline, it brings teamwork. And I was talking to some of the rugby league administrators at the Prime Minister's 13 match in Brisbane last year, and they were saying they now make it in some comps a condition that you have to turn up to school to play in their league team. And I think that's a great example of using rugby league to bring about great societal outcomes.

So, if I've got one message here for the people in this room, it is that the Australian Government stands shoulder to shoulder in our earnest desire to deliver a rugby league team. And as Prime Minister Albanese said, when he had the great privilege of being the first foreign leader to address your Parliament, when he stood in the heart of your democracy, when he stood next to Prime Minister Marape and said that he wants to see a Papua New Guinean rugby league team in the National Rugby League competition. And we're laying the groundwork now. We're supporting the PNG Hunters who've done such superb work in the Queensland competition. We're supporting the Prime Minister's XIII matches. We made an announcement, Prime Ministers Albanese and Marape, that we will be funding Papua New Guinean schoolboys and schoolgirls teams to tour Australia, and, importantly, Australian schoolboys and schoolgirls teams to come through here to develop that pipeline. That is essential, as Chairman Sonk said.

And tonight I want to announce the next step, which is responding to requests from the consortium and responding to the great communication and great relationship we have with the Government of PNG under Prime Minister Marape. I'm proud to announce tonight that Australia will be investing a further five-and-a-half million dollars in growing those pathways. That money will go to help develop the business case for the consortium. That money will go to elevating a national school competition, and that money will go as seed funding for an elite skills academy. Because we know that when you make it into the competition, and that's a when not an if, we want you to be competing at the highest level from day one. We want you to be winning games, we want you to be dominating the competition, and we want you to be as successful as possible. We know investing in players now, the juniors now, is how we get those rugby league players in '27 and '28. So, that's a proud announcement that I make today.

But my final message is to all the corporate leaders here. And I know that Chairman Sonk said that this is a free dinner, or it's a free dinner other than having to hear from me. And my message is this. Just as Prime Minister Marape said that this consortium, this bid, can unite a nation under one flag and one jersey, we need you. We need the Papua New Guinean corporate sector. We need Australian companies operating in Papua New Guinea. Because you've got a great opportunity to get behind a national team. You don't have to worry about losing customers, because I can tell you, as a Rooster supporter, I boycott people who sponsor Souths. I'm serious about that. And I've told Prime Minister Albanese that, I won't mention his response. But the corporate leaders here, you'll be getting behind a national endeavour. You'll be getting behind an endeavour that will unite a nation, that will encourage kids to stay in school, encourage kids to grow under discipline and teamwork and healthy lifestyles with respect for their elders, respect for women, respect for everyone in this community. And quite frankly, I think that there should be no shortage of corporate sector interest in this, because I can't think of a single better endeavour to demonstrate your commitment to this nation than sponsoring this team.

So, I will finish there. I will say Tenkyu tru. And if I could ask Prime Minister Marape and Chairman Sonk to come up, I've got a small presentation for them. Thank you. If I could start with Prime Minister Marape. Now, I know this is Prime Minister Marape's current team, and I say current. And I hope that this is the last Broncos jersey I present to Prime Minister Marape and that I can return in 2025 and see a PNG jersey. Thank you very much.

Prime Minister James Marape: You heard him say 2025.

Minister Conroy: Thank you Prime Minister Marape. And Chairman Sonk, and again, I understand your affiliation for this team, given its strong Papua New Guinean heritage. Team of Marcus Bai, the team of Justin Olam, the team of Xavier Coates. So, I will present you with a Melbourne Storm jersey. But again, I expect that to be the last one. But again, thank you very much for having me here. Australia stands with the people and the Government of Papua New Guinea to help deliver in this great unifying effort. Thank you very much.

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