Dan Cox, Jenny Marchant, ABC Upper Hunter

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: PNG team in the NRL, sports led diplomacy, Pacific Islands-Australian relationship.

Dan Cox: But could it be expanded even further into the future with another team on the list and they don’t all have to be Australian for the NRL. PNG’s Prime Minister, James Marape, has written to Anthony Albanese pushing the country’s bid to join the NRL competition. Pat Conroy is the Member for Shortland, but the Minister for Defence Industry, and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Good morning, Pat Conroy.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Morning, guys. How are we?

Jenny Marchant: Well, thank you, but I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t expect you under this portfolio to be considering the future of the NRL. This is a little out of left-field.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Well, sports‑led diplomacy is one of our key advantages in the Pacific. It is an area where we’ve got a shared affinity with the Pacific Islands, so it’s something where we’ve got a real chance to deepen our relationship with the Pacific and it’s something I’m really enthusiastic about, so it’s one of the most interesting parts of the portfolio.

Dan Cox: So, given the diplomatic side of this then, is allowing the PNG team to be part of the NRL in Australia a good idea?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: I think it has got great potential. Rugby league is a religion up in Papua New Guinea. The only flaw is they all go for Queensland. They are very enthusiastic about rugby league, and so it’s got great potential there. There’s a few things we have to work through to make sure it’s sustainable, and the fact that the National Rugby League wants it, is something that we have to establish, but it’s got great potential. The Australian Government already supports sport in the Pacific. For example, we pay for the PNG Kumuls to play in the Queensland comp and the Fijian Silvertails (sic) to play in one of the New South Wales comps. We support rugby union, we support netball. It’s a great way of building the people-to-people links, so I’m really enthusiastic about a PNG team in the NRL but we’ve got to make sure it’s sustainable before we go much further.

Jenny Marchant: The NRL is a powerful organisation. How much influence does the Federal Government have about what the NRL does with its competition in the future?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: We have some influence. We obviously fund programs, and I suspect that if PNG does come in to the NRL there’ll be a request for Federal Government support for that. I know of at least four teams who are interested in that 18th franchise: obviously, PNG, a team out of the west, a team over in New Zealand and even the North Sydney Bears is still floating around. So, it’s not a fait accompli that NRL will decide on the PNG option, but, obviously, the Australian Government recognises the potential for sport to really deepen our links with the people of the Pacific, so we’re open to working through the options there. And, in fact, Prime Minister Albanese, when he met with Prime Minister Marape and I last week, said he’s also very interested in how we can get a State of Origin game into the Pacific as well.

Dan Cox: Wow, imagine! When you sit down with the Prime Minister of PNG, James Marape, and discuss this, does he have a team in mind? Is it going to be, you know, 25 players all from PNG, or does he need to have that kind of detail about whether they’d be a mix of players from Fiji and Tonga and Samoa and that sort of thing?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: They’re the sort of details we have to work through. There’s a consortium based in PNG, but it’s those practical details that we have to work through. We obviously have to get through the PNG election first to work with the new PNG Government to see if this has potential. There are a range of options, whether they play all their home games in Papua New Guinea and Port Moresby or whether they share the location with other places in the Pacific or even Cairns. There’s a very large Papua New Guinean diaspora in Cairns and so that’s an option as well. So, these are the sort of details we have to work through and I think, sort of, people are aiming for a decision around 2025, which is a really historic year, because that’s the 50th anniversary of Papua New Guinea getting independence from Australia. So, that’s the sort of timeframe that people will be interested in trying to get a decision on.

Jenny Marchant: Pat Conroy, you mentioned sports diplomacy and how important that is, but what is it really? How do you build connections between countries by sport?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Well, you build those connections because of our shared experiences. People, humans, instinctively form bonds based on shared experiences, whether it’s fighting in a war together, whether it’s a particular religious faith, or playing a sport. So, for example, at the Pacific Islands Forum last week Prime Minister Albanese and I hosted a State of Origin event with, I think, seven or eight leaders of the Pacific where we stayed up late, because we were a couple of hours ahead, watching the State of Origin, and so it’s those shared bonds that deepen our links. And, for example, I met a travelling group of newspaper editors from Fiji a few months ago and the only thing that they really wanted to talk about was Australia continuing to support the Fijian men’s and women’s teams in the Super Pacific Rugby. And it’s because of that passion for sport, and it’s something that we can really work on. It’s a real advantage Australia has over other countries that have got an interest in increasing their influence in the Pacific and it’s something that I’m really enthusiastic about.

Dan Cox: Pat Conroy, thank you for the update. Keep us posted on how this bid from PNG goes when it comes to joining the NRL. Have a good day.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Have a great day, guys. Bye-bye.

Dan Cox: Pat Conroy there, Member for Shortland, Minister for Defence Industry, Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

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