Interview on NBC National Radio in PNG, with Stephen Mase ‘Real PNG’

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia’s development assistance, NRL, the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, the Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy, support for NBC.
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Stephen Mase: NBC National Radio Real PNG. Good to have your company on this Wednesday afternoon. As we said earlier and you’ve heard, we are going to be speaking with Hon Pat Conroy, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and I must add as well that our own Minister for Information Communication Technology Hon Timothy Masiu is sitting beside his counterpart. And also, once again welcome along to my good friend Waliagai Olewale, good afternoon.

Waliagai Olewale: Good afternoon [indistinct].

Stephen Mase: Okay. Thank you. Let’s start off with Hon Pat Conroy, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific and, of course, an NRL man as well, which is always good in this country. Thank you for gracing us with your presence.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: My absolute pleasure and good afternoon to you and all your listeners.

Stephen Mase: It is great to have you visiting our studios and, of course, understanding that there’s been some important agreements signed. First of all, let me start off with: How are you and how does it feel like to be here in Port Moresby? Is it your first time to visit?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: It is my first time to visit and I’m loving every moment of it. We’ve got a packed program, but I arrived in Moresby on Monday afternoon and got to go out to a Kwikila village yesterday morning and see some of the development projects we’ve got happening, and I’ve had a series of fabulous meetings with Ministers. I’m launching a film festival this evening, and then I’m flying out to Kokoda tomorrow for the commemorations of the 80th anniversary of Kokoda. So, it’s been a great trip. It won’t be my last. I think I will be back here in about six weeks time, so I’m very excited.

Waliagai Olewale: Minister, as we’re aware, since PNG independence and even before that Australia has been supportive as a key development partner in the development of PNG. From your capacity as the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, what sectors do you see as vital for Australia’s investment in assisting PNG develop since then until today?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Well, I think our starting position of the new Australian Government is to listen to your priorities and act on what are the needs of the Papua New Guinean people. Our budget that we delivered last week delivered record amounts of funding, $1.9 billion for the Pacific this year alone, including $AUD600 million for Papua New Guinea. And we will be guided by what your priorities are. But the most important thing is to put humans at the heart of it. I got to visit a community health clinic yesterday in Kwikila and I got to see great community volunteers vaccinating young babies, and my wife is an immunisation nurse, so I know how important that is. That project, which is a joint project between the Australian Government, the Papua New Guinea Government, the Central District and the people of that community, is saving people’s lives right now and it’s something we’re passionate about supporting further. Health, education, roads, ports – I visited a port yesterday – that all is about us having a shared destiny to develop Papua New Guinea and for Australia to be part of that.

Stephen Mase: Minister, obviously you already highlighted – and I’m sure you’ve got a full‑on program. Even after this I’m sure you’ve got a few places to go. With the announcement of $AUD600 million in foreign aid to Papua New Guinea where would the bulk of that budget be focused on? I mean, we here at the embassy are really happy to – the embassy has been prominent in this, but where exactly would the bulk of the budget be focused on?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Well, Stephen, some of our largest programs are around health and education. As you would expect investing in the people of Papua New Guinea is essential, so those two have been particularly important. We’ve also been supporting the Government’s Law and Justice agenda. We know that’s a real critical issue that the Papua New Guinean Government is very committed to – and investing in infrastructure. So, we’re, for example, we’re proud to maintain 1,800 kilometres of the national highways here and I think that’s really important. We need to build those highways so that your businessmen and women can sell their products within Papua New Guinea and export around the world. And we’re spending $621 million refurbishing six to eight of your ports, and that’s critical. The Connect PNG Agenda of the Papua New Guinean Government is something we’re really invested in and support for obviously communications, including NBC, is really, really vital.

Stephen Mase: Our next question.

Waliagai Olewale: Minister, you mentioned that part of the bulk of the budget is going to go to law and justice apart from health and education. Would you be looking at or considering – in previous years Papua New Guinea had an enhanced cooperation package and that phased down. Papua New Guinea has a very low ceiling police manpower. Would much of that or some of that be considered to go into building the ceiling or assisting – probably bringing back the enhanced cooperation package to the Papua New Guinea – Royal PNG Constabulary?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: We’re open to whatever the people in the Government of PNG see as their highest priorities. We already have a significant presence of Australian Federal Police here and we’re always open to discussing more. One of the things that’s we’re particularly keen on that’s been requested by the Papua New Guinean Government is to develop a Bilateral Security Treaty. That’s something that Prime Minister Marape and Foreign Minister Tkatchenko has been very strong on. Foreign Minister Wong was here to discuss that, and Prime Minister Albanese will be coming here as soon as the diaries line up. So, policing and justice could be one of the topics that’s covered by the Bilateral Security Treaty. In the end, we’re here to provide assistance where it makes sense, but ultimately, we have to respect your sovereignty and you’re a sovereign independent nation, which is approaching your 50‑year anniversary and ultimately we respect that, but we provide assistance wherever it’s requested where we can meet that with our resources.

Stephen Mase: Thank you for that response, once again we’re talking with Hon Pat Conroy, the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific on this Wednesday afternoon. We’re pleased and overwhelmed, obviously, by your visit to the Papua New Guinean National Broadcasting Corporation head office today. Not a lot of State Ministers have actually done that, so thank you very much and of course what better but to go on radio so the rest of Papua New Guinea is listening to you. I’m sure partnerships through the Australian broadcasting media development is within one of the programs that you’re looking at specifically, and maybe you want to expand a little bit more on what you set aside specifically how the agreement will go.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Absolutely. And it was a real honour to be here with PNG Communications Minister Masiu, who’s sitting next to me today, to talk about the memorandum of understanding between the NBC and ABC. Importantly, that’s about building the capacity of both broadcasting corporations to do more, exchange journalists to build more journalistic expertise. But complementing that is our strategy within Papua New Guinea and, for example, we’re building a medium‑wave transmitter in Daru that will support Daru and parts of the western province and that’s critical and that complements the PNG Government’s reinvestment in medium‑wave broadcast towers that Minister Masiu were so passionate about. [Indistinct] I’m the first Australian Government Minister to visit the NBC and it’s a real privilege and to understand the priorities of the NBC, because a free and open media landscape is critical to both our countries. We announced $AUD32 million for an Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast more into the Pacific but also to work with Pacific broadcasters to build their capability because, as I said, I firmly I believe – I’m sitting next to a former journalist in the Minister – that a strong media leads to a stronger democracy, and that’s something I’m so passionate about.

Waliagai Olewale: Minister, the Government has allocated $68 million over four years to expand the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, which PNG is a part of, and is working on new policies. What benefits are we looking at?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: This is the policy that I’m most passionate about. The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme offers huge potential outcomes for the people of the Pacific as well as filling skills shortages in Australia. And to give you an example of the scale of the opportunities, one‑third of Pacific Islanders live on the equivalent of $AUD1,000 a year. The average Pacific worker – and we’ve got 27,000 in Australia at the moment – sent home to their family $AUD15,000 a year. And we’re committed to growing those schemes, making them the dominant source of temporary migrant labour in rural and regional Australia, and that’s to help our economy grow; it’s to help that money flow back into economies like PNG and other Pacific nations; and to give those workers more skills that they bring back to their country. An example from another Pacific country that I recently visited, I met Joseph and Gerard in Honiara in Solomon Islands, who had just come back from three years in Australia. And they’d been sending back money that kept their families afloat and their villages afloat during COVID. They came back with skills. One of them is setting up a construction business right now and the other is setting up a training business to train Solomon Islanders to go back into Australia.

I want to see that same outcome for Papua New Guinea. At the moment we’ve got about 1,000 Papua New Guineans working in that 27,000. We’re ramping up the scheme to 35,000 and I want as many Papua New Guineans that people want to come out to Australia and, importantly, that work is not limited to fruit picking or working in meat works. That’s important. But it’s in areas like aged care. So, we have got a pilot for 500 aged‑care workers. We have got childcare, tourism, hospitality, parts of construction and manufacturing and we’re committed to training, and I had a very productive meeting with the Minister, Ian Ling‑Stuckey, the Treasurer or Minister for Treasury in the Papua New Guinean Government who’s got carriage in this area. And we talked about some great initiatives about doing more training here so that workers are ready to work in Australia and then coming back to Papua New Guinea with skills and, quite frankly, money to reinvest in Papua New Guinea. I think it’s a win–win if we get it right and I’m so evangelical about it. Sorry for rabbiting on about it, but it is, I think, critical to us deepening our relationship.

Stephen Mase: It’s been great and maybe we’ll wrap up on one final question because I know we’re being told you’ve got other places to go but, of course, we’ve got to talk about sport. And I know this morning you signed off an agreement somewhere in Port Moresby as well, but the whole bilateral relationship, of course, expanding to the development of our sports men and women as well and, most importantly, this relationship in sports – your thought about that?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Oh, this is – the only area that equals my passion for Pacific labour mobility – is sports. It’s something that unites our two nations; it’s our shared values our shared commitment to sport. We’ve allocated $AUD100 million to two programs, one to grow sports in schools and give people the start in sport and healthy outcomes and encourage them to stay in school. The other to grow the elite pipeline of players. And today I announced a $1 million partnership to grow Aussie Rules in Papua New Guinea, which is great. We’ve already got an A side here playing in the AFL, and a few weeks ago I announced a $2.5 million program on Rugby League, which is obviously the national sport of Papua New Guinea. I’m a Roosters supporter and my great hero growing up is Adrian Lam and I got to – I also got to meet David Mead today and work with him. So, one of the jobs my Prime Minister has given me is to grow Rugby League in Papua New Guinea, grow those elite pipelines of great players and to work eventually to get an NRL side from Papua New Guinea into the Australian comp. I can’t think of anything that would cement our friendship more than that.

We had eight Pacific heads of state watch the State of Origin with Prime Minister Albanese and I in Fiji at the recent Pacific Islands Forum and it is something that bonds us together. Now, too many were going for Queensland, including Prime Minister Marape. I’m sitting next to a Parramatta fan, and I’m being interviewed by a Penrith fan. I’m not sure – who do you go for?

Stephen Mase: She’s a Queenslander too.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Oh, shame, shame! But it’s something that unites our two countries and we’re going to pump lots more resources into it because it’s not only good to bring our societies together there’s lessons there about professionalism, turning up on time, putting the hard yards in. It’s about gender equality. The Orchids winning this morning was brilliant – about gender equality and I hope the Kumuls smash the Poms in a few days’ time and that we meet you in the grand final.

Waliagai Olewale: I hope the Poms are not listening.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Oh, well, I’m happy to say it to their face.

Stephen Mase: Really appreciate your time. I’m sure you’ve got a busy schedule. Like we said, it’s great to have you, Minister, visit the National Broadcasting Corporation, and it would be remiss of me not to ask my Minister maybe to say a word of thanks on behalf of the Government of Papua New Guinea. Minister Masiu.

Timothy Masiu: Thank you, Stephen, and on behalf of the Prime Minister, James Marape, and the Marape–Rosso Government, I’m very happy to be here with my colleague Minister, Minister for International Development and, of course, the Pacific, and I think the Albanese Government is a very straightforward Government. They are putting the talk into action. They have not just spoken about helping us in the Pacific, but they’re actually coming out to talk to us. And that is a very important signal that they are giving at this point in time. Both countries went into an election and here we are, you know, interacting with our colleagues. That’s very important. I’m very, very happy that Minister Conroy can add time and stay more than two days here in the country and I would like to see more Ministers from the Australian Government do likewise. Give us more time so they can understand our way of life and, of course, how we do things out here.

Like I said, a friend in need is a friend indeed and so I’m very, very delighted that you could be here with us, especially finding time this afternoon to come and be here at NBC and seeing this very – one of the most historical institutions that we have in the country. And thank you very much for the support that you have on your behalf of your government on behalf of your government you have pledged to assist us. We’re now waiting and looking forward to seeing when it gets here so we can start to do the things that we want to do and there’s a lot of things that we really want to do. And again, on behalf of the Marape–Rosso Government and my ministry, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and, of course, NBC comes under this ministry and NICTA, we – words alone cannot describe our thank you for yourself as the Minister responsible to be here with us and I hope my colleague Minister, Minister Michelle Rowland, can come up here sometimes. I already sent her an invitation and I’m looking forward to catching up with her when she comes to Papua New Guinea as well. But thank you very much and God bless your trip and you and your team staying here and, of course, going back to Australia.

Stephen Mase: Minister, a quick word.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Thank you, Minister Masiu. I really appreciate the kind welcome and your enthusiasm for supporting NBC and communications in Papua New Guinea. And the welcome I’ve got here has been so warm. You are our closest neighbour. You are one of our dearest friends and one of the main messages I leave people is: we’re here to listen to your priorities. And there’s been plenty of talk from Australia. Our job now is to deliver on that talk with action and we’re here to listen and be partners in your journey. And thank you again for the privilege of visiting your country.

Stephen Mase: That’s Hon Pat Conroy, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, responding to ICT Minister Hon Timothy Masiu. [Indistinct]. Always a pleasure to work with you.

Waliagai Olewale: Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Mase: And, of course, we’ve got to wrap up the interview because we’re seeing all the advisers and everybody saying he’s got to keep on walking. It’s a pleasure to have you and we’d love to have you back here, you know, once we see more things happening and especially the partnership with ABC, I think I can see ...

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