Keynote address to Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo
Australia and Papua New Guinea share a unique and profoundly important bilateral relationship. Our history and our ties are deep and rich with cultural and personal connections.
We're neighbours, friends and partners, and importantly, our relationship is one of equals.
Papua New Guinea is one of our most important partners in the region
When our prime ministers met earlier in January, Prime Minister Marape described it as the kind of warm meeting that you'd expect with “a brother or sister nation”.
So, there's a level of trust and goodwill between us that can't easily be captured in words.
I know Prime Minister Albanese was honoured to be the first foreign leader to address the PNG Parliament.
I think '1Tok Trade Wave' is a great theme for this Expo & Forum because it's fair to say that everyone in this room – everyone who cares deeply about our two countries social and economic prosperity – is a member of our own, unique wantok network.
This forum provides for greater business engagement which is good for economic prosperity. The importance of the private sector cannot be overstated to develop trade, embrace innovation, and open trade flows.
It is good to see the Olympics 2032 on the Business Forum agenda.
It is appropriate we share this global opportunity with neighbours in the Pacific.
We know how important sport is in building our people-to-people links.
But our shared history and ambition doesn't end there; of course, Indigenous peoples in both countries have a long history of connections, including through trade.
Our First Nations ancestors could once walk between Cape York and PNG – our geography and our shared history means connections between communities in the Torres Strait and PNG are still present today.
We want to strengthen these connections and create new opportunities for each of our nations.
Earlier this year, when Prime Minister Albanese addressed your Parliament, he said, “In 2023 I want our two governments to unlock a new generation of prosperity for your nation”.
Today, I want to talk to you about what we're doing together to unlock prosperity in Papua New Guinea.
I want to talk about three things that are fundamental for creating an environment where business can thrive, and communities can prosper: roads, power and ports.
I have heard Ministerial counterparts in PNG note that these three pieces of infrastructure are fundamental to economic development and future prosperity.
Australia is proud to support the government's transport sector priorities and its Connect PNG Economic Infrastructure Strategy.
Of course, roads, power and ports aren't the only things we care about, nor the only things we work together on.
For years, we've worked together, and will continue to work together, in sectors like education, health, gender equity, governance, law and justice, telecommunications and climate, to name but a few.
But today, I'm going to focus on nation-building infrastructure, because there's a huge economic potential locked away in roads, power and ports.
Getting these three things right can help unleash a tremendous amount of economic growth and development for Papua New Guinea.
Since 2007, Australia has been working with Papua New Guinea to maintain the national road network through the Australia-PNG Transport Sector Support Program, or TSSP.
This is Australia's largest bilateral program in PNG, which invests in PNG's transport sector. We recognise the critical role of good infrastructure in enabling and facilitating economic growth and trade.
The program has had a major impact on improving the lives of ordinary Papua New Guineans. When it comes to examples of Australia-PNG cooperation, we consider this one of our success stories.
Australia is PNG's number one infrastructure partner. These investments are making a significant impact on creating employment for the projects.
Reliable roads mean unimpeded travel, trade and commerce. Poor roads and, in large part, the absence of roads connecting PNG and harnessing its economic potential stifle development and progress, and exacerbate poverty, hardship and isolation.
Australians know well the impacts a lack of connectivity instil, particularly after the damage some of our regional roads have suffered through the long flood seasons over the past year or so.
For every dollar we put into roads, I'd wager we can reap several dollars in return through economic growth.
And it's not only about what we invest, it's about how we invest.
Australia is dedicated to working with the government and local partners to create local jobs and to support local industry.
It's worth mentioning that most of our contracts go to local companies here in Papua New Guinea.
So, this isn't a case of Australian companies or workers coming in, doing a quick-build, billing the government, and running out with the profits.
It's about investing in communities, training young people, encouraging enterprise, creating opportunities and building up the economy.
Thanks to the program we've seen local firms participate and bid on work – often starting small but with great potential to grow.
Some of these companies now work on some of the largest upgrades of the country's national roads.
We've worked with many of them to fix, upgrade and maintain roads almost everywhere across Papua New Guinea.
We've worked in Sandaun, East Sepik, Central, Oro and Enga. For example, EJ Sisters started in Enga in 1997 with just one vehicle. Now, 16 years later, this family-owned company is head contractor managing the Kokoda and Northern Highways in Oro.
We've worked in Manus, Madang, Milne Bay and Morobe. In Morobe, local partner Classic Engineering is now in charge of the works on the Wau-Bulolo Highway.
And we've worked in West New Britain, East New Britain, New Ireland and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville: where our local partners include G-Man Construction – the Boluminiski Highway in New Ireland; and JOMIK Earthmoving, an all-women owner-operator in Bougainville.
Australia's investment into PNG roads has been supporting local growth, local jobs, and local expertise. And, on top of that, we're helping deliver a public good for every person or business that uses a national road in this country.
Australia has helped keep producers connected to markets, and communities connected to essential services like health care and schools.
And we want to continue to have the closest possible relationship, deepening ties with PNG.
I'm sure most of us are familiar with the power paradox of Papua New Guinea: huge energy potential, but patchy electricity access.
To help resolve that paradox, we're working with Papua New Guinea, Japan, New Zealand and the United States to invest in energy infrastructure under the PNG Electrification Partnership.
Last year, we supported urgent repairs across the Ramu and Port Moresby power grids…
…and we worked on designs to upgrade eight provincial power grids to hybrid solar-diesel systems in Arawa, Buka, Daru, Aitape, Kerema, Maprik, Finschhafen and Vanimo.
Construction work on two of these grids – Arawa and Aitape – is scheduled to start later this year.
In addition, we're still also committed to building a utility scale large solar farm in Morobe province to connect into the Ramu grid, and project preparations are advancing with PNG Power.
In Morobe and East New Britain, in partnership with the Asian Development Bank, we expect to provide electricity access to between 20,000 and 30,000 new users – households, clinics and schools – for the very first time.
Finally, powering PNG's remotest communities – the so-called last-mile – remains a significant challenge we're dedicated to resolving.
Through Pawarim Komuniti, Australia's off-grid renewable energy grants program, we've also helped install more than 16,000 household solar systems in places like West Sepik's Torricelli Mountain Range, along the Kokoda Track, and in some of the most remote areas of West New Britain.
Overall, our efforts will significantly improve the cost and reliability of power and help transition Papua New Guinea to renewable energy.
Australia is backing PNG's goal of connecting 70 per cent of the population to the grid by 2030.
Prime Minister Marape has previously noted, “In contemporary PNG, energy is key to unlock PNG from present state of underdevelopment to development, progress and well-being of our people.”
And he is right. Indeed, we know that access to reliable, sustainable and affordable energy is key to improving people's everyday lives, whether that be in terms of food security, health care or education.
Our projects will give businesses certainty, help the economy grow and create jobs in the energy sector for a generation of young people.
As you know, the Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific has become a key mechanism through which Australia funds infrastructure investment for the Pacific.
Papua New Guinea is the largest recipient of financing under the Facility – two-thirds of the total value of investments to date are going to PNG.
We've committed almost $800 million in grants and loans. Of that amount, $621 million will go to ports.
That's because we recognise how fundamental ports are for economic growth. Virtually every export industry in Papua New Guinea will need to rely on a port if it wants to sell internationally.
Port investment will also be critical to inter-island shipping and the movement of goods and people around the country.
We're partnering with the PNG Ports Corporation to help deliver its 30‑Year Port Infrastructure Master Plan.
We're also planning upgrades and refurbishments to ports in Kavieng, Kimbe, Oro Bay, Lorengau and Lae Tidal Basin.
The Australian Government's investments in port upgrades will support the business sector and have flow-on effects for jobs creation and building up local industry.
It will improve supply chains, push down costs, drive up efficiency and unlock access to international markets.
Australia is committed to working with Papua New Guinea to build and maintain long-lasting, high-impact infrastructure that is affordable and delivers value for money for Papua New Guinea.
It's our investment in roads, power and ports that will make the most immediate impact on the business sector, and in turn, on PNG's economic growth and deliver improvements in living standards.
And, as I said, it's not only about what we're investing in, it's about how we invest.
We want to see infrastructure projects that create high-quality local jobs, deliver growth to the community, enhance services, offer best value for money, and do not create an unsustainable debt burden…
…and we want to invest in a way that aligns with the priorities of the Papua New Guinea government, identifying new trading opportunities that will strengthen our resilience as a region.
Let me finish by saying that Australia is proud to be Papua New Guinea's largest investor, trading and commercial partner.
More than just the headline investment figures, it's about what these investments deliver for PNG and the Pacific; good jobs, industrial capability, safety and prosperity for the region.
It's my pleasure to join you today in this room as a member of the '1Tok Trade Wave'.
I wish you every success as you work to unlock new opportunities between our two countries.
- Minister’s office: (02) 6277 3469
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