Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 17:01 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 17:01 | SYDNEY

Australia-PNG: A first-class relationship


Jenny Hayward-Jones


24 April 2008 12:09

Australian and PNG Ministers met yesterday in Madang in the first bilateral ministerial meeting since 2005. The 60-member Australian delegation, including six ministers and 3 parliamentary secretaries, sent a strong signal that the relationship with PNG had not only improved but was now 'first class' in the words of Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

The big news from the Forum from Australia’s perspective was the signing of a statement of understanding to secure the future of the Kokoda  Track and Owen Stanley Ranges.  Under the agreement, Australia will provide approximately $15 million to PNG to assist in preserving the track and improving the livelihoods of communities living along it. PNG and Australia will also work towards World Heritage listing for the Kokoda Track. The PNG Government has apparently decided not to grant new exploration licences to mining company Frontier Resources. 

The agreement is significant as it reflected results of negotiations with landowners who stood to gain much more financial benefit from a mining deal. Matters of land and compensation in Melanesia are never simple. The agreement must now deliver on improving living conditions for communities or risk further disruption of the track by landowners. 

It may be a quirk in reporting language but it was interesting to read in The Australian that ministers had agreed that 'sustainable development for communities along the track should be allowed' and that 'such development could include water, health, education and sanitation projects' (ie. not mining).  It is curious that PNG has to agree with a foreign government that its citizens should have access to basic human rights like water and sanitation, even if it does require some construction on land of such historical significance to Australia.

Other highlights from the Forum were an Australian funding commitment of $3 million to assist PNG to reduce its greenhouse emissions from deforestation, and agreement on police cooperation, a tsunami early warning system and tourism cooperation.