Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:35 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:35 | SYDNEY

Building the PNG relationship


Jenny Hayward-Jones


4 May 2009 15:05

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare was in Australia last week on a state visit. The wide-ranging discussion in his 28 April joint press conference with Prime Minister Rudd was a timely reminder that the Australia-PNG relationship is broader than the aid framework that dominates Australian thinking about our nearest neighbour.

Prime Minister Rudd announced that Australian medallions would be awarded to recognise the service and sacrifice of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels during World War II and spoke of the development of a rugby league competition in PNG that could be integrated with the Australian league in the future.

Nevertheless, the aid program is an important part of the bilateral relationship and the two prime ministers appear to have had a frank discussion about the future directions of Australia’s aid to Papua New Guinea. Importantly, Prime Minister Somare gave a speech in Canberra in which he foreshadowed a major policy shift in PNG’s approach to development cooperation.

Somare spoke of the depth and warmth of the bilateral relationship and said PNG must forge a ‘new relationship of equitable partnership with Australia…reflected in a new level of equality…at all levels encompassing political, social, trade and commerce.’ He declared his government’s intention to assert and accept more responsibility over PNG’s national development. He said he would like to see:

  • more resources taken away from consultancies and allocated towards enhancing private sector development, including better access to finance;
  • more resources shifted from the public sector and policy improvement programs to fund infrastructure development in the transport, health and education sectors;
  • more financial and personnel resources allocated towards vocational and technical education; and
  • more resources directed towards having Australian judges, doctors and teachers actually deployed around PNG.

Somare’s call for change echoes some of the arguments I made about reforming aid in this Policy Brief, published by the Lowy Institute last year.

Prime Minister Rudd indicated that under his government Australian aid to PNG and the region was now being anchored in the Millennium Development Goals because the goals offered a means of measuring the success of aid on health and education outcomes. He admitted to ‘problems in the historical aid delivery into Papua New Guinea whereby too much money has been consumed by consultants and not enough money was actually delivered to essential assistance in teaching, in infrastructure, in health services on the ground, in the villages, across Papua New Guinea.’

Papua New Guinea is Australia’s nearest neighbour, our 19th largest trading partner and recipient of almost $390 million of Australian aid in 2008-2009. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Somare’s interest in an ‘aid exit strategy’, if his intentions are to be implemented and the Australian government is serious about its Partnership for Development agreement, long-term Australian cooperation will be vital.

Photo by Flickr user ChunukBair, used under a Creative Commons license.