PNG’s relations with Australia goes back to the colonial administration era from 1949 to its proclamation of political independence on 16 September 1975. Our geographical proximity, cultural connections and people-to-people links goes back to prehistorical times. The battle against the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War (WWW II) also forged close bonds between the two countries.
These are important factors that paved the way for the robust relationship between the two countries in many areas of mutual bilateral interests such as peace and security, border management, trade, investment, people-to-people, cultural exchange, sports, and other important areas.
Australia’s commitment to the development of PNG is reflected by its massive annual Aid Program since 1975. For this year (2020), Australia’s ODA to PNG amounts to an estimated $607.5 million.
Both countries have put in place bilateral treaties and agreements that provide the framework for the different aspects of their bilateral relations. Of particular importance is the “Joint Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations Between Australia and Papua New Guinea 1987, as amended by exchange of letters 1992” which outlines the fundamental principles that guide the conduct of relations between the two countries. It states “ ..the principles of mutual respect for one another’s independence, sovereignty and equality, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”
The relationship between the two countries is often describe as very complex, deep, and wide ranging. This is reflected by the robust relations between the two countries. Currently, both countries are working on a Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership (CSEP) framework that will elevate their cooperation in areas of mutual interests such as trade, security cooperation, investment, governance, people-to-people relations, and institutional partnerships.
PNG gained its political independence from Australia on 16 September 1975 and adopted a Westminster of Government and maintained a constitutional democracy with the Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State.
Following its independence, PNG established its diplomatic relations with Australia and opened the High Commission in Canberra in 1978. PNG has three (3) consular posts in Australia, namely the PNG Consulate General in Sydney, PNG Consulate General in Brisbane, and PNG Consulate in Cairns.
Australia reciprocated in establishing its High Commission in Port Moresby. In March 2017, Australia established a Consulate General in Lae to strengthen business-to-business and people-to-people links and provide consular services to Australian citizens.
Both countries have a robust relationship at the political level. The Prime Ministers of both countries meet annually and provide political leadership and directions on important matters of mutual interests. For instance, on 11 July 2018, PNG’s former Prime Minister, Hon Peter O’Neill CMG MP joined former Australian Prime Minister, Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP for the signing of the Undersea Cable Project that was successfully completed in 2019.
A similar meeting was held between Prime Minister O’Neill and current Prime Minister of Australia, Hon Scott Morison MP in Sydney on 1 November 2018. At this meeting both Prime Ministers discussed important issues, including the establishment of a Joint Naval Base in Manus.
Upon election as Prime Minister of PNG in May 2019, the current Prime Minister, Hon James Marape MP visited Australia as the Guest of Government from 21-26 July 2019. He met with Prime Minister Morison and other Australian leaders and discussed important issues of mutual interests, including security situations in the Asia Pacific Region, trade and investment issues, people-to-people links and other matters.
The Foreign Ministers and other key Ministers from both countries meet annually at the Ministerial Forums where they deliberate and reach agreements on issues of mutual bilateral interests. The 27th PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum was held in Port Moresby on 26 August 2019. The PNG delegation was led by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Hon Soroi Marepo Eoe MP and the Australian delegation was led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Hon Marise Payne MP.
The 28th MINFO will be held in Australia this year. Amongst other important issues, the Ministers are likely to reach agreements and conclude the Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership (CSEP) agreement.
The Ministerial Forums are preceded by a meeting of Senior Officials from both countries. At this meeting, Senior Officials discuss bilateral issues and recommended for further deliberation and decision making by Ministers at the Ministerial Forums. Other important bilateral meetings are being held annually and these include the Bilateral Security Dialogue, Army-to-Army Talks, and Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) meetings to address Torres Strait border issues.
Apart from these formally structured annual meetings, Ministers and Senior Officials from both countries meet from time-to-time, as and when required, and work on issues of mutual interests.
Trade and investment Relations
Australia is PNG’s largest trading partner constituting about 35 percent of total exports. The two-way trade between the two countries amounted to A$6.7 billion in 2017. PNG’s main exports are gold, crude petroleum, silver, and platinum.
PNG is Australia’s 18th largest trading partner (2018). Its main exports to PNG are crude petroleum, meat, civil engineering equipment and parts, specialised machinery and parts and wheat.
Australia has massive investments in PNG worth about $17 billion in 2018. The investments are made in the gold mining, oil and gas projects as well as light manufacturing, infrastructure and service delivery. About 5,000 Australian businesses and companies operate in PNG.
PNG’s investments in Australia is mainly in real estate and residential properties. It is valued at about $1.118 billion.
PNG’s exports to Australia is dominated by minerals and not much of its agricultural products such as cocoa, copra, vanilla and coffee enter the Australian market. This is an area of concern that both countries are working on to further improve trade and investment relations between the two countries.
The two countries are working on the CSEP that should provide an important framework to address such issues pertaining to trade, investment, and economic relations between the two countries.
Australian Aid Program
Australia supports PNG’s development through its massive bilateral Aid Program since its political independence in 1975. The total ODA commitment for 2020 is $607.5 million.
The Aid Program is utilized to support the Government in priority sectors such as health, education, defence and security, policing, rule of law, good governance, gender equality, environmental protection, climate change, infrastructure developments, economic growth, and human resource development.
Through the Aid Program, Australia supports PNG in the development of certain important infrastructure projects. These include the Undersea Cable Project, redevelopment of ANGAU Memorial Hospital, infrastructure developments at UPNG, Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct, the PNG National Electricity Project, the redevelopment of the Manus Naval Base at Lobrum, and many other projects in Districts and Provinces throughout the country.
The CSEP is also aimed at elevating their engagements in many aspects of the bilateral relations, including the Australian Aid Program.
Education and Training
Since the country’s independence, Australia has been committed to the education, training, and development of PNG’s human resources. This is demonstrated by Australia’s support to many Schools, Colleges, Universities and Institutions by way of infrastructure developments as well as the engagement of Australian teachers, and advisors to improve the educational standards in the country.
PNG citizens are offered scholarships to study in Australia under Australia Awards Scholarship Program. Currently, 220 PNG citizens are given opportunities to study in Australia for University Studies as well as Short Courses and Awards.
The two countries are also embarking on other educational initiatives such as the PNG/Australia Partnership Secondary Schools Initiative, the Pacific Secondary School Scholarships Program (PSSSP), and the New Colombo Plan.
The Partnership Secondary Schools Initiative is aimed is strengthening relationships between 12 Secondary Schools from both countries. The Initiative enables them to share experiences, conduct formal professional learning for teachers and school leaders, collaborative projects amongst schools, student leadership initiatives; and a school visit component with participants travelling to both Australia and PNG.
Under the PSSSP, Secondary School Students from PNG will join other students from the Pacific Island Countries and pursue their Grade 11 and 12 in Australian schools. This scholarship will enable PNG students to advance their educational studies in Australia and training opportunities for employment in PNG and Australia.
The New Colombo Plan enables students from Australian Universities to pursue undergraduate studies, researches and internships in countries of the Asia Pacific Region. PNG is a beneficiary of this important Initiatives and many Australian students have pursued their studies as well as research and internship in the country.
Such initiatives are important for young Papua New Guineans and Australians to establish personal connections that is crucial for strengthening the people-to-people relations between citizens of both countries.
Australia supports PNG in strengthening the Public Service as well as Universities and other institutions through Institutional Partnership arrangements between the two countries. This is important for capacity development; building management and leadership skills as well as sharing best practices, experiences, and knowledge to improve their performance in the Public Service.
The institutional partnerships are pursued under bilateral agreements and MOUs between Departments and Agencies as well as Universities that provides for collaboration in training programs, internship, research study tours, workshops, twining programs, and so forth.
The institutional partnerships take two forms: first, it involves the deployment of Australian Senior Public Servants and Advisors in Government Departments and Agencies as well as Universities in PNG. For instance, Officers from the Australian Department of Justice and Attorney General are deployed in the PNG’s Department of Justice and Attorney General, Judiciary, and the PNG Law Reform Commission to support their work in strengthening governance, rule of law, and other crucial areas.
Under an existing MOU, UPNG’s School of Business and Public Policy (SBPP) is embarking on a partnership program with ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy (Crawford) which commenced in 2012 and renewed again in 2018. It focuses on faculty strengthening, collaborative research and outreach, and faculty/student exchanges in economics and public policy.
Five ANU academics are currently based at UPNG in Port Moresby, teaching courses across the Division of Economics and the Division of Public Policy Management.
Secondly, senior officials from the PNG Government Departments and Agencies undertake internship and other work attachments in counterpart Department and Agencies as well as Universities in Australia. Currently, officers from the PNG Government Departments and Agencies, such as the Departments of Prime Minister & NEC, Treasury, Finance, and the Ombudsman are deployed under short term work placements with counterpart Departments and Agencies in Australia.
These on-the-job placements are important to build strong institutions and develop the skills and knowledge of PNG officials to improve their individual performance as well as the overall functions of Departments and Agencies.
There is close people-to-people and cultural ties between the people of PNG and the Torres Strait and Aboriginal people of Australia. This was further consolidated during Australia’s colonization of the country that enabled Papua New Guineans and Australians to forge bonds and friendship that forms the basis of the bilateral relations between the two countries.
Both PNG and Australia place great importance on the people-to-people relations as an important aspect of their bilateral relations. Their collaboration in advancing this priority is visible in many areas such as sports, education, school-to-school relations, collaborations between Universities, Churches, and so forth.
Certain important initiatives to forge and/or strengthen the people-to-people relations include the New Colombo Plan; Australia-PNG Network, the annual Australia-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue, the PNG/Australia Secondary School Partnership, ANU/UPNG Summer School Program, and other similar activities.
It is important for both countries to strengthen the ongoing people-to-people relations in these and other areas such as church-to-church relations, cultural exchange between Torres Strait and Aboriginal people and the people of PNG. Strengthening our connectivity with the PNG diaspora community living in Australia is also a priority for the High Commission.
Seasonal Workers Program and Pacific Labour Scheme
Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) and the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) provide important opportunities for citizens from Pacific Island Countries, including PNG to work in Australian farms and industries. These arrangements enable the workers to generate income for their families and learn skills and knowledge that they can apply when returning to their home countries.
Under the SWP, over 400 PNG citizens have worked in Australia. With the introduction of the PLS in 2018, PNG is determined to increase its numbers through deployment of semi-skilled workers to work in the rural and regional Australian labour market for up to three years.
Both schemes are important to generate foreign exchange for the country and benefit to individual workers and their families.
The PNG Government had made certain important decisions to increase PNG’s participation in both schemes. This includes the establishment of the Office of Labour Mobility in Port Moresby to improve the selection and recruitment processes. Certain Provinces and District are actively involved in preparing their citizens to participate under the two schemes.
With the support of the Government, PNG is aiming to send more workers to work in Australia. This is important for PNG to increase benefits to its citizens and the economy.
Cooperation during Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance
PNG is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, and droughts. The occurrence of such natural disasters destroys townships, communities as well as infrastructure developments (roads, and bridges), transportation, food and cash crop production, and so forth that affect the livelihood of the people and its economy.
A number of natural disasters have had devastating impacts on PNG and these include the massive landslide in the Highlands Region in early 2018, the severe drought nationwide and frost in 2005, the Rabaul Volcanic Eruption (1994), the Aitape Tsunami (1998), Karkar Volcanic Eruption (2009), and Heavy Flooding and food shortages in Oro and other Papuan Provinces in 2009.
When impacted such natural disasters, Australia being our neighbour and close friend have always supported PNG in providing relief supplies as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction of affected communities.
More recently, during the 2018 Earthquake in the Highlands Region that claimed the lives of 125 people and displaced about 160 people, the Government and people of Australia supported the affected communities with vital relief supplies as well as humanitarian and logistical support and coordination among responders. Australia provided $5 million assistance package to support the PNG in its relief efforts.
Australia is also supporting the PNG Government to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
When Australia was battling the bushfire crisis during the summer of 2019, PNG deployed 99 Defence Force Officers (mainly Engineers) to work alongside Australian Firefighters and Engineers to assist Regional Communities, Towns, and Schools in clearing roads of debris, and restoring services. Their services were much appreciated by the affected communities and the Australian Government.
Such collaboration between the PNG Defence Force Officers and their Australian counterparts is vital in strengthening the bilateral relations between the two countries.