Press conference - Port Moresby

12 Jan 2023
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Prime Minister, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea-Australia Leadership Dialogue

JAMES MARAPE, PRIME MINISTER OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA: We just concluded a very thoughtful leaders dialogue. In fact, this is the fourth PNG-Australia Leadership Dialogue. And it was fruitful, it was very meaningful, especially sitting in a room talking to the leader of a nation that has a very close affinity with Papua New Guinea. It is one that is mutual. A meeting that you could expect from a brother or a sister nation. Following the two nations elections, of course, in Papua New Guinea we watched very closely what happened on the other side of Torres Strait, it was Labor and the Honourable Albanese as Prime Minister and in government. On our side, Pangu returned to office and in government. As I made mention in Parliament today, this time 50 years ago it was a Labor-Pangu combination that paved the way for Papua New Guinea to march towards political independence in 1975. And so, today was was warm, was cordial, especially as we come to the juncture of PNG-Australia relationship with the time we've been independent going 48 years now. Soon will be the 50th year of us being politically independent. There are issues that we have to address. More importantly, as I made mention in my speech, for the younger generations of Australians and Papua New Guineans, lest you forget our shared history as we march forward into the future. The more we move into the future, the distant 1975 and the 70s will be, more distant the 1940s and the events of Kokoda and the World War will be. So, it is important. We meet, not just Prime Minister to Prime Minister, but more importantly leaders to leaders, including Ministers on both sides and our public service officials on both sides. This meeting was the highest you could possibly have between PNG and Australia in as far as my memory could recollect. And for today, we came out of very, very fruitful discussions. In those discussions, our focus remains in how we could entrench our two nations and expand going forward. Key issues we tried to look at: what our comprehensive, strategic and economic partnership means for us to look deeper, look closer and expand. And for Papua New Guineans, you would have heard Prime Minister Albanese spoke in Parliament today that he'd like to expand. And from where I see as Prime Minister of your country, I am satisfied that we are elevating to higher heights in how we relate, especially those areas that concern people to people and business to business. Because from government to government, there's always been good rapport, good exchanges, good understandings. If there was any time in which there needs to be a moment where we needed to be entrenched, well, this is a time. We've now set in motion a series of activities that will take place between our officials and Australian officials, between our Ministers and Australian Ministers. And hopefully in April we will again meet to sign security arrangements and to sign other arrangements that we feel must entrench our PNG-Australia relationships going forward. Today, I was pleased to have had Prime Minister Albanese's address to our Parliament. He spoke on issues about continued support in where they have been supporting us, as well as elevating support. Areas like more Papua New Guinea residents finding educational opportunities in Australia, more Papua New Guineans finding employment opportunities in Australia, whether you just a seasonal worker to go down to Australian work and come back or qualified trade or qualified professionals going to find employment also in Australia without compromising our own employment requirements and upskilling yourself to bring back your skill as well as dollars back into a country. Those conversations are contemporary. Those conversations are timely. He has raised those issues on his own accord, quite complementary to the way I've been focused on PNG-Australia relationship. Most of you would have known when I became Prime Minister in 2019, I could have picked other destinations apart from Australia to make my first visit. But I choose Australia as the first protocol in as far as PNG Prime Minister's bilateral visit is concerned. My visit to Australia signals that Australia is the number one foreign relationship we have with us, without compromising our other relationships. And today, the gist of asking Prime Minister Albanese to speak in Parliament also signals in the context. So, we had good meetings, people to people relationships, business to business relationships, and, of course, our government to government relationships have been anchored. We look forward to officials working together side by side and to come up with what will be the better version of Albanese-Marape, Pangu-Labor, Australia-PNG for today and going forward as we try to tidy this relationship for modern PNG-Australia going forward into the future. It would be unfair of me not to make mention some words of appreciation to the media today. You've heard me in Parliament. I also want to appreciate Australia's help to us since we've been independent the last 47 years. Even before that, for their missionaries and the kiaps, something, my brother, I failed to mention but I'd like to take this time to acknowledge the kiaps. Many young Australians we talk about, the soldiers. The kiaps are the forgotten generation. They came and walked the hinterlands of this country, the highlands we just want to appreciate them. Before 1975, the imprint of Australians in our country to get us out to the modern world as it was back then and up until today. The Australian personnel that have come here, the Australian aid that has come here and lately, the direct budget support as well as interventions in our infrastructure, interventions in many of the programs we're going through, including our budget restoration and budget support. I just want to sincerely appreciate Australian Government people and country for forever being a friend of PNG, as it was before now, and hopefully in our joint understandings, forever friends and relatives going forward into the future.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: Thank you so much, Prime Minister. And can I thank you for the very warm welcome here in Papua New Guinea. In particular, I thank you for the extraordinary honour of being the first foreign leader to address the PNG Parliament today. I regard that as one of the great honours of my life. And it is a great honour that you've given Australia. And it says something about the friendship between our two nations. As your close neighbour, it is appropriate that we've been in considerable contact with each other since my election as Prime Minister. We, of course, met in Suva at the Pacific Island Forum. We sat next to each other at the Prime Minister's XIII men and women's games in Brisbane. We travelled together to Tokyo and then we had a bilateral meeting and engagement again in Bangkok at the APEC meeting. Today, though, is a particularly important one. Our fourth bilateral leaders meeting, which was supplemented by a meeting with so many of your senior Ministers. Certainly, we appreciate the respect that the Government has given to the Australian delegation that I've brought here today. Today's Annual Leaders Dialogue has strengthened the incredible partnership which our two countries has, a comprehensive partnership of equals as I spoke about at the Parliament. It is based upon the fact that our economic cooperation and our security cooperation is in both of our interests. Our interests are indivisible. You can't have a more secure Papua New Guinea without a more secure Australia and vice versa. We have an interest in increasing our trade and our economic relationships. And Australia has a direct interest in supporting the economic development and lifting of living standards here in Papua New Guinea. I'm very pleased that Prime Minister Marape and I have agreed a joint statement of commitment to enter a bilateral security treaty. We've agreed on a concrete timetable going forward that negotiations will be concluded by the end of April, and we hope to have a signing in June, a key outcome of the meeting today. As part of those discussions, we also directly discussed the way that we could provide more cooperation on law and order and policing issues. We've recognised that our work together to build major ports, roads and electrification projects across Papua New Guinea are important, and we will examine potential new trade agreements, including how we can work together to expand PNG's agricultural production, including providing further support for biosecurity issues here in PNG. There are now more than 1,000 Pacific Labour Scheme workers from PNG in Australia and we support Prime Minister Marape's ambition to deploy some 8,000 workers to Australia. Today, we spoke about that being not just in agriculture, but in the care sector as well. That is something that brings benefit to Australia, providing skilled labour and non-skilled labour in areas of need, but it also provides economic assistance to Papua New Guinea as well. I'm pleased that Papua New Guineans will have the opportunity to move with their families to Australia under our new Pacific Engagement Visa. That was a clear commitment that we gave at the Federal Election. That commitment is being delivered along with other commitments we made prior to my election in May of last year. We agreed to a reciprocal work and holiday visa arrangement from the 1 July 2023. Now, apart from economic enhancement, security enhancement, we also have spoken about cultural enhancement between us and people to people engagement as well. Now, one of the areas where that's important is in the area of rugby league. As I told the PNG Parliament when I had the great honour to address it today, I want to see a PNG-based team participate in the NRL. And that's something, also, that we can work towards. 2025 will be an important date for Papua New Guinea. But it will also be an important date for Australia and the relationship between the Party and Government that I'm proud to lead and Prime Minister Marape's Government. Tomorrow I will travel to Wewak to pay tribute to Sir Michael Somare and to sit down and to talk in one of the regions of Papua New Guinea that is so important historically. The leadership and PNG's rise to independence is very important. Since then, we've been building the relationship. But I'm very confident that in the next couple of years, we will build an even stronger relationship between our two nations.


PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Well, I will say on the issue of women's participation and leadership, but also equality, I was pleased today that when I addressed the Parliament, the two newly elected or relatively newly elected women members of the PNG Parliament were both present. And today as well, we have confirmed a new five-year program: PNG Women Lead. What that's about is helping Papua New Guinea expand women's leadership and equality. That will be particularly important going forward. And I think that we can work through those issues in which Australia can provide further support.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Marape, does the security agreement with Australia to be signed next year necessarily prevent a similar deal between Papua New Guinea and China? Did you give any assurances to Prime Minister Albanese China developing or having other projects in PNG?

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: Those were not issues before us in as far as our discussions were concerned. PNG-China relationship remains PNG-China relationships. Our relationship to Australia remains PNG-Australia relationship. Our discussions were more centred around PNG-Australia relationships and at no instance was China or any other nations brought into the picture. Our relation with Australia is particularly unique. Every other nation understands this. We discuss from the context of PNG Australia purely on that basis.


PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Our position hasn't changed on those issues. We say that's a matter for the two parties. And if the two parties come to an agreement, then that is something that we support.

JOURNALIST: There are regional implications of the defence treaty, however PNG does have a lot of internal security issues and law and order problems. What would this mean in terms of Australia's defence and police role within PNG?

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: When we speak about our security arrangement, one of the things we've spoken about is increased defence operation, including training of personnel. We've spoken about increased potential for joint operations as well. One of the things that both of our governments have done recently is establish anti-corruption commissions, both in PNG and in Australia. And I know that people back in Australia are playing a role there. One of the things that we're talking about with the security arrangement is a comprehensive arrangement rather than a narrow one. So, that includes a whole range of issues which are security issues, cybersecurity, domestic security and policing arrangement. The issue of climate change is also a security issue. So, this is a very broad agreement recognising that our security interests are intertwined. By virtue of our geography, decisions taken in one country have an impact in the other. And that's why our security interests, in my view, are indivisible. Indivisible. That's why it makes sense for us to have that breadth of security co-operation across the board.


PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: We live in a shared region, shared environment. Challenges are quite common. So, without compromising the integrity of our own bilateral relationship with others, our shared interests will be encapsulated in these security arrangements. But as my brother Prime Minister did indicate, it's not just one narrow focus. It embraces all aspects, the entire gamut of the security matter, including climate change and others. For Papua New Guineans, for instance, we pushed the conversation on visas and easy access to visas for Papuans who want to access Australia. But it depends on some of the security arrangements. You have to be a real person to travel into Australia. You must be known by the system here and the system in Australia. So, there are immense economic value in a shared security apparatus for us and Australia. That is why these conversations is broad without compromising our own particular relationship with other nation.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: I'll answer this question and if my brother could help. The major focus of our conversations today, and that's been in the last few years, has been on economic empowerment of our country. You would have heard from Prime Minister Albanese's address to our Parliament today. He wants to buy more produce from us. He wants more Papuans to be educated and work also in Australia. These conversations are geared towards adding value to our economy and strengthening economy. It is a known fact that if PNG is weak, it's a weaker region and an exposure to Australia. So, it is in their interest also, as well as our own domestic interest, that the economy is stronger and has strength and going forward. And that realisation has matured under this Labor Government and Pangu governments. We are working towards strengthening our countries economies. Today, the greater conversation was about the economy than security and other issues.

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Thank you, Prime Minister. Look, I came to Port Moresby this morning with a positive outlook about the future of Papua New Guinea. And today, this afternoon, my view is even stronger. We live in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. That presents an enormous opportunity for us if we're capable of just seizing it. And today I've met with not just the Prime Minister, but the Treasurer, the Finance Minister, the Trade Minister, and their outlook is one which is one of a common interests that I share, that we need to seize that opportunity. And we seize it by investing in infrastructure and investing in our people. So, investing in capital and investing in labour, to put it in those terms. And if we invest in labour, and one of the ways that we can do that is by providing increased training opportunities in Australia for Papua New Guinea citizens, increased opportunities for people to get visas, come to Australia, get skills and make payments back here to PNG that assists with development. If we do that, we develop industries. Ministers today were talking about value-adding. It was a conversation that could have been had in Australia as well, how we not just export the agricultural produce and other produce which is here, and then import it back when greater value has been given, but how do we make the PNG economy more resilient? Now, I'm trying to do that in Australia. Prime Minister Marape is trying to do that in Papua New Guinea. We have a common interest, both of us, in our nations being successful because we are so linked. And I'm very, very positive about the future here in PNG. This is a great nation which is approaching 50 years of independence. Hopefully one of the things that today is about is sending a message to Australian business as well. We want you to invest here. We want you to invest here in your interest, but also in the interest of lifting the living standards of people in PNG. I'm confident that we can do that. I'm more confident than I was even this morning that we can do that together. And we are good friends. We've developed a very positive and open and constructive and trusting relationship. And that is really important as well. And we want that relationship to go beyond just Prime Ministers, but to go down to our populations, respectively, as well. If we do that, I think Australia and Papua and New Guinea can be one of the great beneficiaries of the growth that we will see in our region in coming decades.