BY RICHARD MARLES
Late last year, PNG Attitude asked readers to nominate issues you’d like to raise with Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles. This is the last of his responses
THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT is working to raise PNG’s public profile in Australia, and during my recent visit to Port Moresby I proposed a number of initiatives to my PNG counterparts with that objective in mind.
Australian and PNG Ministers meet annually to discuss a broad spectrum of bilateral issues, most recently in Alotau in July this year. Following those consultations, Joint Statements are published which clearly outline our agreed priorities, providing a useful guide to the direction of our relationship. These statements are available on DFAT’s website.
We welcome PNG’s signing of the Pacific Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme MOU in Alotau this year. I understand the PNG Government is currently developing labour-sending arrangements and working to identify a pool of Papua New Guinean workers to participate in the scheme. Australia stands ready to assist with this process if required.
Australia greatly values the longstanding and mutually-beneficial relationship with PNG. The posting of Australian Defence Force personnel to PNG, as part of the Defence Cooperation Program, or as participants in exercises and operations, occurs under the auspices of the 1977 Status of Forces Agreement.
Our engagement with the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) is also subject to range of other agreements including: the 1987 Joint Declaration of Principles, the 1991 Agreed Statement on Security Cooperation, the 1997 New Defence Partnership and the 2004 Joint Statement on Enhancing Our Defence Partnership.
Defence is involved in integrated arrangements in the South-West Pacific, principally by providing fuel and administrative support to the Pacific Patrol Boats of participating nations in multilateral operations and exercises.
Such operations provide a unique opportunity: for Pacific nations to enhance their national capacity in fisheries control and maritime security and to strengthen regional solidarity.
Australia coordinates and synchronises its maritime security activities in the South West Pacific with our strategic partners, including the United States, New Zealand and France.
The 2004 Joint Statement on Enhancing our Defence Partnership re-affirms the guiding principles and mutual objectives of our relationship and focuses on four key outcomes:
regular dialogue on national security perspectives and policies
a streamlined PNGDF that is more affordable, effective and sustainable
greater interoperability between the PNGDF and ADF in the region
cooperative programs to enhance the skills and knowledge of respective defence forces
Australia’s Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) with PNG focuses on a jointly-agreed annual program of training assistance, technical advice, and bilateral exercises and other activities intended to advance these objectives.
Australia has also supported PNG’s Defence Reform Program to downsize the PNGDF to a more sustainable level and rebuild its capability to conduct border and maritime surveillance, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Australia and China share an important and dynamic relationship. Australia, is by far the leading bilateral donor in PNG and seeks to work constructively with China, which is a significant player in the Pacific region. In recent years Chinese support to PNG has grown, as has its support to other Pacific Island countries.
China’s demand for resources has been fundamental to PNG’s recent strong economic growth, much as it helped Australia ride out the Global Financial Crisis.
Hon Richard Marles MP is the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs in the Australian Parliament
PNG Attitude welcomes readers’ comments on the Parliamentary Secretary’s views