ON WEDNESDAY 12 October Peter O’Neill will make his first formal visit to Canberra as prime minister of Papua New Guinea.
The topics O'Neill and Julia Gillard will discuss will range further than aid, now rebadged as a "development partnership".
They are likely to talk about PNG's plans for sovereign wealth funds to quarantine its windfall mineral earnings, Torres Strait health issues, a proposal to pipe hydro-electric power from PNG to Queensland and, of course, processing asylum-seekers on Manus Island, which O'Neill supports.
"Asylum-seekers are a regional issue," he says. "We, too, have illegal immigrants entering our country, particularly from Asia."
The new leader brings to the position a different style from Sir Michael Somare. He is also different from the extrovert "big man" leaders who have previously emerged from the Highlands.
O'Neill has already impressed by rapidly introducing bills to make education free up to Grade 10 and to create a seat dedicated for women in each province, guaranteeing that the new parliament will have at least 22 women MPs where now it has just one.
"Women deserve to participate in the decision-making process and in the management of our country," he says.
His next urgent legislation is to create a new province for his home area, the Southern Highlands, where PNG's first liquefied natural gas project is being built by ExxonMobil, and which Southern Highlanders have threatened to destroy if they do not get their own provincial government in time for next year's national election.
Read the complete version of Rowan Callick’s excellent feature article here
Source: ‘Highlander with big shoes to fill’, by Rowan Callick, The Australian, 16 September