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THE COALITION HAS BEEN DEEPLY CRITICAL of the Gillard Government for neglecting our near neighbours as it pursues its grand adventure for votes for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council.
It is widely reported that the Australian government has taken its eyes off our region.
The recent political upheaval in PNG should serve as a wake-up call.
PNG must be one of Australia's highest foreign policy priorities. In government, the Coalition will seek to be judged on what it does when it comes to the bilateral relationship, not what it says it will do.
In early April, I plan to visit Papua New Guinea with a group of my Coalition colleagues from North Queensland who have a strong interest and commitment to Australia-PNG relations.
This will be my second extended visit to PNG in the past year, having spent a number of days in Port Moresby and the Southern Highlands last July.
In government, we will not only work to broaden, deepen and diversify the relationship at a government-to-government level, but also, as importantly, at a community and person-to-person level as well.
Our vision for the relationship moves it away from the outdated stereotype of aid donor and recipient to a broad economic and strategic partnership.
As revenue from PNG's resource projects boosts its economy, Australian aid will play a comparatively lesser role in PNG's development.
Making sure that the benefits of Papua New Guinea's economic boom are shared by its citizens will be an important challenge for the PNG Government.
The Coalition will give greater emphasis to initiatives such as the Enterprise Challenge Fund that stimulates growth and employment opportunities, and helps sustain local communities.
We will also redouble our efforts to negotiate the Pacific Agreement for Closer Economy Relations, otherwise known as PACER PLUS.
This agreement presents a significant opportunity for us to cement a closer economic relationship that will promote economic growth, open up markets, provide employment and raise standards of living.
I have also repeatedly called for greater priority to be given to two-way student exchange.
Our Party has a proud record in this area, having established the Colombo Plan in 1951 under the leadership of Sir Robert Menzies.
A new program that captures the spirit of the Colombo Plan is again needed. Increasing the number of two-way student exchanges in our region and particularly between Australia and Papua New Guinea will help promote greater understanding and awareness.
This should be extended to include academic exchanges between Australia's leading education institutions and those in PNG, such as the University of Papua New Guinea.
At a government level, we will support public sector twinning opportunities to help ensure the transfer of knowledge and skills that are needed in areas such as service delivery, policy formation and public service management.
The Coalition will look at supporting placement opportunities for select Papua New Guineans in all levels of government in Australia.
In assisting PNG to strengthen its institutional capacity, Australia will be helping create the conditions that are necessary for sustainable economic growth and job creation.
More than perhaps with any other nation, the potential for sport diplomacy between Australia and Papua New Guinea is immense.
On my trip to Papua New Guinea last year, I was struck by the influence of Queensland's rugby league stars – from young boys throughout the Southern Highlands wearing maroon jerseys to the extensive coverage in local newspapers.
The Coalition will make a greater effort to harness this goodwill and develop a sport and diplomacy initiative within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Taken together, these initiatives will build a new generation of networks that will be necessary to ensure that our relationship endures.
Our success will require a firm and ongoing commitment from the highest levels of the Australian Government, particularly from the Australian Foreign Minister.
Nothing less will suffice.