BY HAMISH McDONALD
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
PETER O'NEILL LAUNCHED HIS ELECTION CAMPAIGN on Friday night promising to use the country's multiplying natural resource wealth to improve education and health services, roads and provide greater protection against crime.
At a gathering of supporters in Port Moresby, Mr O'Neill pledged to extend free education up to year 12 by 2014, when a $15 billion liquefied natural gas project comes on stream, massively boosting government revenues.
In his nine months in power since ousting former prime minister Sir Michael Somare in tense parliamentary manoeuvres, Mr O'Neill has already removed school fees up to year 10 and now seeks to emphasise his government's commitment to improving the lives of ordinary citizens.
He also promised to rebuild the country's near derelict system of public hospitals to provide free basic health service, and to rejuvenate the ageing and under-resourced police and defence services to ensure better public safety in PNG's crime-ridden towns.
''There is a lot of excitement about changing the direction in which we are managing the affairs of our country,'' Mr O'Neill said. ''We understand that we have mismanaged our past opportunities. We are committed to making sure we don't make the same mistakes in the future.''
The election has now been set for 23 June, after a move to delay it by six months was set aside.