PAPUA New Guinea holds a very special place in my heart. I have grown to love this country and its people. I can't claim to have long family connections but, like so many Australians, PNG has intersected my life over the years.
My Year 9 teacher at school thought, rather presciently, that the 14-year olds in her charge should learn a bit more about Australia’s closest neighbours. And so it was that I, and the other girls in my class, became pen-pals in 1970 with a class of 14-year old boys at Martyrs School in Popondetta.
Sadly, my correspondence with young Oscar of Oro Province petered out, but recently I spoke of my penpal and produced a faded photograph that he had sent to me. Well, that started the PNG Post-Courier on a hunt for Oscar. And many people named Oscar claim to be my penpal.
A few years after that, in October of 1975, my sister Patricia undertook her medical internship in PNG and she came home with the most wonderful stories of her work in Goroka.
Today, her daughter, my niece, Isabel, is a volunteer teacher at Buk bilong Pikinini in Goroka - and this week my sister has returned to spend time in Goroka and to revive the memories of her time there so many years ago.
So Papua New Guinea has captured my imagination as a place of extraordinary landscapes, rich history and, of course, the most warm-hearted people.
And my family does have a deep connection - from my uncle Ross, my mother’s brother who fought in PNG in World War II, my great-uncle Harry Penny founded the Teachers' College in PNG, probably in about 1964.
And when I became the Member for Curtin back in 1998, my political mentor, and my greatest supporter in this Perth electorate, was Dame Rachel Cleland and I’m so delighted that her son, Bob Cleland, is here this evening because Dame Rachel spent so much time over cups of tea telling me about their work in PNG as her husband, Sir Donald, was Administrator from 1953 to 1967.
And now, as Australia’s Foreign Minister, I have continued my interest, that developed even more deeply when in Opposition, visiting PNG a couple of times this year, with a third visit planned for December.
Our government, from the highest levels, has made it clear that our relationship with PNG is a foreign policy priority for us. While there is an understandable focus on the world’s trouble spots at present, it does concern me that too few Australians understand the depth and breadth of our relationship with PNG and how it’s evolving in the 21st century.
Sadly, too many Australians still have a negative stereotypical view of PNG that focuses too heavily on the challenges and not enough on the great potential.
Last month, The Economist magazine cited PNG as Asia's fastest growing economy in 2015, observing that it is quote "a country that most investors will not have considered but PNG tops the regional rankings with a GDP of 14.8% owing to a huge increase in its energy exports as a giant new Exxon-Mobil-led LNG project comes on stream".
I speak of our bilateral 'economic partnership' - a mature relationship and long-standing, but a relationship with still so much potential. Australians should have a deeper understanding of the long history between our nations in order to better appreciate our dynamic and contemporary partnership.
PNG is on the cusp of great change and Australia and PNG must continue to work together as close neighbours, trusted partners and the dearest of friends so that we make the most of the opportunities in coming years.
For a start, our shared history. Australia’s modern relationship with PNG reaches back to the nineteenth century and then, in 1902, to the formal passing of responsibility for the administration of the Territory of Papua to the brand new federated Commonwealth of Australia. Thereafter, Australia and PNG have been together - in war and in peace.
While many think of the Great War, of Gallipoli, the Western Front - that’s what springs to mind - the very first Australian soldier killed in World War I, died much closer to home, in what was then the German colony of New Guinea.
Many more Australians are familiar with PNG’s place in World War II, the suffering of so many Australians on Kokoda, the fighting on New Guinea’s northern coast and islands, and the heroic actions of those who became known, with the deepest affection, as the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
In 1949, the territories of Papua and New Guinea came under a single Australian administration. Much has been written and said about the history of Australia’s administration of Papua and New Guinea– and I'll leave it to others to define Australia's impact and influence.
However, that joint history was distinguished by the rise of an entirely new breed of Australian public servant – the kiaps, who were an intrepid band of travelling officials with a most ambitious mandate.
Part magistrate, police officer, anthropologist, and doctor – with a good measure of engineer, surveyor, agricultural scientist and general sage thrown in, the kiaps were the face of government across most of the diverse nation that is now PNG. I hope a few of them are here tonight, and I acknowledge their presence.
The kiaps had wide powers, and the contribution they made in helping prepare PNG for independence was profound. I know you’re going to be discussing their role in more detail tomorrow, but can I say how very pleased I am that last year the kiaps had their fearless, yet sometimes dangerous, service officially recognised.
The awarding of the Police Overseas Service medal acknowledges the important role they played in bringing justice, law and order to many areas of PNG, and establishing the groundwork for an independent PNG legal system. I suspect we will not see their like again.
In the post-independence era, our bilateral relationship, quite rightly, has transitioned to cooperation and now partnership – one where we work together in both our nations’ interests.
Papua New Guinea is an economy and a nation in transition, with its huge LNG project moving from the construction phase to production and export. PNG has enormous natural resources that can be used to the benefit of its people and help diversify its economic base.
These resource developments are an opportunity to bring long-term beneficial change to PNG and that is why Australia has strongly supported the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund – to ensure the people of PNG benefit from their resources and good fortune for generations to come.
Australia’s overarching foreign policy principle of 'economic diplomacy' will also contribute to PNG’s development. We are pursuing an agenda of economic growth, not only for Australia but for our partners in the Pacific - not endless aid money - for we want to ensure that economic growth is sustainable.
Australia has a primary responsibility to partner with the nations of our region and to support their efforts at improving the standard of living of their citizens. PNG, and the Pacific more broadly, are vital to Australia’s interests. Stability and security and prosperity in the Pacific are important for the people of our region so there can be a brighter future for the next generation of Pacific leaders.
Australia will always be a close friend and neighbour of Pacific nations – but we are also a regional power – with the responsibilities that entails. History shows we have long been good friends with the people of PNG. Our commitment to that relationship must never waiver.
Extracts from an address by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Hon Julie Bishop, to the PNG Association of Australia Symposium at NSW Parliament House on 17 September 2014