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Aid money flashpoint in Oz-PNG talks

Somare_presser The 18th PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum is being held in Madang today – the first meeting between the countries in three years after the souring of relations under the Howard Government.

High on the agenda is the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the Kokoda Track. The agreement comes after recent consultation between land owners and Australia over proposed mining in the area around the track. The two countries will also agree frameworks for bilateral cooperation in resources, energy and tourism and a tsunami early warning system. Other issues being discussed are policing assistance, trade, investment and immigration.

PNG Foreign Minister Sir Sam Abal said the forum will consolidate relations between the two countries, on the mend following Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s visit earlier this year. The 15-member Australian delegation is led by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and includes ten Federal Ministers.

After landing in Madang in a RAAF jet, the Australians received a rousing welcome and Mr Smith told an impromptu media conference that he would also look at providing assistance for the Okuk Highway, recently severed near Kundiawa by a major landslide which has caused massive disruption in the highlands.

A flashpoint at the talks could be the PNG Government’s push for $360 million a year AusAID funding to be “better spent”. Mr Abal criticised current spending as ineffective and said funds would be better deployed to infrastructure like roads, wharves and bridges.

“Too much AusAID money is ‘boomerang aid’ that Australia gives to PNG but actually benefits AusAID agencies and staff,” he said. “It’s not that they are abusing it, but the people of Australia have a right to ask where the money is going. PNG, as a recipient, is also asking where the money is going.”

Australia will give PNG $400 million next year after Kevin Rudd announced additional funding during bilateral talks with Sir Michael Somare.

Photo: Sir Michael Somare at a media conference in Port Moresby yesterday [PNG Post-Courier]

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