On the eve of her second official visit to Papua New Guinea, Australia's shadow foreign affairs minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party asked PNG Attitude readers for their views on the major issues in the PNG-Australia relationship. Readers responded with enthusiasm, and here is Julie's reply...
I CONSIDER PAPUA NEW GUINEA one of Australia's top foreign policy priorities. While there have been highs and lows in the past (as with all relationships), it is how we manage these periods that matters.
As friends, it is important that we treat each other with respect and avoid the public grandstanding we have seen by the Gillard government in the past week.
I wholeheartedly agree with comments about the importance of travelling outside Port Moresby in order to gain a proper understanding of PNG.
When I was in the country last year, I travelled up to the Southern Highlands to see the large oil and gas projects first hand.
While there, I also had the opportunity to visit a local medical clinic and a HIV/AIDS centre. I am certainly aware of the challenges facing service delivery and providing basic infrastructure such as roads in remote parts of the country. I am hopeful of visiting a few regional centres again when I return next month.
Judging from your comments, there appears to be strong support for initiatives that improve the knowledge and understanding between Australia and PNG, particularly at the community level.
I am a strong believer in promoting two-way student exchange as a way building a new generation of friendships between our two countries. Sport, whether it be rugby league, union or Aussie rules, can also play an key role. In government, the Coalition will be looking very closely at the role sport can play in our broader engagement with PNG.
Projects such as the Crocodile Prize are also very useful in this regard.
For the people of PNG, creating national leaders in the arts - just as in sport - that younger generations can aspire to is very important. I think the idea of empowering women financially is also very sound. On a recent trip to the Solomon Islands, I had an opportunity to meet with a group of women who operate successful small businesses in Honiara.
This idea not only ties into my determination to move the relationship between Australia and PNG to an economic partnership, but also my interest to work with women leaders in our region to establish a forum for dialogue and action on common interests including security, education, health, human rights and development.
A Coalition government will work within this forum to establish a network of mentors to encourage women in the region to take up political leadership roles. I agree that reducing corruption remains a pressing issue.
When I am in PNG, I will certainly make enquires about what Australia can do to support Task Force Sweep.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the concerns that many people expressed regarding AusAID. I have been concerned for some time about reports of waste and mismanagement within the AusAID budget.
In the lead up to the last election, I called for an independent inquiry of Australia’s aid program to investigate the concerns of the Australian National Audit Office about AusAID’s capacity to deliver the current aid budget efficiently and effectively. It is important that Australia’s assistance is spent wisely and the benefits are felt at the local community level.
Thank you for your feedback.