At a time when Australia's role in Papua New Guinea, and the South Pacific generally, is under real threat from China's unrelenting attacks, the commemoration of Anzac Day this Sunday is the right time to focus on the enormous bravery, and sacrifice, by thousands of young Australians in defence of our freedom, and that of the people of Papua and New Guinea.
Sadly, Covid-19 restrictions will limit Anzac Day commemorations in Papua New Guinea. Even though Anzac Day is no longer a national holiday in PNG, it has always been a focus for visiting defence and ex-service personnel to visit the impressive war cemeteries and some of the more significant battle zones, such as the Kokoda Track and Milne Bay.
That won't be happening this weekend, so it is important to look at other ways our wartime contribution in Papua New Guinea can receive the continuing, and frankly greater, recognition than it has received in recent years.
To that end I am outlining two quite specific issues the new Australian Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, might focus on this Anzac Day and in the immediate future.
Firstly, it concerns me that since the announcement of the upgrading of the Lombrum (Manus) Naval Base in 2018 actual work has been limited. It will later this year be three years since the agreement between the Morrison Government, and the O'Neill Government, was made. The agreement was supported by a commitment from the United States Government to play a role.
The announcement was controversial in Papua New Guinea. The Governor of Manus was, and remains, strenuously opposed to it. The Chinese Government, through its large and active embassy in Port Moresby has been undermining it whenever it can.
To make matters worse, while process on the upgrade has been slow, and local business and employment benefits almost non-existent, a Chinese Government sponsored construction company has completed an Asian Development Bank funded upgrade of the nearby Momote Airport!
The cost of K20 million provided by the Asian Development Bank is part of a package of ADB funded airport upgrades across PNG all of which have been awarded to PRC companies! Neither PNG construction companies, nor Australian companies, have had a look in.
And that is despite the Australian taxpayers are among the highest contributors to the funds disbursed by the ADB! What an absolute disgrace!
What Peter Dutton needs to give his urgent attention to is speeding up the naval base upgrading, and ensuring both Papua New Guinean and Australian construction companies are fully involved.
He also needs to ensure there is maximum benefit flowing to the people of Manus, a small island province where Covid-19 cases are rising, and where economic conditions are deteriorating.
The upgrading of the Manus naval base needs to be a significant national security priority for Australia, it also needs to be an important plank in strengthening our standing not just at the political level, but at the community level, across Papua New Guinea.
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