Last week the federal government announced a small, one-off commitment of funds to Papua New Guinea that is in line with what I have been campaigning for on On Line Opinion.
But as I will outline here, sadly another event just highlights how our response to China's growing influence in Papua New Guinea is totally inadequate.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for the Pacific committed an additional $53 million to two projects in PNG. The announcement was short on detail, but one aspect of it is welcome.
The Australian Government will DIRECTLY FUND church health services in PNG with about half of the commitment. The direct funding of non-government entities is something I have been advocating enabling Australia to bypass the PNG political and bureaucratic system.
The amount being given represents a fraction of the cost of church run hospitals and health services across Papua New Guinea. The churches receive limited PNG Government financial support and in recent years even that support has been delayed in being delivered.
The churches are estimated to provide health services to about half the rural population of PNG and 40 per cent of the total population. Put simply, a broken health system would be catastrophic without the work of the churches in the community.
But an announcement also last week – one which received much wider publicity in the PNG media – really demonstrated just how inadequate is our overall response to China's growing influence in PNG.
The $53 million equates to around K120 million. It is a grant, not a loan, with the other half going to primary school education. Those funds will be distributed by the PNG Government. That is a worry. One hopes the actual spending will be monitored by DFAT.
While DFAT and the High Commission were patting themselves on the back for this announcement senior PNG Ministers were lining up to announce yet another loan deal with the People's Republic of China.
PNG Water, a state owned entity, committed to a Port Moresby water project that will cost K450 million – or more than three times Australia's generous grant announced almost at the same time.
Here is the big difference. The China deal is a loan from the Exim Bank. The interest rate and repayment terms were not released – when it comes to China loans they never are.
This project was originally talked about in 2018 but did not proceed. It seems to have been dusted down quite recently – with no environmental or economic impact assessments as conditions of it.
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