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A unique opportunity to restructure our relationship with Papua New Guinea

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 19 August 2022


In the next few weeks we can expect the Foreign Minister to make her first official visit to Papua New Guinea our closest and most important regional neighbour.

The PNG Prime Minister has been elected with a 97 to 0 majority. The new cabinet is about to be appointed. Despite both key events in the five-year political cycle, there are a number of seats still to be declared.

One assumes that the Australian Foreign Minister has been advised by DFAT on key aspects of the relationship. Whatever happens, this is an opportunity to reset the relationship with a newly elected secure government in PNG.

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In doing so the Minister can draw on a very comprehensive statement to Parliament made by James Marape the day after his re-election.

Putting aside the usual rhetoric about PNG being the worlds "richest Black Country" the statement contains a long list of priorities. Sadly, there is not a substantial outline of foreign policy priorities. ...a matter of some concern to Australia as the pro-China influences in the last government have been re-elected, a factor that will not have gone unnoticed in Beijing.

I have three suggestions Minister Wong might consider raising with the new PNG Government as part of an overdue reassessment of the priorities in our bilateral relationship.

I believe we must resist the temptation to match what China has been seeking to do in PNG. It is probably too late in the day for that......with one exception, China's stated interest in the strategically important port of Daru, and the nearly Ihu-Kikori special economic zone.

China has so far invested a modest $30 million in the Ihu-Kikori economic zone, encouraged by the local MP and PNG Foreign Minister, Soreo Eoe, who has been re-elected. Australia needs to urgently consider a comprehensive counter proposal given the proximity of Ihu-Kikori to the Northern Australia.

Even though the pro-China Foreign Minister has been re-elected so has the influential Governor of the Gulf Province, Chris Haiveta. He wants major investment to fund the downstream processing of the Gulf Provinces vast gas and, potentially, oil resources.

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In that regard it is significant that Marape travelled to Singapore to hold talks with Twiggy Forrest's green energy entity on substantial investment in green energy projects in Papua New Guinea within days of his re-election.

Hopefully the development of the massive Purari hydro power project was on the agenda. As readers will know I have long advocated that Australia looks seriously at helping form a consortium to develop Purari - and secure long term affordable and reliable electricity in a country where power is available to just 20 per cent of the population.

If Australia doesn't then China might!

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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All articles by Jeffrey Wall

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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