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The Australian budget wont focus significantly on our role in PNG and the South Pacific - that will take time

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 21 October 2022

Anyone with expectations the Australian budget next Tuesday will see a radical change in our relations with Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific is bound to be disappointed.

I sense the Albanese Government is taking a more considered approach to any changes it might make in our policy approach to the region, including development assistance.

I welcome that. The knee jerk approach that seems to have characterised all too often the approach of the Turnbull and Morrison Governments led to failed exercises such as the infamous "Pacific Step Up" policy and the discredited Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility (AIFFP) which must surely have the proponents of China's "Belt and Road" agenda laughing in disbelief.


What I hope is that the foreign minister will consult widely in developing the government's policy approach to development assistance, and wider engagement with our immediate neighbourhood.

It needs to actively consult the Australian business community, the churches, civil society, and charities doing really good work in our region.

The "aid lobby" will have to be consulted, but warned the government wants to see less of our generous assistance delivered via "boomerang aid" and more delivered "in country" via partnership deals.

In the meantime, the federal budget might allocate some modest funding to short-term but long overdue people-to-people projects that can enhance our relationship with our region.

As an example, we could provide some funding to enable our business sector via entities such as the Australia-Pacific and Australia-Papua New Guinea business councils.

The government might also provide some financial support for outlets that promote relations between Australian and Pacific business sectors such as Business Advantage.


When the annual Australia-PNG ministerial forum takes place in November there could be greater involvement by business leaders from both countries in dialogue with ministers. It might also involve the mainstream churches in this dialogue and look at more regular dialogue with Australian business and business groups in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, in particular.

One of the hallmarks of the last Government's approach was to largely ignore business and churches other than via window dressing.

Another short-term measure the government might fund in the meantime is an urgent review of visa arrangements for respected businesspeople wanting to travel Australia for business and family reunions. It is a particular and long term issue between Papua New Guinea and Australia but it impacts on a number of island nations.

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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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