Senator Bob Carr is in Papua New Guinea this week on his first visit as Foreign Minister. He is attending the Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum and touring the Highlands region with his counterpart, the PNG Foreign Minister.
Meanwhile, PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has just concluded a six-day visit to Australia. Delivering speeches here at the Lowy Institute, at the National Press Club and at the annual PNG Mining and Petroleum Investment Conference in Sydney, the Prime Minister increased the visibility of his country in Australia and promoted a competent and optimistic image of his government.
Whether by happy coincidence or careful planning, both visits have sent strong messages about confidence in PNG's future. Carr's media skills and O'Neill's clear strategic focus have combined in an attempt to reset Australian attitudes towards PNG. O'Neill and Carr have talked about PNG's growing economy and significant investment opportunities as well as PNG's capacity and intentions to play a more important regional leadership role.
O'Neill did not gloss over PNG's development challenges but the shift in focus from what PNG needed from Australia to what PNG intended to do in future was clear. This is a welcome change from the heavy concentration on the aid program that is so often at the centre of the Australia-PNG relationship.
The Asia focus of Prime Minister O'Neill's address to the Lowy Institute demonstrated that PNG's international outlook is maturing and expanding, along with the nature of the bilateral relationship. While he was at the Lowy Institute, Prime Minister O'Neill agreed to elaborate on some of his thoughts about PNG's role in the Pacific and PNG's growing links with Asia. The highlights of our conversation were:
- PNG was engaging more openly with China, India and other fast growing Asian economies.
- Australia and PNG could work together to engage with Asian countries.
- PNG is playing a bigger regional leadership role in the Pacific, investing in other Pacific Island countries, opening transport links and providing targeted development assistance to advance regional prosperity and security.
- O'Neill's government wants to develop agriculture and tourism, including through investment from Asia and Australia.
- PNG could contribute to food security at home and in Asia through large-scale farming projects.