Australia and PNG: what is the way forward?

26 June 2018

The future of the relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia may rely upon Australians becoming more engaged in our nearest neighbour, experts at the ANU Crawford Leadership Forum have said.

The panel discussion highlighted the deep inequity between Australia and its previous colony PNG, with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, domestic and sexual violence, and poor access to education and jobs.

Speaker Stephanie Copus-Campbell, the Executive Director of the Oil Search Foundation, said Australians needed to understand the importance of PNG and to pressure our aid sector to do better.

"By time you go to bed today three women in PNG will have died in childbirth," Ms Copus-Campbell said.

"The statistics haven't changed, they are continuing to go backwards. The development indicators are not improving.

"Ninety per cent of Australia's eastern seaboard trade goes past PNG. From strategic point of view why are we not more interested?"

Ms Copus-Campbell pointed to the extraordinary population growth in PNG, which has moved from 2 million people in the 1960s to 8 million people now, "but health, education and jobs have not kept up".

She questioned whether exchanges where more Australian professionals, including teachers, doctors and journalists, spent time working in PNG would help build relationships and educate Australians about PNG.

Panelist Bal Karma, ANU Law PhD scholar described the current state of PNG as an "unacceptable tragedy" given that PNG is "so blessed natural resources".

"Australia has done a lot on governance but there is still a lot to do. Australia needs to be cautious of inconsistency on governance," Mr Kama said.

Professor Stephen Howes Director of the ANU Development Policy Centre said aid was too focussed on capacity building, which had failed.

He pointed to the success of having five ANU academics teaching, researching and living in PNG rather than trying to "capacity build" local teachers.

Professor Howes said while there were negatives to aid - for example, the 'workshop culture' where people in PNG were too busy attending workshops to do their day-to-day jobs - positives included getting violence against women on the agenda in PNG so it ceased to be a hidden problem.