Launch of the New Colombo Plan in PNG and reception for Australia Awards alumni

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Thank you Bronte and thank you for the magnificent work that you have done as Acting High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner here and thank you for the superb preparations for my visit here.

Minister Rimbink Pato, we were always good friends, but now we are brother and sister because I have been to your home. We had the most wonderful visit to Enga Province today that began when we landed in Wapenamanda. We had a magnificent welcome from your people and they hold you in very high regard. It was one of the most extraordinary visits and yes, I am now the proud owner of four pigs. I am going to have to change the story from three little pigs to four very large pigs.

Minister Tabar, thank you for being here. This follows on from our outstanding launch yesterday when, in partnership with the PNG Government, the Australian Government launched the Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct which will be at the University of Papua New Guinea and the Institute of Public Administration. We will be setting up a centre of excellence for the public sector of PNG to undertake courses, to take part in mentoring, leadership, a focus on women in leadership. I am so looking forward to this precinct being a reality. I hope to go out and see it tomorrow - the site tomorrow. I know that the courses have already begun and I thank you so much for your support for that new governance precinct.

High Commissioner Charles Lepani has become a very close friend over a number of years now. He's been in Canberra - well he's a Canberran - we treat him as one of our own. Charles has been the source of much wise advice and support to me and to the Government over many years and we really thank you for your extraordinary service on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea in Australia.

I want to talk about education tonight because it is a key to the ongoing bilateral relationship between our two countries. We have so many ties and everybody in this room understands the depth and breadth of our connection. We are neighbours geographically. We have historical ties like no other. PNG was the only country that was part of Australia as a colony, we have had no other colonies and that was PNG. That starts a very special relationship between two people because today - 40 years on from the moment when the people of Papua New Guinea decided that they wanted independence and they wanted to be a nation - 40 years on, we are truly not just friends and neighbours but partners. The relationship between our two countries is as close as any two countries can be.

For generations now we have been connecting through education. People from Papua New Guinea have been studying in Australia; Australian academics, Australian students have been coming to PNG. Over recent years though, I was concerned though that Australia was receiving thousands and thousands of students to our country but very few Australians were actually studying overseas and if they did study overseas they tended to go to the United States or Europe. When I was in Opposition as Shadow Foreign Minister it occurred to me that we could set up a program where we could send Australian students overseas but in our region to study, to live and to work. In that way they would gain a better understanding of Australia's place in the world, the people of our region and the bilateral and regional relationships that would really matter to our country's future.

I was very excited by the idea of the original Colombo Plan that was established in 1951 in the aftermath of the Second World War. When the Pacific and much of South East Asia had been devastated through war, we brought to Australia tens of thousands of young people from the region to study in our universities, to gain qualifications from Australia, to live with Australian families. Not only did those young people from our region gain qualifications but they set up connections and networks that have lasted a lifetime. Over 30 years, 40, 000 young people studied in Australia under the original Colombo Plan.

So I thought it was time to reverse it, call it the New Colombo Plan - not very original but it did have a lot of importance and significance in the region. Under the New Colombo Plan, undergraduates from Australian universities are being sent to our region to live and to study and to undertake an internship or a mentorship or some kind of work practicum, so not only do they see the academic side of other countries but they get to know the people. We started off in Government with four destinations: Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan. It worked so well in 2014 that we rolled out in 2015 across 38 countries in the Indian Ocean–Asia Pacific, and one of them was Papua New Guinea.

We have had seven students here from the Federation University of Australia. They undertook teaching practicums in Oro Province and I know they had an absolutely marvellous experience. For 2016, we will have 46 Australian students, we are building up year after year, and they will be from Deakin University, from Wollongong and from James Cook. They are studying in a variety of areas across a variety of locations and doing a lot of different things that will enhance their educational experience but build those links between our two countries with the next generation. And that is what will make our partnership with PNG endure, when the next generation, our young people understanding something of our history but understand that our future lies together.

We can't do the practicums and the internships without the support of business. So, as part of the New Colombo Plan, we have partnered with businesses and NGOs and Governments obviously, but particularly business to provide our young Australians an opportunity to actually work in the host country and gain an understanding of what it's like to actually work here.

We have had some wonderful responses from companies that are in PNG to our proposal that they be a part of the New Colombo Plan as business champions: Westpac, ANZ, General Electric and Exxon Mobil are all partners in the New Colombo Plan. Importantly from my point of view, so is OilSearch. I'm delighted that Peter Botton is here tonight and Peter has agreed to be one of our business champions. Next year, OilSearch has agreed to take four interns under the New Colombo Plan in the areas of health, engineering, environment and finance and these will be the first private sector internships under the New Colombo Plan. So, Peter Botton, OilSearch, thank you so much.

While the New Colombo Plan is my special baby - I love this initiative and I think it's going to be so exciting for generations to come - as it becomes a rite of passage for undergraduates in Australian universities to spend part of their study time overseas, I know that we have been working with PNG for many, many years on educational exchanges, particularly bringing Papua New Guineans to Australia and more recently under the Australia Awards. Next week, 124 Papua New Guineans will commence their pre-departure training for an Australia Award experience in our country. They will be in a diverse range of disciplines across an incredibly different range of subjects. They will be in Australia - welcomed, loved, appreciated.

We also have in-country Australia Awards as well. In fact, today up at Enga Province we were up at the nursing college and 22 Australia Awards for diplomas of nursing were awarded this year and another 12 next year, so we have in-country as well as studying in Australia.

I am particularly pleased tonight to acknowledge two Australia Awards recipients. They are also recipients of what we call the Alison Sudradjat prize. Alison was an employee of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and she was tragically killed a number of years ago. In her memory we have a prize in her name. The Alison Sudradjat prize for the most outstanding Australia Awards students will go to Pamela Toliman, who will be undertaking a PhD at the University of New South Wales into cervical cancer research on testing programs so that we can have much more flexible and speedy testing of cervical cancer here in PNG, so Pamela congratulations to you. The second recipient is Junior Novera who will be doing a PhD at the University of Queensland into food security and sustainable subsistence farming. That's a very topical issue at present. Today Rimbink and I were inspecting some of the crops and some of the rural areas that have been affected by the El-Nino weather patterns and I announced that Australia would be providing an additional five million dollars in support to PNG to help deal with the short, medium and long term consequences of climate change and El-Nino – things like providing seed stock for drought resistant crops through to mapping by Geoscience Australia of the vegetation and crops and water, as well as practical health support for the people affected by it and other kinds of logistical support.

We are very proud of our Australia Award recipients. I am very proud of our New Colombo Plan recipients. It is my great pleasure this evening to officially launch the New Colombo Plan here in Papua New Guinea. Long may it endure. Thank you.

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