Joint press conference with Papua New Guinean Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato

  • Transcript, E&OE

MINISTER PATO: I want to take this opportunity to thank the Australian team led by the Foreign Minister, Honourable Julie Bishop for coming to Madang. We've had a wonderful and constructive discussion and all our discussions have been fruitful in the context of the strong bonds of friendship between Papua New Guinea and Australia. In the context of that relationship, there are issues that we will discuss moving forward, but that is the nature of the long term relationship - it's an important partnership, more important than many of the other relationships that we have and you can see the issues that we've covered, which are wide-ranging in the communique that we have issued. Each year there is a communique that is issued that deals with all the ongoing issues and that is always a work in progress and we will continue to work that way.

MINISTER BISHOP: I want to thank my friend and collegue the Honorable Rimbink Pato the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration here in PNG for co-chairing the 25th PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum. I led a delegation of, in total, five Australian Ministers plus the Chief of our Defence Force and other officials to meet with our PNG friends here in beautiful Madang. We had a very constructive discussion across the wide range of issues that reflect the interests of PNG and Australia. In fact there are very few areas of our respective economies and government agendas that is not covered by the PNG-Australia partnership. Indeed this relationship is maturing into a strong economic, strategic and security partnership. We discussed many issues today including increased trade and investment following on the back of a business dialogue with business leaders from PNG and Australia. We also talked about PNG's hosting of APEC in 2018 and how we can support what will become a very important and significant regional meeting. We spoke about our bilateral efforts to develop infrastructure in PNG, our work in particularly the healths sector and our educational exchanges. We will have 45 Australian students studying in PNG under our New Colombo plan and an Australian scholarship winner who will be here for an extended period of time. It is these people to people connections and exchanges at a governemnt level, at a business level and amongst our people that will ensure that this is a relationship that will endure.

Thank you Rimbink for hosting us, we have enjoyed spending time with your fellow ministers and with the officials. The work continues. As Rimbink said, this relationship and the Ministerial Forum is always a work in progress. There is always more to be done. We are heading off to Lae now to open Australias Consulate-General in Lae, which again reflects the significance which we place upon our relationship with PNG, particularly in the area of trade and investement. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: What was Australia's thinking about the PNG's request to move aid towards budgetary support by 2020 and what was Australia response to that.

MINISTER BISHOP: That's apparently a matter that is being discussed within the PNG Governement. It has been raised with us today and we will consider it. It is not the model which currently exists. We have a partnership agreement that will come to an end in 2017 and so if PNG has any suggestions on changing the model we will consider them in the context of the review of our partnership for development assistance.

What we are pleasesdabout is that our prorities and interests align more closely with PNG's priorities interest and that's what we've been working towards ever since I've been the Foreign Minister - working closely with Minister Pato to ensure that the interests of the PNG people and the interests of the Australian people align when it comes to what is a significant development budget. Indeed, Australia invests over 500 million dollars a year in development assistance in PNG and we want to ensure that it's transperent, that it's value for money, and that it provides the kinds of outcomes that will see economic development and prosperity in PNG. Plus of course we must be answerable to the Australian tax payer.

JOURNALIST: What about, on Manus Island, there has been frustration within the PNG Government. They want to know what Australia is going to do to move towards the closure of the Manus Island centre. Were you able to give them anything new today?

MINISTER BISHOP: The Immigration Minister dealt with this in some detail in bilateral meetings and during the Ministerial Forum. He has confirmed that we are working very cooperatively together. Under the Coalition Government we have been able to remove all children who were in detention from detention. We are moving to closing detention centres here and we most certainly have closed the detention centres that were opened up under the previous Australian Government in Australia. Significant progress has been made and we continue to engage closely with our counterparts in Papua New Guinea.

JOURNALIST: They were looking for something new from Australia. They were looking for some help in getting rid of the people whose claims have been rejected or who won't be caught up in the resettlement deal with the US. Did Australia come with anything new on that front?

MINISTER BISHOP: This comes under our definition of work in progress.

JOURNALIST: Minister were you happy with what Australia had to say about those issues?

MINISTER PATO: Yes, I am pretty pleased with what my counterpart has said and of course the refugee resettlement arrangements, that is clearly a work in progress. There are challenges there. Moving forward from today our technical teams on both sides, on the Australian and PNG side, they will work through to see what will happen when the Regional Resettlement Arrangement expires in October of this year. So all of the issues are clearly spelled out. We have a deep understanding in terms of what we need to do, and those live issues will be handled with a clear understanding so that there are no violations or inconsistent conduct in respect of any of our commitments to the UN system and so on.

Budgetary support is an issue that has been raised for the first time. Today we work through them. Our technical people have been tasked on both sides and that is again a work in progress.

I am pleased that Australia has an understanding of so many of the other issues so it will be rolled out in its proper context and obviously by the end of 2017, either we will have a new framework, or some other deal in the overall partnership, and the long term bonds of friendship that the two countries share together. Thank you.

MINISTER BISHOP: Thank you my friend.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

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