Doorstop, Sogeri National School of Excellence

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-PNG relationship, infrastructure building, women in PNG leadership, Australian visas, Pacific labour mobility scheme.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Hi, everyone. Look, it's such a great pleasure to be here at Sogeri National School of Excellence. And I had a really wonderful opportunity to engage with students and teachers in the panel and afterwards, and before, and I thank all of the school community for welcoming me and showing me such great respect in inviting me here.

We see our partnership with PNG as of great importance to Australia, to our region, but most importantly to the people of PNG. As I said in the discussion in there, we see it as a partnership, as a relationship of respect, a relationship between equals. And on the way here, as we were coming into Moresby, I was reading the speech of Gough Whitlam, the Australian Prime Minister who was Prime Minister of our country when PNG achieved independence. It's a speech that talks about a partnership of equals, a partnership of respect, a partnership of friendship, and that is true almost 50 years later and we are all custodians of that relationship.

I was very grateful to have the opportunity to speak with the next generation of Papua New Guinean leaders in the wonderful students today at this school. I'm happy to take your questions now.

Journalist: My name is Jim John from national EMTV News. Apart from education, what other key areas will PNG-Aus support and develop in PNG?

Foreign Minister: Sure, there's obviously a substantial amount of budget support, but I do want to talk about infrastructure, because one of the things that PNG under Prime Minister Marape has said is the importance of infrastructure. In that, he is on the same page as the Australian Prime Minister. Prime Minister Albanese used to be the Minister for Infrastructure, so he can talk about the importance of infrastructure at length, and he understands it deeply.

I understand that PNG has made it a priority to have around 50 per cent of support from their partners for infrastructure, and that's what we're seeking to do. We also have our financing facility for infrastructure. I think we have some $750 million already approved through that. With infrastructure, you can drive development. If it's good infrastructure, if it's infrastructure that is financially sustainable, so the debt levels are sustainable, it creates a return on investment, not just for the donor country, but actually for the community. And that's what we want, to contribute to your economic development, as I think Prime Minister Marape described in his speech to the Parliament – economic independence.

Journalist: Minister Wong, I understand Minister I understand you met our two female leaders yesterday…

Foreign Minister: I did.

Journalist: To visit PNG at a time when we have two members that are female, what does this mean for the future of the country?

Foreign Minister: That's a lovely question. Yes, I met with Governor Peter and the honourable member Sawang, I think. It was – I suppose the sentiments of why I really sought that meeting out is similar to the sentiments that you heard today in the discussion, including from the students, which is we believe – I believe that we need to harness the talents of our whole community, and that communities are stronger when we do that. So, while these are ultimately decisions for Papua New Guineans and for your democracy, we're really pleased to see two women involved in that level of leadership, recognising that there are women in leadership at different levels of Papua New Guinean society. Australia will continue to contribute to that as part of the democratic project, but also because, as you saw today with the students, if we enable and empower everyone to participate in their different ways, I think the community is strengthened.

Journalist: Minister Wong, Stella Martin from ABC News. There's a lot of programs, leadership programs between Australia and PNG, which is a good thing for both countries. However, I've realised that there's a lot of restrictions and – not restrictions but requirements in terms of Papua New Guineans travelling to Australia. Do you have any plans to relax some of these plans?

Foreign Minister: Look, I understand – these concerns are being raised with me. I think there are sort of two areas around people movement. The first is the labour movement schemes, the Pacific labour mobility schemes, and we came to government with a clear mandate and a policy to improve and expand those. I had some discussions with your ministers about that. There are really two aspects that I think are important. There are obviously the remittances, and that contributes to the economic development of communities; but there's also skills acquisition. I hope that through these, in these coming years, we can develop a greater focus on skills acquisition because that means that those members of your community who go to Australia on these schemes can come back with greater skills and that's an investment in people.

But the second area is visas into Australia. We don't discriminate between countries. We have a visa system that looks to manage entry into our country. I understand this is an issue for PNG. It's been raised with me, and it's also been raised with me in other parts of South‑East Asia and so forth. We'll do what we can to look at it because I understand this is something of concern to your leaders and to your people.

Anything else? Okay. Thank you very much for your time.

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