Joint Press Conference, Port Moresby

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea; regional stability; trade with Papua New Guinea; Digicel; fatal shooting of Indonesian fisherman.

Justin Tkatchenko, PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs: Firstly, it’s an absolute pleasure to have Senator and Minister Penny Wong here in Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby. We’ve had great discussions on many different topics. Australia is a solid, traditional partner of Papua New Guinea. We share a lot of common values in many different areas, and from there we’ve had fruitful discussions on strengthening our relationship – Australia and Papua New Guinea – going forward, in the future, from internal issues, to external, and they’ve been very, very fruitful.

In topics discussed, one was the labour mobility program, having bigger and broader reach for sending down skilled labourers and labourers to Australia to boost the Australian economy, to get skilled in Australia, to boost our economy as well – a win‑win situation – and to broaden that program which is currently working very well in PNG. We also talked about our security issues here internally and internationally and with our neighbours, and looking at areas where we can improve and support each other in partnership in these areas. We also spoke about rugby league – that isn’t the typical subject matter, but a very important one for Papua New Guinea, about the PM’s XIII, about the NRL bid, and about the game incorporating more women into sport, which we’ve been doing.

But overall, I want to say thank you, Minister, for your fruitful discussions, productive discussions. It’s great to see both our countries moving forward in this way for the benefit of our people and our sovereignty, and we look forward to our continual working relationship now and into the future for both Australia and Papua New Guinea. I now hand the mic over to Minister for Foreign Affairs. Please make her welcome.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much, and can I start by saying how grateful I am to Minister Tkatchenko for receiving me and meeting with me today. I really appreciate it. I look forward to meeting Prime Minister Marape later today. I’ll start by saying, how wonderful it is to be back here in PNG. It’s a very important visit. I’ve been wanting to visit since we were elected – that whole 11 or 12 weeks ago – but, obviously, we wanted to wait until the elections had been finalised. I have had a lovely meeting with the Minister who has informed me that he actually has family going back a couple of generations to my home state of South Australia, so he’s almost a South Australian, which for a South Australian is an excellent thing.

I wanted to say something at the outset about our relationship with Papua New Guinea. We share so much, and on the way here I read one of my heroes, Gough Whitlam, his speech upon your independence. It’s really moving. He was here in the last days of colony and he was here for the first days of Independence and he spoke about the relationship between our countries. He said – and these words are as true today as they were when a Labor Prime Minister spoke them nearly 50 years ago – “Australia wants the closest possible relationship with her nearest neighbour, the nation of Papua New Guinea, a relationship of equals based on mutual respect, understanding and trust.”

I come here today with that same message, that you are profoundly important to us. We share history. We share values. We share affinity. And we share a region, and our futures are tied together. You see that by looking at today, but also by looking at the past, whether it’s thousands of year ago, we were connected by land, we’ve had trade between our countries and First Nations Australians for thousands of years too. And we, today, remain not only a solid partner, but a partner that seeks to work with you, as your nation charts your way towards greater prosperity and greater security, and the fulfilment of the independence that a Labor Government was part of.

So, I’m very happy to be here again, to listen, to listen to the new Government and to the people about your priorities. Papua New Guinea’s a regional leader and we together want to – I think we want something very similar. We want a stable, resilient and prosperous Pacific. We want a region in which sovereignty is respected, and I know you want a team in the NRL as well! Anyway, I’m very happy to take questions with the Minister. But thank you very much for having me here today.

Foreign Minister Tkatchenko: Any questions?

Journalist: In your discussions or meetings with the Prime Minister and other Ministers, are you going to discuss China? The China issue with Papua New Guinea?

Foreign Minister: Look, I haven’t actually met with the Prime Minister yet, so I suppose it will be up to him what we talk about. Look, we come as Australians - PNG obviously has relationships with other nations - but we come to engage with you on the basis of our friendship and our history and our desire to work with you in your development and to strengthen your sovereignty. We have the view that we work with you on people‑to‑people exchanges, we work with you in the area of education, we work with you in the area of health, we work with you when it comes to supporting infrastructure, which I know is so important to communities and to Government. And the approach that Australia takes to infrastructure is we seek to give support that is transparent, that meets genuine needs, that delivered long‑term benefits and avoids unsustainable debt - no strings attached. And I think the question for countries as they navigate what is a more contested time is: do relationships or investments contribute to strengthening your sovereignty, and that’s a decision for sovereign nations.

Journalist: Minister, recently Prime Minister James Marape said that there was a disproportionate import-export scheme between both countries. So, is it something that Australia sees, that Australia needs to import some more goods from Papua New Guinea back home to Australia? What are some of the areas where Australia can import from Papua New Guinea? What are the goods and services that could be included in trade?

Foreign Minister: Well, this fundamentally goes to development, doesn’t it? And I look forward to Prime Minister Marape about the areas that he sees as priorities for enhancing Papua New Guinea’s export industries of goods and services and how Australia can contribute to that, whether it’s access to our market or through infrastructure developments which might improve exports in different sectors. These are things we want to work with you on and we want to listen to people’s priorities. I would say that one of the things that, as you know, we came to Government just a few months ago and we launched a Pacific and PNG policy before the election, and one of the things we focused on was the labour mobility schemes. We understand the importance of those. We want to make sure they work well for Papua New Guinea and for other countries who send people to Australia. And we want to try and work with you to ensure that those schemes enable people to develop skills whilst in Australia that they can bring back to your communities, because there’s an investment that is about remittances, but there’s also an investment in people. And I think we can do more on that front, and we’re keen to do more. We have a ministerial forum, which I think is in November, in Canberra. I’m not sure we’ve announced that, but I just did! This is one of the things we talked about – the Minister and I spoke about - looking at in a bit more detail.

Foreign Minister Tkatchenko: Last questions?

Journalist: Senator, there have been some concerns going around about the security of information, especially in the telecommunications sector after the acquisition of Digicel Pacific by Telstra. There are some concerns about the sovereignty of information here in country, regarding the information that Telstra will be taking over. What can you say about that?

Foreign Minister: Look, certainly Telstra is a company that as you know has a pretty large footprint in Australia. A lot of Australians are Telstra customers. We have very robust principles and regulation of the use of information, and if there are concerns that people have, we are very happy at a government level to work with Telstra to allay them. We’re a country that has a strong view about privacy, a strong view about regulation of people’s personal information. There are a lot of places around the world where those protections are not necessarily in place and as I try to explain to my daughters, you know, there’s lots of stuff on the internet which is a bit of the wild west, I call it, not that regulated. But Australia does take the approach to personal information and privacy that is very very well regulated and very happy to work with the Government of PNG and others if there are concerns that can be allayed.

Foreign Minister Tkatchenko: Last one. Last one.

Foreign Minister: Last question. There you go, lucky last. He actually already said lucky last. Because you were waving at me, I thought I would give you one.

Journalist: Minister Tkatchenko can take it up with me later, I’m sure he will. For both of you, Minister you mentioned discussions around international security and increasing partnerships there. We’ve already seen in the last few years an increase obviously with the base at Manus and the development of the Air Transport Wing. So what would it look like, further enhancing international security relationships? And also, as part of that, we’ve seen an incident just recently in PNG waters where an Indonesia fishing ship was fired on and someone was killed. Obviously that was right on the border with Australia as well and an Australian vessel. Has that created issues between the three countries and how big of an issue is the illegal fishing?

Foreign Minister Tkatchenko: Okay, firstly, our traditional partners have always been Australia when it comes to trade, economics, security, and we will continue to do so now and into the future and continue to develop that through treaties, through partnership, to make sure we have a safe region that we’re living in. For the Indonesia gentleman, or captain, that has passed away. Firstly, the ship is a PNG ship - it’s not an Australian ship. It was kindly donated through the aid program through to Papua New Guinea and we maintain it, look after it and use it under our PNGDF. With that, it is still an ongoing investigation. I have been, and my Secretary has been in contact with the Brigadier General, as well as the Indonesian High Commission – sorry, the Indonesia Embassy, to ensure we get the facts right first. There’s a lot of stories going out there of what happened and I would say over the next couple of days we’ll have the truth of the matter exposed and reported about.

Illegal fishing is a major, major problem in Papua New Guinea, and these two illegal Indonesian boats were apprehended in PNG waters. I believe that those people are now in custody here in Port Moresby, that were on those boats. So, the scenario is that let’s find out the facts first. Let’s not listen to rumours and I’ll be more than happy to, with my department and the Defence Department as well, come out with the facts in the next couple of days.

Foreign Minister: I’m very grateful to my counterpart, Ministerial counterpart, for answering the detail of the question, as he obviously knows more about it than I do. But can I make some broad points about fisheries. So, access to fisheries, the sovereignty around fisheries, is a critical development and economic and food security benefit, or right, for the nations of this region and for Papua New Guinea. Fisheries are critical to people’s livelihoods, they’re critical to future prosperity, and they’re critical to food security. As development and climate change progress, or keep continuing, we’re going to see more and more pressure on fisheries and there’ll be more and more sovereignty questions that arise.

Now, what do we do about that? Well we’ve signed a new five‑year deal with the Forum Fisheries Agency. The Pacific Island Forum focused on this. We’ve worked in the WTO with Pacific Islands nations to reduce subsidies for illegal fishing to try and protect the value of people’s EEZ. And in Government what we have committed to do is doubling the aerial surveillance through the FFA to try and combat illegal fishing. I think we’ve also committed to providing more Guardian Class patrol boats, another one in addition to those which have been delivered. So, we understand, leaving aside the detail of this incident, this is a really big issue for PNG. It’s a really big issue for the region. It’s a really important issue for both economic sovereignty but also food security.

Journalist: And just on the other part of that question; were there any other–

Foreign Minister: You don’t get two.

Journalist: The start of the question was about the increasing international security. Are there any specific, new ways you’re going to be working together or furthering that relationship.

Foreign Minister Tkatchenko: That will be discussed with the Prime Minister.

Foreign Minister: Thank you.

Foreign Minister Tkatchenko: Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much.

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