18 May 2023

Murray Jones, Host: A delegation has been up to Papua New Guinea just in the last couple of days to basically encourage more investment here actually from Australia as well and identify some of those key areas. Australia is Papua New Guinea’s largest investor, trading and commercial partner. And, you know, our investment in roads, power and ports are likely to make the most immediate impact on the business sector and in turn on PNG’s economic growth and deliver improvements in living standards, which has got to be a better thing overall.

Let’s flesh this out a little bit further, and the Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Trade Senator Tim Ayres joins me this morning. G’day, Tim, how are you this morning?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Trade Minister and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: G’day, Murray. It’s great to be back on the show. Good morning to your listeners.

Murray Jones: Good to have you. And you’ve obviously just come back from, you know, Papua New Guinea and Port Moresby in particular. Obviously that focus on what we can do, and it does end up being a two-way street, of course. Anything that we can do to strengthening these ties. But a real focus particularly on roads, power and ports. Tell me a little bit more about the delegation and what was achieved.

Assistant Minister: Thanks for the opportunity to have a yarn about it, Murray. You’re right, I’ve just jumped off the plane. It was a really good opportunity to lead a very diverse group of Australian business leaders to Papua New Guinea. Our existing relationship is focused, yes, on trade investment but trade in the region.
We don’t see just through a commercial prism. There is an enormous development task, there is an enormous climate change and adaptation and energy task – you know, rebuilding an electricity system that supports industrial growth, that supports economic growth and good jobs in Papua New Guinea, working with our partners, particularly the alliance that we’ve formed with Japan and the United States and others to support the construction of power infrastructure.

All of these things support trade, support good jobs. There’s benefits for both countries in this. And we just should never forget, you know, Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour. Our bonds with that country are deeply rooted in both of our histories.

Murray Jones: Sure, yeah.

Assistant Minister: And, you know, it’s a country that we are going to continue with a deep relationship forever, really. And there’s the people-to-people relations. I know they are particularly strong in your listening area where there are many people who travel backwards and forwards for work and family and for community reasons. So the Albanese Government, we see this through a trade and commercial and investment prism, but we see it as deeply part of us playing our role in the region.

Murray Jones: It’s interesting what you say, because actually to get a plane directly from Cairns to Port Moresby is shorter in flying time than what it is from Cairns to Brisbane. So that proximity and, of course, certainly the number of people from PNG that, you know, transfer between the two areas on a regular basis is quite astounding, actually. Look, you know, when it comes to –

Assistant Minister: Well, it’s just such an important part of the Far North Queensland community.

Murray Jones: Sure.

Assistant Minister: You know, it’s absolutely vital. And the further north you go, you know, the more flights there are, the more engagement there is. It’s been really good to see the Palaszczuk Government in Brisbane appoint a Pacific Trade Commissioner, you know, whose job – Leata Alaimoana, she came on the trip with me. Her job is to promote trade and those people-to-people relations and relations between businesses. We’re all putting a shoulder behind the wheel here.
Murray Jones: Now, look, what you’re talking about is probably a mixture of public and private investment moving forward. You know, one of the challenges, but, I guess, it’s possibly a little bit simpler, you know, in the private sphere, is the governance, making sure that the money that is actually provided for investment actually goes to the right places. Is that one of the challenges and one of the things that you’re working with the PNG Government to ensure that, you know, these investments are sound and that when it comes to actually getting the money to the right places? Is that one of the challenges?

Assistant Minister: Well, there’s a series of challenges there. Of course ensuring that business, that our aid programs, yes, that [indistinct], making sure the Australian development and infrastructure investment programs, making sure that they are supporting local jobs. You know, that we’re not fly in, fly out, delivering something and then nicking off, but delivering local jobs to local businesses. That’s all part of the Australian proposition in Papua New Guinea.

And also, one of the things that distinguishes the Australian approach is that it’s not about creating a debt trap where infrastructure is delivered and as the cost of capital goes up the risk is that the country becomes further impoverished. We are determined to make sure that there’s an ethical approach across the board that delivers real jobs, that improves governance standards, that lifts people up and isn’t about, you know – what do they call it – debt trap diplomacy.

Murray Jones: Yep, sure. Well, look, let’s talk a little bit more about ports, because, you know, obviously for security and in so many ways a strategy that, you know, we’re looking at moving forward is to have Cairns and particularly the naval base here and some of the infrastructure that we’ve got here in our inlet, which is, you know, a great inlet, certainly for a lot of work that we can do with respect to shipping right throughout the South Pacific area. That’s one of the areas that I believe that we’re also looking at working closely with PNG?

Sounds like I might have lost Tim there. The phone connection has been a bit rough. Can you hear me there Tim? Looks like I’ve lost that line. And we didn’t even get a chance to talk about NRL.

Assistant Minister: G’day, can you hear me now?

Murray Jones: Yeah. You’re back again. I’ve got you.

Assistant Minister: Very good. I’m standing on one leg in the corner of the room now hoping that’s improved the reception.

Murray Jones: It has been a bit dodgy. But just coming back to the strategy on ports.

Assistant Minister: Look, Murray, yeah, on the ports, there was a lot of investment going into port capability in Papua New Guinea, but also, as you say, whether it’s the defence – the force structure review, a range of these priorities and also the commercial imperatives driving port capacity and transport capacity. [Indistinct] on trade without functioning ports. Communities in our far north, you know, farming communities trying to get produce to market, need strong port and infrastructure capability.

Murray Jones: Sure.

Assistant Minister: You know, I’m not in a position to go through, of course, what’s happening in terms of the force structure review specifically. I’m aware of proposals around Cairns [indistinct] government is bringing to bear here is we are going to do what’s in the national interest, but we want to make sure that local regional communities like your listening area are benefitting in terms of jobs, in terms of industrial capability and in terms of infrastructure capability like ports.

Murray Jones: Okay. Well, look, while we’ve still got you there – because unfortunately the connection is a bit dodgy; we keep on losing you there from time to time – one of the things that I am keen to talk to you about is the possibility – because I know it’s something that we talk about quite a bit here in the region – of possibly having an NRL team which has the – you know, in the NRL that basically has a bit of a home base here in Cairns and also in Port Moresby. Was any of that discussed in the last couple of days as a possibility as well?

Assistant Minister: Well, it was a key focus of the trip. I took National Rugby League Commissioner Kate Jones with me. Andrew Hill and others who support Papua New Guinea Rugby League were very engaged with the delegation. You know, this would be a wonderful thing, wouldn’t it, for Australia and for Papua New Guinea.

Australian rugby league fans would love to see a PNG team in the National Rugby League. It would be enormous in social terms [indistinct]. You know, sport is a powerful unifying voice. And rugby league is so popular in Papua New Guinea.
I attended a training – a set of training drills with a group of girls who were under the auspices of Papua New Guinea Rugby League. They were so enthusiastic, their skills were fantastic. We are working in a really careful way to see if this dream can be realised for the NRL and for Papua New Guinea. It would be a terrific thing. It would be great for your – for Cairns and for your listening area, but it would be really vital for the relations between the two countries.

Murray Jones: And I know certainly for our mayor, Bob Manning, that’s something that he’s been focused on – the possibility there of having some form of connection with a team that spends some time here in Cairns but also up in Port Moresby. Look, we managed to get through. Unfortunately you seem like you are in a bad spot with respect to the mobile, but we managed to get most of the discussion through.

Assistant Minister: Sorry about the mobile connection, Murray. I’m in the heart of Sydney where, you know –

Murray Jones: Wow.

Assistant Minister: - it’s not perfect, but it’s really good to talk to you and to your listeners. I know how important this relationship is obviously for the country but it’s got a special resonance in Far North Queensland and I was really pleased to be able to lead this really strong and diverse delegation of Australian business leaders. Terrific.

Murray Jones: Excellent. Tim Ayres, he’s the Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Trade I guess our main focus there this morning. Great to talk to you this morning, and we’ll be watching with great interest moving forward. Cheers.
Assistant Minister: Good on you mate. Catch you later. Bye.