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Peter O’Neill is revitalising our relationship


Peter O'Neill at Development Policy CentreTHE O’NEILL-NAMAH government has a solid development agenda and is looking to improve governance, invest in infrastructure and deliver better education and health services to Papua New Guineans.

This was the crux of the message delivered by PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill during his lecture at the Australian National University last week at a Development Policy Centre event.

In a speech that addressed the challenges facing Papua New Guinea with refreshing frankness, the Prime Minister outlined his government’s plans for reform ahead of elections slated for 2012.

He also explained the reasons behind the change in government that saw him take the PM position in August this year.

Citing leaders who became reckless during former PM Sir Michael Somare’s lengthy stint in hospital, as well as concerns over misappropriation of the PNG development budget, Mr O’Neill said that MPs on both sides of parliament were left with no choice but to take “assertive and corrective action” to deal with those who were not prudently attending to their civic duties.

While the title of Mr O’Neill’s lecture was Revitalising the PNG-Australia Relationship and the close ties between Australia and PNG were substantially discussed by the Prime Minister, the content also had a heavy focus on domestic policy reform for economic and social development.

Mr O’Neill emphasised his government’s desire for national unity and its resolve to curb policies that had held back social development in the past.

He outlined a number of policy priority areas: provision of universal education; improved healthcare for all; rehabilitating and maintaining of key economic infrastructure; clearing government systems of poor and corrupt practices; and creating an inclusive environment for PNG women.

According to the prime minister, some progress has already been made on these goals, including proposed legislation to facilitate the participation of women in parliament, the beginnings of work on the establishment of an independent commission to fight corruption and improvements in resource allocation for education and health in the national budget.

In analysing the PNG-Australia relationship, Mr O’Neill said that the bilateral partnership is currently at a watershed moment where the development cooperation treaty between the countries will begin to transition into an economic cooperation treaty as trade and economic relations further strengthen, particularly through regional agreements such as PACER Plus.

His prediction for the future of the Australia-PNG relationship was that it will only continue to grow and strengthen further.

Mr O’Neill delivered his lecture to a full house at the Crawford School’s Molonglo Theatre — an audience which included many Papua New Guinean students who will make up the next generation of talented leaders that the Prime Minister acknowledged in his speech.

The prime minister allowed a generous amount of time for questions from the audience and answered each question comprehensively. For example:

Mr O’Neill said he would raise concerns about West Papua and issues near the Indonesian-PNG border with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during talks next month.

Mr O’Neill expressed the opinion that China’s entrance into the Pacific Islands should not be considered a threat, as all countries were increasing their terms of trade with China at present. He added that PNG was primarily looking for an economic relationship with China rather than a political one.

In response to a question on women’s participation in PNG civic life, he replied that the government was hoping pass legislation in November to enable women to hold more positions of leadership in the parliament.

Stating that PNG stood ready to re-engage with Australia on offshore asylum seeker processing on Manus Island, he added that a regional solution needed to be found, not only for Australia, but also for PNG and other Melanesian states facing irregular migration.

Most popular of all with the audience, Mr O’Neill made a commitment to pass legislation on dual citizenship in the November session of parliament.

Some of the other topics touched on in the discussion included service delivery to districts, whether PNG would ratify the UN convention on disability, housing affordability solutions, and how the capacity of the PNG defence force could be enhanced through Australian aid.

Ashlee Betteridge is a Researcher for the Development Policy Centre.

Source: Development Policy Centre, 17 October
A video of the lecture and question & answer session can be viewed here


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Phil Fitzpatrick

Now that Somare has gone there seems to be a subtle but profound change occurring in the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

This has been expressed most plainly in both O'Neill and Gillard supporting a shift from aid to a more mature approach based on economic relations.

The Opposition in Australia, is also supportive and has, in fact, made some of the running on the issue.

Logic suggests that with such a shift freeing up citizenship rules is a sensible way to go; not just for Papua New Guineans but for Australians too.

Geo-politics also suggest that a mature Papua New Guinea will inevitably become Australia's closest ally, both metaphorically and figuratively, and a valuable trading partner to boot.

In other words, the future of both countries will become inextricably tied together.

One would hope that Australi's relationship with New Zealand is eventually emulated in its relationship with Papua New Guinea.

On that basis I'd say your chances are pretty good Poyap.

Poyap J Rooney

I was born at the Lombrum Naval Base Hospital, Lorengau, Manus Province in 1977. The first nine years of my life I spent entirely in Manus.

I later moved to Port Moresby where I studied, worked and lived until 2009 when I moved to Townsville, Australia.

The issue of dual citizenship is of particular interest to me and I'm sure to many other PNG-born Australian citizens and a growing number of PNG citizens who are Australian permanent residents.

I gained Australian citizenship in 2009 and as a result automatically lost my PNG citizenship.

I personally long for the day that I can call myself a PNG citizen again without having to lose my Australian citizenship and for when my daughters reach 18 and hopefully do not need to choose between their two home countries.

There are, no doubt many arguments for and against someone like me being allowed dual citizenship and the one I wish to make here is one of customary rights.

When a PNG child is born of parents from different ethnic groups, he or she belongs to and is welcomed by his or her people from both sides of the family.

This is the Melanesian custom, the PNG custom, a custom which predates the PNG Constitution and the PNG Laws which was and still is, in essence, a mirror image of the archaic British law of the 1800's.

Furthermore (for my case at least), this adopted PNG law that denies me dual citizenship not only conflicts with these customary values but also with the 5th National Goal and Directive Principle of our more modern and home-grown National Constitution which states:

“We declare our fifth goal to be: to achieve development primarily through the use of Papua New Guinean forms of social, political and economic organisation.”

The dual citizenship law must change to be more in keeping with PNG customs (i.e. “PNG form of social organisation”) and her constitution. I am certainly no expert here and it would be great to hear from a lawyer with Authority in these matters.

There will be people out there who will resist these reforms, but to do so on the basis that it “…is likely to benefit a select few in a particular socio-economic bracket and is unlikely to be of any major consequence to the vast majority of Papua New Guineans” as stated by Monpi is undemocratic and un-Melanesian.

For crying out loud, it is a much needed change to an very archaic PNG law, it will cost next to nothing and, yes, the immediate effect is that only a few people will directly benefit but in the long run the benefits to the vast majority will be significant.

Those who resist need to be clear about why they do so, they may in fact have valid argument against this important reform and if so, it is important that they are heard.

Mr O’Neill has made a commitment and come November we may or may not have a policy which allows dual citizenship.

My prediction is NOT, and not for a while, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised and will certainly be celebrating with a few SPs if we do…

Paul Oates

The curse of any political system is the development of a personality cult. No one person can manage a country effectively or in fact manage any more than a few dozen people.

Any success as a national leader will depend on appointing competent, effective and dedicated managers who in turn cascade this concept of merit based appointment down to the lowest levels of management. Political appointees are not by their very nature, demonstrably proven managers.

The PNG Public Service should be given a pay rise on the basis they sign a binding efficiency agreement.

Time will tell if regional politics can be put aside in 2012 in favour of national achievement. The current ‘bottlenecks’ of service delivery won’t be freed up overnight.

There are just too many too many levels of incompetent government employees currently ‘feeding’ on the public purse.

While PM O’Neill is providing leadership and direction he must deliver soon on his promise of an Independent Commission Against Corruption or ICAC.

Once an ICAC is in place, it must be properly funded and transparently run. Previously starving the Ombudsman of funds didn’t help the OC achieve its role of keeping the government honest.

There needs to be some high level corruption convictions before the end of 2011 to send the right messages to the electorate in the lead up to the next general election.

Given the reported view that the recent Census was a failure and the estimated 7 million in PNG population, the RPNGC must recruit significantly more numbers and have members stationed and effectively supported throughout the country, not just at political hot spots like the Highlands.

However it takes time, funds and qualified staff to recruit and effectively train police and any recruitment initiative will not have any impact before the 2012 elections.

Given PNG has the lowest number of police pro rata of any South Pacific country, it does not auger well for near future.

I wonder if PM O’Neill would consider external assistance with the lead up and conduct of the 2012 General Election.


It is interesting to note that the audience appeared most receptive to Mr O'Neill's committments regarding dual citizenship.

Maybe the members of the audience should have taken a minute to consider that this legislation is likely to benefit a select few in a particular socio-economic bracket and is unlikely to be of any major consequence to the vast majority of Papua New Guineans.

A little selflessness wouldn't go astray here.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Peter O'Neill had to quickly rein in some of his ministers shortly after he took over, notably Byron Chan, the Mines Minister, on his announcement that the government was going to hand ownership of minerals to landowners.

Apparently that cost the mining companies millions in lost investment.

Mr O'Neill can't do it all himself and his government will only be as good as his ministerial team.

He has probably done it already but he needs to pull them into line and get them firmly behind him.

With the upcoming elections he must also make it plain that the day of the carpetbagger politician is over.

Anyone hoping to bribe voters with free booze so they can get aboard a gravy train need to rethink their motives.

Barbara Short

Peter O'Neill sounds as though he knows what needs to be done to get PNG back on track.

I hope he will have the numbers to continue in this role after the next elections, so he can prove that he means what he says!

I hope the people of PNG will have the wisdom and courage to remove those members of parliament who have been ripping off the system for their own advantage and stopping the fair distribution of the wealth in PNG.

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