FEW COUNTRIES ARE MORE IMPORTANT to Australia than Papua New Guinea and I believe that our relationship with Papua New Guinea must be one of Australia’s highest foreign policy priorities.
It is a fact that much has been said over many years about the relationship and I think it is fair for us to be judged not on what we say but on what we do, not on just our words but on our actions.
And in that regard, should the Coalition form the next government of Australia I am committed to injecting the necessary energy and leadership to ensure that the relationship continues to be a strong, continues to be one not just of the closest of neighbours but the closest of friends – the absolute best friends – for we are like family. And indeed like all families we are well aware of each others strengths and weaknesses.
And if it is anything like my family we are be each other's strongest critics but also each other's greatest supporters!
As brothers and sisters in the Pacific region it is time for us to broaden and deepen and diversify our relationship and take it to another level to better reflect the contemporary reality of where we stand in the 21st century.
It is way past time that we move on from outdated stereotypes and our aid donor and aid recipient relationship, and it is time for us to embrace each other as full economic partners.
It should be as easy to do business between Australia and Papua New Guinea as it is between Australia and New Zealand. While I welcome an Economic Cooperation Treaty, we should be aiming for a high quality, full blown free trade agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
If we are honoured to be the next government of this country, I most certainly commit to ensuring that we can free up the visa arrangements between Australian business people and PNG business people in particular so that we can have much easier means of doing business and investing in each other's country.
It is simply unacceptable for there to be so many bureaucratic hurdles in the way of trade and investment and doing business across the Coral Sea, and I most certainly commit to working with the PNG government to ensure that it can be the most cooperative economic relationship that we are able to achieve.
We need to see greater mobility in the labour force between PNG and Australia. I envisage some form of mobile workforce that could be supporting projects in Queensland, in Western Australia, and in PNG, and it will take some considerable will on the part of governments in both countries to achieve it but I am sure we can do it, for our mutual benefit.
I believe there should be a particular focus with Papua New Guinea on two-way student exchange, two-way teacher exchange and greater exchange between academics at our universities. I would like to see more Australian academics and researchers working at the University of PNG, for example.
This would not only ensure that the educational outcomes for individuals were enhanced but also I can think of no better way of bringing our countries closer together than to have a body of young people in Australia who have lived and worked and studied at universities and schools in PNG, and a body of young people from PNG who have had the experience of living, studying, working in Australia and it is something that we should aim for.
I believe as the women of Papua New Guinea make up over 50% of the population, as do women in Australia, that the contribution of the women of PNG is enormous but it could be even greater. To harness their talents and skills and abilities will do wonderful things for the economic and cultural and social development of Papua New Guinea.
Not only the women in business but hopefully women in politics. I pay tribute to Dame Carol Kidu for the example that she has set as a woman in politics in PNG and I just hope at the next election and in future elections we see more women in Papua New Guinea taking up a leadership role.
I have spoken to many women in PNG now and they assure me that given the opportunity they have a significant contribution to make and that PNG will be a better country for it.
Julie Bishop MP is Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. These are extracts from an address to the 28th Australia Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo in Brisbane