Parliamentary Secretary for Defence – Speech – Papua New Guinea Conference

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land – the Wathaurong people.

I would like to thank the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for bringing together such a distinguished group of individuals who are passionate about Papua New Guinea and our region.

This Conference creates a medium – and hopefully momentum – for practitioners to discuss the opportunities and issues facing PNG, and develop strategies and solutions to capitalise on its enormous potential. 

This Conference was one of many initiatives, the member for Corio, the Hon. Richard Marles MP implemented during his productive time as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Richard for his leadership on Pacific Island Affairs and welcome Senator Matt Thistlethwaite to a challenging, yet rewarding role. 

It is with great pleasure that I speak to you today about security through leadership. Leadership is a tricky matter. Not the least because leadership roles are highly sought after, but because great leadership is a decisive factor in achieving success.

The leaders who will steer our nations, agencies, institutions and armed forces through the Asia-Pacific Century will have an enormous impact on whether this century is one of peace, positive change and growth or one of conflict and lost opportunities. 

Shared Friendship – Shared Future

When Australian’s look north, we see a friend and partner in Papua New Guinea. We are natural, essential partners in a shared future, in a rapidly changing region. We must navigate this future together.

Papua New Guinea stands at the threshold of national change and economic opportunity. And, it has the potential to increasingly play an important leadership role in the region.

At an Australian Government level, the significance of Papua New Guinea’s position as a growing nation, rich not only in resources but in people and culture, is well understood. Richard Marles MP formed a Parliamentary Friends of PNG to build this understanding in Canberra.For both the DFAT and Department of Defence, PNG is a first order priority – our largest embassy and our largest defence cooperation relationship.

The Government’s engagement with Papua New Guinea spans the political, economic, development, environmental and military spheres. We are helping to build stronger and more sustainable communities and a stronger, sustainable region.

I believe, as of course, I would, that Australia is a good friend to have. As a middle power, on the UN security council, Australia seeks to build a world governed by strong international laws and norms, constantly investing in peace and stability. As a proud, robust democracy, Australia adds its voice to support human rights, freedom and fostering a multi-lateral world community of tolerance and respect. Australia has no territorial disputes, and has never sought territorial expansion. Australia promotes free trade and the exchange of ideas and innovation in a world that benefits from a secure global ‘commons’, for shipping, air transport and cyber communications.

Papua New Guinea shares these qualities, aspirations and attributes. Our alliance is not just built on our shared history, but more importantly, on a shared vision for the future.

Undeniable challenges confront PNG

Yet, there is an old line in Government circles that while Foreign Affairs hopes for the best, Defence plans for the worst.

There is much optimism regarding PNG and its future. But now, in discussing PNG’s security challenges, I will be blunt. To fail to recognise the very real challenges ahead for PNG would be to disappoint our own resolve to conquer them.

In talking about PNG, and the PNGDF, I want to make clear that I address the subject as someone with a great interest and respect for the PNGDF. And, I offer my perspectives as a friend of PNG. Australia partners with PNG to meets its sovereign objectives, no one else’s.

My views are only my own, and where I make any criticism or offer any advice to the PNG Government, I do so in the spirit of a strong public policy debate, aiming to make a contribution towards good decision making and building a strong PNG security and defence policy framework, and a more capable PNGDF.

The Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF)

The mission of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force – or PNGDF – is to defend Papua New Guinea and its national interests. And together with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary it is striving to do just that.

At just over 2000 personnel the PNGDF is divided into three distinct Elements – Land, Maritime and Air. The PNGDF is principally located in Port Moresby, Wewak and Lae, with forward operating bases at Vanimo and Kiunga. It also runs a training depot at Goldie River on the outskirts of Port Moresby.

The PNGDF has clearly defined Constitutional roles. First, the PNGDF must defend Papua New Guinea and its territory. Additionally, the PNGDF must support the civil authorities in protecting the country’s internal security. It may also be directed to perform civil construction tasks – or nation building – to promote national development and improvement.

Finally, the PNGDF is required to assist PNG to fulfill its international obligations – to be part of the nation’s contribution to regional and global security through such things as peacekeeping operations.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Defending the land and sea borders

Well, Papua New Guinea’s external security threats are predominately economic. Its considerable fish resources, in particular, are under threat from foreign fishing fleets. Limited maritime domain awareness, coupled with limited policing and patrolling, means that the wealth of PNGs Exclusive Economic Zone is simply being plundered by IUU fishing, and its very sustainability may face threat.

PNG’s large Exclusive Economic Zone – or EEZ – is a source of current and future food and revenue from fish stocks, potential seabed mining, oil and gas exploration.

At 3.1 million square kilometres, the EEZ is almost seven times the size of Papua New Guinea’s land mass and includes seven maritime borders. Its EEZ is part of the world’s biggest tuna fishery – the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fishery, which contains the richest and last remaining healthy tuna stocks in the world.

Unsurprisingly, this resource is targeted by large foreign fishing fleets. This illegal, unreported and unregulated (or IUU) fishing results in environmental degradation and lost national revenue. It is estimated that IUU fishing in Papua New Guinea’s EEZ costs the government approximately 3 million Kina per day, or 1 billion Kina per year. That’s around A$500 million per year.

In addition, vessels involved in IUU fishing not only violate PNG’s sovereignty and steal its resources, they also engage in a range of other transnational criminal activities which undermine regional security. 

Fishing vessels are used for the purposes of human trafficking and forced labour, the smuggling of migrants, illicit traffic in drugs and weapons, and the plundering of other valuable marine resources.

The PNGDF’s maritime element is required to patrol PNG’s maritime borders and EEZ, to deal with these issues. Whilst the PNGDF’s land element, must monitor the long, porous land border with Indonesia.

The PNGDF as nation builders

The PNGDF is also responsible for a range of nation building tasks. These tasks can include working on engineering projects, delivering medical services in remote areas, conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities, and providing security and logistics support to significant events such as elections and the census.

And, it must act as a stabilising domestic actor by supporting the rule of law, with the capacity to control internal instability during times of call out and states of emergency.

At a regional level, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force is relied upon to contribute to regional security and support regional contingencies. It has done so, through its contributions to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands – or RAMSI – since 2003.

So, it is clear – as a small force, in a large land, and dynamic region – the PNGDF has many responsibilities and challenges to manage.

PNGDF discipline, demography and politics

The PNGDF faces some very real challenges that threaten great leadership.

The PNGDF is a small force facing considerable demographic pressure on an aging workforce. The medium age of non-commissioned ranks is 43, and almost one quarter of land element personnel will reach the compulsory retirement age by 2015.

Infrastructure and personnel constraints significantly limit the ability of the PNGDF to accommodate and train sufficient new recruits to replace the aging force. This is a point worth remembering when I later speak of PNG Government ambitions to grow the PNGDF, in personnel terms from 2000 to 3000 personnel, to potentially 10,000 and 15,000 personnel. It is a significant point to note, in that there may not be a deep pool of young officers from which to grow a new generation of leaders ready to face contemporary challenges.

Discipline, a key element – and indicator – of good leadership is very much at issue in the PNGDF. In May 2011, 20 off-duty soldiers ransacked the Manu Autoport service station in Korobosea, in retaliation for a prank gone wrong by guards at the service station. A similar number of soldiers attempted mutiny on Australia day in January 2012. Whilst the leadership of BRIGGEN Agwi during the mutiny and associated events was an excellent example of apolitical, disciplined leadership, both incidents demonstrate the need for continued investment in the support, training and education of the next generation of leaders in the PNGDF.

BRIGGEN Agwi has rightly identified the improvement of discipline as one of his command priorities. And, we know that professional conduct and discipline will be strengthened where there are supportive administration structures and conditions of service.

Politicisation remains a continuing risk in a small, young force, rightly proud and protective of their nation. Great military leadership serves the entire people of one nation, not a particular party, person or position. However, there are positive signs – exemplified by BRIGGEN Agwi and his senior commanders during the 2012 “mutiny” – that the PNGDF is maturing to a point where it recognises the pitfalls of engaging in politics. Clearly, there is work to be done to strengthen and grow the leadership qualities of the PNGDF.

Australia – Papua New Guinea Defence Cooperation

So how can Australia enhance its defence cooperation with Papua New Guinea, to assist the PNGDF and the Defence Department meet these leadership challenges?

Through the Defence Cooperation Program – or DCP – Australia and PNG work together to increase interoperability between the Australia Defence Force and the PNGDF, and grow strong people to people links. As we grow partnerships and strengthen our institutions our capacity to respond to security threats – both regional and domestic – is improved. Importantly, the leadership cadre in both the ADF and the PNGDF matures and strengthens.

Reflecting the importance of our relationship with Papua New Guinea, Australia’s DCP with PNG is our largest with any country, at approximately $21 million this financial year. In a time of constrained Australian defence budgets, we announced in May 2012 a doubling of the PNG DCP. That’s how important this relationship is to Australia.

The DCP is delivered by 25 Australian Defence Staff based in Papua New Guinea, in close partnership with the men and women of the PNGDF and the Department of Defence. Our approach is comprehensive, with long-term, deep and sustained engagement and a focus on building the capability of the PNGDF, not short term fixes. It focuses on three core qualities – professionalism, sustainability, and effectiveness. It delivers a range of activities, which include training of personnel, infrastructure refurbishment projects, a robust exercising program, and support to the Pacific Patrol Boat Program. 

I will just briefly address certain elements of the maritime and aviation aspects of our DCP.

In the late 1980s, Australia supplied PNG with four Pacific Patrol Boats. As part of our DCP with PNG, we also deploy Royal Australian Navy maritime surveillance and technical advisers to help maintain and operate the boats. Our aim has been to work with PNG to protect its valuable maritime resources and environment, enforce sovereignty and counter transnational crime.

This task will become even more complex in the coming years, as change accelerates in our region, and the threat of IUU fishing and transnational crime grow.

Acknowledging this, Australia has committed to a program to follow-on from the Pacific Patrol Boat Program – known as the Pacific Maritime Security Program – or PMSP.

We expect the PMSP to broaden and strengthen the region’s capabilities in maritime security, fisheries protection and combating transnational crime.

And all regional nations, including PNG must ‘come to the party’ in evolving the PMSP. It’s not as simple as operating gifted PPBs. We must work together to build Maritime Domain Awareness that secures our EEZs and the wider South Pacific. Australia, PNG, NZ and the all Pacific Island Countries must overcome intra and inter-government rivalries and barriers, to build a regional coordination and surveillance force that can monitor our seas and defeat IUU fishing. We know we can accomplish this by pooling scarce resources, as the Pacific Island Forum has successfully done with the Forum Fisheries Agency.

Australia’s new assistance to the PNGDF’s Air Transport Wing recognises the PNGDF’s requirement to move across a mountainous and remote terrain. And it also recognises that there are other ways to acquire capability than through straight out ownership.

In 2012, Australia contracted three helicopters for use by the PNGDF to assist in reinvigorating their aviation capability. This two year helicopter contract includes all operating costs, maintenance and training for PNGDF personnel, at a cost of $7 million per year. Australia has been encouraging Papua New Guinea to move toward commercially contracted support for PNGDF enabling capabilities, as the Australian Defence Force does in many areas. The helicopters mark the first step for Papua New Guinea in this future direction.

The Papua New Guinea Defence Force Today

And, it is the future direction and planning for the PNGDF which will shape the security and prosperity of PNG in the Asia-Pacific Century.

In this regard, the PNG Government has signalled that it will address the challenges of this century by growing the PNGDF – in size, capability, and numbers of platforms.

In October 2010, the Papua New Guinea government issued a strategic development vision for PNG known as the Medium Term Development Plan or MTDP.

With respect to defence and security, the MTDP made some important assessments.

It assessed that the current PNGDF workforce was ageing and suffering from inadequate specialty training as a result of budget constraints since the 1990s. The military assets and facilities of the PNGDF were assessed as run down and barely operational, severely restricting the PNGDF from fully delivering on its key roles and functions.

Through the MTDP, the Papua New Guinea government acknowledged that with appropriate funding for an increase in military equipment, personnel and training, the PNGDF could grow and meet the 2050 Vision on security and international relations. To support this growth, the PNG Government allocated 188 million Kina (A$94 million) for Defence in the 2013 Budget.

Whilst growth, and the right level of funding could assist the PNGDF to make an increased contribution to domestic and regional security, it needs be carefully managed for the benefit of all Papua New Guineans.

The Australian Government has, of course, acknowledged that the size of the disciplined forces is ultimately entirely a sovereign decision for the Government of PNG. Indeed, we have responded to the priority the Commander has placed in meeting Waigani’s commitment to capability and rebuilding the force, by focusing recent joint ADF-PNGDF infrastructure projects on his training facilities, and by increasing the proportion of DCP resources devoted to training officers and soldiers. We look forward to offering further assistance in this regard.

However, as a close Defence partner and good friend, we are mindful, that the current PNG Government considers the strategic – or long term – implications of its decisions. For example, will future Governments remain committed to fully funding an earlier force expansion, that could become unbalanced, unhappy, and unsustainable because its higher long term sustainment costs cannot be fully funded five, ten, twenty or years down the track, when other priorities emerge?

That is why we’re delighted the O’Neill-Dion government has prioritised a National Security Policy and Defence White Paper process to ensure there’s a deliberate strategic approach to determining just what tasks the nation demands of its disciplined services. It is particularly important for the PNGDF, that clear and detailed guidance determines the tasks it is to perform and what mix of capabilities is needed to achieve those tasks. These processes will also develop options for generating and sustaining a force structure which will be evolved to match the required capabilities, necessarily finite resources, and intended force posture and disposition (such as base locations and levels-of-readiness).

As such, I’ve been privileged to meet with several PNG multi-agency delegations (including one led by Secretary Porti, who’s participating in today’s Symposium) to share the lessons and hard earned experience we’ve gained in successive Australian White Paper processes.

The Australian Government also welcomes PNG’s National Security Policy/Defence White Paper process as a way to systematically explore the balance of the PNGDF’s internal and external security roles. The success of the recent election pointed to just what the PNGDF, working with international and domestic partners, is able to achieve in aid to the civil power duties. This trust and responsibility was again demonstrated, when the O’Neill-Dion Government further extended a call-out to help with infrastructure and security along PNG’s vital economic corridor from the North Coast to the population and resource centres in the middle of the country.

If I may offer some personal observations, there are reasons both to embrace and be cautious about the potential for the PNGDF to take on enduring roles in nation-building and internal security.

On one hand, anything the PNGDF can do, within a cooperative inter-agency approach, to safe-guard PNG’s vital growing economic infrastructure and protect ordinary people trying to get their goods to market, access modern services for their families, and enjoy the rule-of-law, might seem obviously worth supporting. I’m advised PNGDF engineers did a great job helping the Police and other Departments restore damaged roads and bridges and ensure calm and good order following the Tumbi landslide.

However, on the other hand, military nation-building activities have often proved expensive ways to achieve outcomes that might have been more efficiently and more successfully performed by other agencies or the private sector. For example, using a 10,000 kina military helicopter sortie to transport 1,000 kina worth of coffee bags to market may visibly demonstrate Government presence, reach and interest but at some point bean-counting counts (even with coffee beans). PNG tried ‘security-for-development’ approaches with only mixed success in the early to mid 1990s. And, some would argue the tide-of-history suggests the great success stories of our day, such as Indonesia, are all moving to reduce their militaries’ day-to-day involvement in internal security, governance and the market.

Again, determining the exact balance is ultimately entirely a sovereign decision for the PNG Government, to be guided in part by careful deliberations currently occurring in the National Security Policy/Defence White Paper context. The Australian Government can, of course, be counted on to lend appropriate assistance via the enhanced DCP, as we currently do for PNGDF border patrolling on sea, land and air.

Finally, in the context of talking about PNG’s National Security Policy/Defence White Paper, I’d like to suggest that this process offers a great opportunity to think hard about precisely the focus of today’s Symposium: leadership. If I can be utterly frank,— I have observed, in the context of maritime capabilities — that it hasn’t been a lack of personnel, budget resources, or equipment, that’s taken the PNGDF Maritime Element from being the very best, to, in just a few short years, among the worse, performing regional Pacific Patrol Boat nations – but rather, this has been the result of inconsistent mid-level leadership.

Accordingly, I strongly welcome Commander PNGDF, Brigadier-General Agwi, and Defence Secretary Portis’ request, at the most recent annual bilateral Defence Talks, for a greater focus on leadership training and confidence building, via secondments and in-line mentoring in both Australia and PNG. Australia recently increased the number of officer training places we offer PNG at the Royal Military College Duntroon but this should just be the start, and I can assure the Commander and Secretary they have my full support in seeking to maximise ADF-PNGDF cooperation in this vital area of the DCP.


And in this regard, I am very pleased to note that the PNGDF recently completed its first deployment of peacekeepers to the UN peacekeeping missions in Darfur and South Sudan. These very successful deployments were its first ever contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, and were marked by the awarding of a UN peacekeeping medal to Major Bruno Malau, who served in Darfur as a staff officer in the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation.

This is disciplined regional and personal leadership in action. And, it is extremely hopeful that we can already see great leadership in the next generation of military leaders. A generation which will have a decisive effect on how Papua New Guinea navigates the Asia-Pacific Century.

Thank you.


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