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The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
02 6277 7800
13 October 2022
PAPUA NEW GUINEA PRIME MINISTER, JAMES MARAPE: I have the pleasure of introducing to the press on this occasion the Honourable Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. He is not new to Papua New Guinea, he tells me he’s been here more than –
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: 20 times
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: More than 20 times, the first time he came here was 1984, quite a number of visits made over the time in his private life as well as in his public life. The Honourable Richard Marles, Richard welcome back to - if you don't mind me calling you by your first name, we - Papua New Guinea and Australia - is very, very close. I go down to Australia, they call me my first name, they come up here, I call them their first name and it’s not only me, but prime ministers before me always had this rapport with Australia. At the Government-to-Government level, we always have warm relationships, and good and solid relationships. Business-to-business, likewise. People-to-people, likewise. The Honourable Richard Marles is coming at the back of the Foreign Minister, who visited us earlier, the Honourable Penny Wong. Later in November, later this year in November, our two countries’ ministerial forum will take place in Canberra. Ministers and their ministers will meet to discuss our bilateral relationships, and we’ll be graced by a visit by the Honourable Anthony Albanese in December in Port Moresby (inaudible). So, these are high level engagements taking place that puts value to our relationship, (inaudible) anchor our own relationships better. Most of you would have known, our country and Australia have a comprehensive strategic economic partnership, relationship with Australia. We're now at an almost, if not at an equal level of relationship, we see eye-to-eye in most matters. Something that is close to heart, and our country knows very well in terms of commerce, trade and economy. Australia understands very much where we are moving, looking at giving great support in the area of ensuring that Australian business and PNG business is more interfaced. Earlier this morning we spoke on the issues of things like visa and working towards we (inaudible). Papua New Guinea has to fix our own systems here. They will also give us support, give help, to what needs to be done. So, our conversation has been very warm. The Deputy Prime Minister is flying across with our Deputy Prime Minister to Lae, to open the ANGAU Hospital. A reflection of what Australia has been to us since 1975, having the (inaudible) of our country, whether it’s in the social sector, or in the infrastructure sector, or in the law and justice sector, or in the economic sector. They’ve always helped (inaudible) inside.
Later today, as he goes to open ANGAU Hospital, something that has been worked on for the last five, six years, it's a reflection of Australia and PNG’s relationship and I could say with no element of biasness, there is no greater relationship PNG has than the Australia-PNG relationship. We are joined to the hips. Literally speaking and in every sense. If you look at the plate that we sit on, the geological plate that we sit on, the major part of our plate is the same plate that Australia sits on. So, we are linked to the hip. But in terms of going forward, we want to have in our relationship – it’s now a Labor government in Australia, it is now a Pangu government in Papua New Guinea – that combination has been the combination that delivered our political independence in 1975. In our two government-to-government relationship, we want to tidy on other areas of our relationship that should be better, to strengthen our bilateral relationship going forward into the future.
The Honourable Richard Marles, this is the first time you've come since I got myself into office, please come back a second time, a third time, make it your second home away from home. We look forward to give you a piece of Papua New Guinea if to choose to retire, to retire from politics. But you have always come up here, we know this is not the last time you’ll be here, thank you for bringing yourself at your current designation to come and visit us. Your visit reflects the true bond of the relationship we have between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you Prime Minister, and thank you for those very warm comments. For me, it is an absolute joy to be here today, and as I stand here in Parliament House I can honestly say that I stand next to my brother, and that reflects the relationship between our two countries. The warmth that, you know, I feel with the Prime Minister is a reflection of the nature of the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea in 2022. This is my first visit since our election in May, and since the election here in July, and we are seeing in that sense two governments after our respective elections, really forging a closer and stronger relationship between our two nations. And that builds on a very strong foundation, a foundation which is more than friends, we are - as the Prime Minister has said - we are family, we are very much family. And that's important given the circumstances that we see in the world today. The strategic circumstances that face our world right now are as complex and challenging as any that we have faced since the end of the Second World War. And how we deal with them is not necessarily obvious, but one point is really clear; this is a time where you need to be close to friends and that's how we feel in relation to PNG.
We've been talking a lot about how at a defence level we can do more together, have more coordination, have our servicemen and women working alongside each other more in in the spirit of partnership. We're looking at ways in which we can support that, at a policing level as well, looking at a bilateral security treaty so that we elevate the arrangements between our two countries to the status of a treaty document between our two nations. And as the Prime Minister has also said, looking at ways in which we can make our economies more seamless so that we can promote economic growth here in Papua New Guinea but also in Australia. Labour mobility, seeing the opportunity for more Papua New Guineans to work in Australia is, we hope, a great opportunity for Papua New Guineans. It's fantastic, obviously, for the Australian economy. Us being close together works for both of our countries and that is at the heart of the conversations that we have had. And we're also thinking a fair bit about how we can translate that into rugby league. We would really love to see a team from Papua New Guinea participating in the national competition in Australia and we want to work to that end as quickly as we can.
At a personal level, as the Prime Minister said, I first came here in 1984. As I look at the pictures of the prime ministers on the wall, I've met all but one of them. This is, for me, a second home. Papa New Guinea is the most remarkable country in the world. Life is lived here in a way that it's just not lived anywhere else on the planet. It is a place of endless adventure, and excitement and colour, and it is a thrill for me to be back here for the first time as the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. And I can assure you, it will not be the last time and I really look forward to future engagements where I'm coming here, but future engagements where the Prime Minister and his ministers are joining us in Australia.
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: All right, thank you very much. Any questions from the media before we have a little bit of exchanges to make, but two or three questions? Your coordinate the media questions. Tony.
JOURNALIST: Deputy Prime Minister Marles, do you believe that the renewed Australia-PNG defence agreement will be finalised by the end of the year, as the Foreign Affairs Minister of Papua New Guinea has said he’d like to see?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want to progress our agreements as quickly as possible. And we want to put substance to those agreements, where we're actually looking at ways in which we can help, where there are capability gaps here in PNG, build capability. But that works to Australia's advantage as well. One of the points that we seek to make here is that this is very much an equal relationship where there's as much for Australia to gain in this as there is in supporting PNG in building its capability. And we think defence is a is a really critical way in which we can do that. So we will work as quickly as we can to pursuing our agreements with PNG in relation to defence. It matters to get those documents, right, what really matters is to get the substance to those documents happening as well.
JOURNALIST: Deputy Prime Minister, why is this renewed agreement necessary, and what would it allow the two countries to do that they can’t already do in the defence space?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: A good question, and the last thing I would want to give a sense is that there isn’t a high degree of coordination and cooperation between our defence forces right now, because there is. Indeed, I think the defence relationship is one of the strengths of the bilateral relationship. But this is really playing to that strength. It's looking at ways in which we can take the very close relationship we have, where most officers in the PNG Defence Force have had received some kind of training in Australia, there's a lot of engagement right now. But looking at how we can take that engagement, and build upon it to make our defence forces even closer, where we are having our defence personnel work alongside each other more, and in the process, making both of our defence forces more capable. And that's across all the domains – maritime, aviation, and army. And we really want to look at ways in which we can do that. Last week we had our officials here in Port Moresby, talking about the specifics of that, and we've got a very ambitious agenda between both of our countries to try and create that.
PRIME MINISTER MARAPE: Put me under the spotlight, he’s a guest of us (inaudible).
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Back in 2011 I visited Bougainville, and it is a very beautiful part of the world. There's a lot of history in terms of Australia's engagement here. The answer to this is pretty simple. As a witness to the arrangements that were put in place in respect of Bougainville more than 20 years ago, our job is to support Papua New Guinea. And that's what we're going to do. So our job is to support Papua New Guinea, in the decisions that it makes around what arrangements take place in the future. It is absolutely not our role to articulate views there. Our role is to support the Prime Minister and the government of Papua New Guinea, in the decisions that it makes in respect of the future of Bougainville, and we stand ready to do that.