PNG has ‘appetite’ for new defence deal
Alex Mitchell |
Australia can expect a Papua New Guinea government with an “appetite for reform” when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese touches down on Thursday.
Finalising a bilateral security pact will be top of the agenda when the PM meets PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape in Port Moresby.
Mr Albanese will look to his Pacific neighbour to counter China’s growing influence in the region, continuing his project of rebuilding Australia’s trust in the area, during his first international trip of the year.
Lowy Institute PNG expert Maho Laveil said it was an “opportune time for Australia to push for more reforms”.
Mr Laveil said Mr Albanese becoming the first foreign leader to address parliament showed genuine strength between the nations.
“It signals Marape is serious about maintaining and increasing Australia’s relationship as its partner of choice, regardless of what Marape has said in the past regarding China,” he told AAP.
“Marape has shown he has an appetite for reform … (his) party holds 22 of the 32 ministries, which means that his party is the driving force of policy.”
Mr Albanese acknowledged his historic speech will share detail on new defence arrangements between the countries.
“That is an extraordinary honour for Australia and one that will be one of the great honours of my life,” he told reporters.
“I’ll be talking about our enhanced security arrangements … about how we can improve the economic relationship … how we can assist the economic development of PNG, how we can also cooperate on areas like climate change.”
But China and PNG’s relationship will continue to evolve, given Mr Marape met President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit last November and has been invited to Beijing later this year.
“(It’s) possible a new free trade agreement will be signed – building on the sea export deal signed with China that covers 77 fisheries products,” Mr Laveil said.
Mr Albanese’s visit has also prompted calls for refugees and asylum seekers to not be left behind, with about 90 of the 1000 people taken to Manus Island in 2013 still in PNG.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul said refugees were suffering from a string of health complaints, including severe mental health problems.
“The truth is all of them are in a bad way … all of them need help. Bodies and souls have been destroyed by Australia’s offshore detention policies,” he said.
“Some are waiting for third country resettlement, but some who were accepted for the US have already waited for four years with no idea of when they will eventually be able to get on with their lives.”AAP