PNG wants to stand on its ‘own two feet’: PM Marape

Dominic Giannini |

Anthony Albanese has welcomed PNG Prime Minister James Marape to Australia for his latest visit.
Anthony Albanese has welcomed PNG Prime Minister James Marape to Australia for his latest visit.

Papua New Guinea must become a strong nation and stand on its own two feet, its prime minister said in a historic address to federal parliament.

James Marape on Thursday became the first Pacific leader to address a joint sitting, lauding the close bonds between the near neighbours and thanking Australian governments and investors for their economic support.

“Papua New Guinea must not continue to be an aid grant-receiving nation, a nation that depends on borrowing every year to survive, we must become a strong country standing on our two feet,” he said.

Anthony Albanese escorted James Marape.
Anthony Albanese escorted James Marape from the House chamber after his address to MPs. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“We’re looking forward to not letting down the aspirations of those who came before us.”

A recently signed bilateral agreement provided a “blueprint” for PNG to become an economically resilient nation.

“A strong economically and powered Papua New Guinea means a stronger and more secure Australia in the Pacific,” Mr Marape said. 

“Contribute where you can and leave the rest to us, we will do our best.”

Mr Marape also used his speech to reflect on the nearly 50 years since PNG was granted independence from Australia in 1975.

“I want to say thank you to the memory of prime minister (Gough) Whitlam for hearing the cries of the founding fathers of Papa New Guinea for our own self-determination,” he said.

Anthony Albanese with James Marape on the floor of the house.
Prime Minister James Marape made history when he spoke to the joint sitting of MPs. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Marape met with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese following his address, where the pair discussed PNG’s economic sustainability and budget repair plans, including its reform program that’s supported by the International Monetary Fund.

The leader-to-leader discussions also spanned policing and regional security.

Mr Marape singled out poverty as one of his nation’s biggest challenges as he tried to boost investment in PNG to make it more economically independent.

“Building a strong economy ensures our domestic security as well as regional security,” he said later in a speech at the Australian National University.

“And in the process, we hope to support Australia in the upkeep of our region.”

Football diplomacy was also thrown into the mix, with Australia extending its program helping create a pathway for high-performance athletes and keeping the PNG Hunters team in the Queensland Cup. 

Australia will also fund a women’s rugby league competition in PNG and support a talent scouting program for them.

“Rugby league is really a vehicle for gender equality in Papua New Guinea,” Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said.

Pat Conroy and James Marape.
Mr Marape was presented with a Maroons NRL jersey by Pat Conroy during a bilateral meeting. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Australia and PNG were close in every sense of the word, Mr Albanese said. 

“We are the nearest of neighbours, the most steadfast and trusted partners, and the very oldest of friends,” he told parliament. 

“Our connection stretches back thousands of years to Torres Strait Islanders and Indigenous traders, weaving together their cultures and communities.”

PNG’s independence from Australia in 1975 was not a gift but a right asserted by its people, Mr Albanese said. 

“It speaks for a universal truth,” he said.

“Every Pacific nation, big and small, has the right to shape its own future and secure its own destiny.”

James Marape inspects a guard of honour.
Mr Marape received a ceremonial welcome when he arrived at Parliament House. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton reflected on the appreciation Australians felt towards their Pacific neighbour after their soldiers fought side by side at Kokoda during World War II.

“To this day, Australians commemorate the tenacity of your soldiers – the bravery of your coast watchers and the compassion of your Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who all helped to turn the tide of the war,” he said.

Mr Marape received a ceremonial welcome and signed the official visitors book at Parliament House before he addressed the joint sitting.

AAP