Topics: PNG Prime Minister Marape visit to Australia; 

08:43AM AEDT
8 February 2024


Simon Birmingham: Australia has in many ways no more unique and special relationship than it with Papua New Guinea, a country where we’ve been intertwined throughout our modern histories and, of course, have ancient histories of engagement as well. This is a very historic day to see the Prime Minister of a Pacific nation addressing the Australian Parliament. It’s a big day for Australia and Papua New Guinea relations as well. We have much to be proud of in our cooperation as nations, but an awful lot still to do. It’s imperative we see further steps forward in security cooperation, but also in areas of economic and social cooperation that can help achieve further development progress and best possible outcomes for people in PNG and Australia.


Journalist: Should we be concerned about [inaudible]?


Simon Birmingham: We should be concerned to ensure that all Pacific Island nations and all nations across our region act in ways that respect and protect their sovereignty, their independence. Australia’s approach to engaging with nations like PNG is all about ensuring they are in charge of their security, they are in charge of their development, they are in charge of their sovereignty, and that is the best way to protect their rights in the future.


Journalist: Is this [inaudible]?


Simon Birmingham: No, I think Australia has a continuum of very strong and deep engagement with Pacific Island nations. I have no doubt that what we will hear from Prime Minister Marape today is an acknowledgement of the nation building role Australia played in Papua New Guinea, the support that Australia has played at critical junctures in helping New Guinea’s history, including through times such as Covid-19, including through critical support for infrastructure such as investment in their telecommunications network, including through a range of other investment partnerships that help to drive health, education and economic outcomes for Papua New Guineans. These are all big, big steps that have been made and flow very much from one government to another.


Journalist: Can you acknowledge that the relationship has come a long way under Labor?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think that it is a wonderful day to see Prime Minister Marape addressing the Australian Parliament, just as it was great to see Australia step up and work with Papua New Guinea and its Covid response, in response to telecommunications infrastructure and ownership in Papua New Guinea. Just as a couple of examples of close pieces of integration that occurred under the Morrison government, where the Australia-Papua New Guinea Strategic and Economic Partnership was signed and entered into between those two governments. So, each government builds upon the steps of the other, and that is what is effective and must be most effective about our foreign policy.


Journalist: Does the government need to take a tougher stance on China? Obviously, it’s looking to influence [inaudible] PNG, but we’ve also seen the detention of Doctor Yang Hengjun, the sentencing of him earlier this week and today, a Five Eyes report reporting that PRC state sponsored actors could be working to compromise Australian and other allied intelligence systems. Is the government’s approach strong enough at this time?


Simon Birmingham: The government needs to be crystal clear with China about Australia’s concerns for Doctor Yang, for any realms of interference, political, cyber or otherwise, in our democracy and our systems of our economy and our governance. We need to make sure that we are willing to step up and speak up about those concerns. One of the most troubling things, late last year, was when Prime Minister Albanese failed to stand up for our defence personnel when they were put under threat by China’s military operations. So, it is critical that we take strong, clear stances in relation to the threats and challenges China poses whilst seeking to advance our diplomatic relations and pursue the type of economic trade that can enhance people-to-people links, which are links that are only threatened and undermined by some of China’s decisions, such as the sentencing of Doctor Yang. Thanks, guys.