Aid and Manus Island on the agenda at the PNG-Australia Joint Ministerial Forum

11/10/2011 16:21


Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill flew into Canberra this afternoon for talks with Australian aid and the Manus Island asylum seekers processing centre on the agenda.

His visit follows a tumultuous two months in PNG politics, culminating with the toppling of the Somare government and his subsequent election as Prime Minister, as well as the controversial disqualification of veteran MP and former PM Sir Michael Somare as a politician.  

The legitimacy of his government’s August 2 election is also before the PNG Supreme Court, proceedings that Canberra will be conscious of when Mr O’Neill and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard go behind closed doors for the PNG-Australia Joint Ministerial Forum.

Australia’s AU$482.3 million aid program with PNG and the Manus Island asylum seeker processing centre will be discussed when the two sides meet. Charles Lepani, PNG’s high commissioner to Australia, reportedly said the PNG government was ready to discuss the offshore processing proposal with Australia.

Mr O’Neill’s rise to power could not have come at a better time with PNG enjoying positive economic growth over five consecutive years. The economy this year is expected to grow by 8 per cent, estimates he announced when he was treasurer in the deposed Somare government.

He attributed the growth to high global commodity prices with the upping of the tempo in the US$16 billion PNG LNG Project's construction phase again expected to play a key role in this year’s economic growth projections.

Despite the burgeoning economy, PNG’s social indicators rank amongst the worst in the Asia Pacific region, embarrassing statistics that Mr O'Neill referred to in a speech last month to mark PNG’s 36 years of independence.

The PNG PM will also visit the Australian War Memorial to lay a wreath and be a guest at a reception hosted by the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial Society.

He will present AU$100,000 to the society as the PNG government’s contribution to the building of a sculpture in memory of 1053 Australian POWs, who perished on board Japanese troop carrier Montevideo Maru in July 1942 when it was torpedoed by an American submarine.

The Australian National University (ANU) will also play host to the PNG PM on October 12 when he calls into the Crawford School of Economics and Government to give a lecture titled “Revitalising Papua New Guinea-Australia Relations”.