A Breath of Fresh Air

The Prime Minister of our nearest neighbour, the Hon Peter O'Neill, Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea, spoke in Sydney yesterday at the Lowy Institute, with a refreshing candour, an admirable holistic overview of his country's needs and opportunities and a plan for its future.

The theme of Mr O'Neill's speech was 'PNG in the Asian Century' but he ranged much wider in his address and during the following question time. 

We are not accustomed to a political leader willing to concede mistakes and admit problems. PM O'Neill was a breath of fresh air as he spoke of his desire to unite his diverse nation and to provide them with desperately-needed infrastructure so his people can find their share of the region's prosperity. 

He is a quietly spoken man, with an understated strength of character and sense of purpose who has already impressed many with his negotiating ability: he has managed to secure a commitment from his parliament that there will be no motions of no confidence for the next two and half years. Something our PM can only dream about.

In his quiet way, PM O'Neill is seeking a change in the relationship between our countries: he wants an equal partnership and he wants a far greater say in the way our international aid is delievered to his country. In particular, he wants more of the aid spent to improve PNG's roads, ports and other transport infrastructure. There is method in his approach.

Around 80% of PNG's seven million people live in rural areas, with little or no infrastructure. Their future is severely hamstrung by the difficulties in getting their crops to markets or getting all manner of improvements (schools, hospitals, supplies) into their regions.

All those who work in PNG and who wish her well will be looking with interest at the Australian Government's response to PM O'Neill's entreaties.