PM Marape emphasises ‘family ties’ with Australia

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, made history by addressing Australia’s parliament in Canberra on 8 February, marking the first occasion a leader from a Pacific Island nation has done so. Marape’s speech underscored the deep-rooted ties between Papua New Guinea and Australia, characterising the latter as Papua New Guinea’s “big brother” and emphasising the familial nature of their relationship. The visit comes at a critical juncture as Papua New Guinea grapples with internal unrest that resulted in violent incidents and 16 deaths in capital Port Moresby in January.

The backdrop of Marape’s visit is further complicated by the broader geopolitical landscape, with Australia and China engaged in a diplomatic race for influence in the Pacific region. While Marape refrained from explicitly mentioning China in his speech, the implications of regional power dynamics loomed large, highlighting the delicate balance of interests at play.

Amidst these challenges, Marape’s address also served as an opportunity to reaffirm Papua New Guinea’s longstanding partnership with Australia. He expressed gratitude for Australia’s support, particularly in times of crisis, and called for continued collaboration in addressing shared challenges and promoting regional stability.

Peter Dutton, Australia’s Opposition Leader, echoed sentiments of cooperation and mutual respect in his welcoming remarks for Marape. He underscored the importance of sovereignty and autonomy for Pacific Island nations, implicitly cautioning against external interference.

Central to discussions between the two leaders was Australia’s role as PNG’s largest donor of foreign aid. Australia has provided crucial financial assistance to Papua New Guinea, including a notable $650 million loan granted in 2021 to alleviate a budget shortfall exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Albanese, in his speech welcoming Mr. Marape, emphasised Australia’s commitment to supporting PNG’s future, highlighting a recent $200 million security agreement signed in December aimed at bolstering Papua New Guinea’s security infrastructure.

Beyond financial aid, both nations expressed a shared commitment to cooperation in various sectors, including security, development, and regional diplomacy. The signing of the $200 million security agreement represents a tangible manifestation of this commitment, signalling a deeper partnership between Australia and Papua New Guinea in addressing common challenges and fostering mutual prosperity.

Australia is Papua New Guinea’s biggest trade partner with bilateral trade of over $6 billion in 2020 and also a major investor, with investment valued at around $24.8 billion in 2021.

Marape’s historic address to Australia’s parliament underscored the enduring partnership between the two nations, rooted in shared history, mutual respect, and common interests.