Interview: Ties between Cairns and Papua New Guinea growing, says Charlton


The Chairman of Advance Cairns, Cam Charlton, explains why the commercial ties between Cairns and Papua New Guinea are going from strength to strength.

Corporate headshots of Advance Cairns Board Members, 22 May 2012.

Advance Cairns’ Cam Charlton

Business Advantage PNG (BAPNG): How would you describe the relationship that PNG has with Cairns?

Cam Charlton (CC): There is a very widespread ignorance within Papua New Guinea of Cairns.  Having said that, there is a large Papua New Guinean community in Cairns.  Many Papua New Guinean nationals and indeed expatriates living in Papua New Guinea base their families in Cairns, and they commute.

So there is a very strong knowledge within part of the community, but then there is a very large part of the community that has no knowledge. So we have embarked upon some promotional campaigns to get Cairns better recognised, and its competencies and supply capacities better recognised within Papua New Guinea.

BAPNG: Cairns does seem ideally-placed to assist PNG’s rapidly-growing yet under-serviced economy. Just what kinds of commercial ties do exist at present?

CC: Cairns supplies provisions (for instance, for mining camp catering), business services, technical expertise and educational/vocational training services. James Cook University has MOUs with several PNG counterparts and Tropical North Queensland TAFE conducts courses in PNG.

‘We are looking to better position ourselves within the marketplace of Papua New Guinea as a natural supply hub.’

We’ve noticed demand from PNG rising recently not just due to the PNG LNG project, but the fact that so many Papua New Guineans now have mobile phones and have become consumers in their own right.

Another area we have identified are the back office functions for resource exploration companies. Chevron was here in this capacity in the 1990s and now InterOil and Exxon have a presence here.

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So we are looking to better position ourselves within the marketplace of Papua New Guinea as a natural supply hub, and with competencies to have a supply chain into Port Moresby out of here.


BAPNG: Many travelling to PNG by air do so via Cairns, but I understand you would like to see them able to pre-clear PNG customs, quarantine and immigration before they leave Cairns?

CC: At the moment, you have to travel via Port Moresby regardless of where in PNG you want to go.  So there’s the time that takes to get there and transit, and there’s the incremental costs, which sometimes include accommodation.  If you could take care of necessary formalities in Cairns then by the time you’ve hopped on the aeroplane, you’re essentially on a domestic service into Papua New Guinea.

I can see very real benefits both ways. With the mining community particularly, there would be general economic benefit for them to be able to deliver their people on charters and direct to mining sites, and equally for bankers who are flying around the country all the time.

Of course, direct flights from Cairns to places like Alotau, Kavieng or Madang would also open up PNG’s tourism industry.

I could also see some of our very experienced tourism operators from Far North Queensland looking at establishing some regional operations within Papua New Guinea.

We’ve had promising discussions on this topic at a political level. I believe the political will is there but it will also need the will within the bureaucracies.

BAPNG: As the peak regional advocacy and economic development organisation for Tropical North Queensland, Advance Cairns has a wide remit but I believe you have a personal interest in PNG?

CC: I lived in PNG through the late seventies and early eighties then I came to live here in 1984. Ever since then, I’ve been pushing the strategic significance of Cairns to Papua New Guinea for the benefit of Cairns, but equally for the benefit of Papua New Guinea.

In the past, the Cairns community was reasonably ignorant of Papua New Guinea and no amount of effort could generate too much excitement. As a result, there are a lot of people here who’ve done business in Papua New Guinea who just keep on doing business with Papua New Guinea but there’s never really been a strong regional push.

I think that push has finally started to gain momentum over the last couple of years.