What can Papua New Guinea expect from Australia’s new government?


Infrastructure funding aimed at climate change mitigation and a new Pacific Engagement Visa are among the expected initiatives from the new Australian government elected last weekend.

The port of Motukea, outside Port Moresby – one of the ports that will benefit from a A$580 million project funded by Australia to improve PNG’s ports. Credit: PNG Ports

Australia is historically not only Papua New Guinea’s largest trading partner but also its single largest source of foreign investment. It is also PNG’s largest aid donor.

It is therefore worth examining the expected changes to Australian government policies related to the Pacific following the election this week of a new centre-left Australian Labor Party government led by new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Replacing the centre-right Liberal–National Coalition government of Scott Morrison, the advent of the Albanese government, with Senator Penny Wong replacing Marise Payne as Foreign Minister, marks the first change of federal government in Australia since 2013.

New focus

So, what can we expect?

The ALP’s election manifesto promised a ‘comprehensive package of new programs’ aimed at restoring Australia’s place as ‘first partner of choice for our Pacific family’, with foreign policy and security objectives cited as key motivations.

‘The AIFFP is now the “second largest financier in the Pacific”‘

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In practice, this looks likely to see the Albanese government build on the Morrison government’s Pacific Step-Up program, launched in 2016, but with a greater emphasis placed on climate change, development aid and people-to-people engagement.

Election commitments include:

  • a new Australia Pacific Defence School to provide training programs for members of Pacific Island country defence and security forces
  • increased funding for the Pacific Maritime Security Program to help the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency tackle illegal fishing in the Pacific
  • an A$525 million (K1.315 billion) increase in development assistance to Pacific countries over the next four years
  • the creation of a new Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership to support climate-related infrastructure and energy projects in the Pacific. This will be a new stream within the existing A$3.5 billion (K8.77 billion) Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which will be maintained.
  • A bid to co-host a future UN Climate Change Conference with Pacific Island countries
  • the enhancement of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Pacific Labour Scheme, which allow Pacific workers to work in Australia temporarily. This will target 8000 workers annually by 2025.
  • the introduction of a new Pacific Engagement Visa, which would allow for 3000 nationals of Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to work in Australia with permanent residency.

New visa

The ANU’s Stephen Howes  Source: BAI

This last initiative is a ‘very significant development indeed, potentially a game changer,’ according to Stephen Howes of the Australian National University’s Crawford School, who has made a study of Pacific labour mobility schemes.

The new Pacific Engagement Visa will be issued through a lottery process and those granted a visa will be able to apply for jobs in Australia and, notably, bring their families with them permanently.

He told a PNG-focused business event in Australia this week that the program would be targeted mainly at Melanesian countries and that ‘PNG is going to be the big winner.’

‘We will see the Pacific disaspora [in Australia] expand over time … I think it will become much more important than seasonal workers.’

Infrastructure investment

AIFFP’s Rob Jauncey

The continuation of the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific will also be welcomed. The AIFFP is quickly building a sizeable investment portfolio in the Pacific, including the A$580 million (K1.453 billion) investment to upgrade and refurbish selected ports in PNG.

According to its Chief Investment Officer, Rob Jauncey, the AIFFP is now the ‘second largest financier in the Pacific,’ after the Asian Development Bank.

He said this week the AIFFP was looking to mobilise more private sector investment in Pacific infrastructure, with renewable energy a particular focus.

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