Debate over the recent RSA agreement between Australia and PNG has resulted in the potential implications for Australia’s bilateral aid program being largely misinterpreted.
On 15 July 2013, during Prime Minister Rudd’s visit to PNG, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said
Today the Prime Minister and I agreed to moving forward many of the programs that we have agreed to so that we can start implementing many of those initiatives that we have initially signed as part of the ongoing programs that we have between the two countries.
And I want to thank the Australian Government for accepting our desire and our suggestion to them that they work together with our government in making sure that we work on the same priorities and the same programs so that we can deliver a meaningful program for our people.
In response, Mr Rudd made the following remarks, which received relatively little coverage in the Australian media:
Our work in these areas is underpinned and informed by the principles established in 2008 in the Port Moresby Declaration I signed then as Prime Minister.
And I remember in particular the decision that we had taken then and sought to implement since then to align the work of the Australian international assistance agency with the development priorities of the Government of Papua New Guinea.
That way we are all rowing in the same direction. That way we’re achieving great outcomes for Papua New Guinea, right across the field.
Specifically today we’ve agreed to bring forward design and scoping work for the Ramu-Madang Highway as well as scoping and design work for the lower court complex in Port Moresby.
On 19 July 2013, Mr Rudd stated
at a joint press conference with the PNG Prime Minister:
Earlier this week in Moresby I agreed with the Prime Minister that we would help PNG in a number of important areas.
The Prime Minister and I have also discussed the important work we can do in the area of health and hospitals.
We've agreed that Australia will now help with the redevelopment of the major referral hospital in Lae and its long term management needs.
We've agreed to fund 50:50 the reform of the Papua New Guinea university sector including next year by implementing the recommendations of the Australia-PNG education review.
We've also agreed to help PNG with the support they have sought in professional management teams in the health, education and law and order portfolios.
These initiatives appear to have been incorrectly interpreted as being new or connected to the resettlement of refugees, as indicated
by one commentator, for example, who concluded:
In return for agreeing to process all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat and resettle those found to be genuine refugees, PNG gained a new package of assistance from Australia directed at health, policing and university education. Mr O'Neill is using this sweetener to counter concerns about the new refugee agreement that has already caused consternation in PNG.
However, in effect, the aid program has simply reaffirmed programs that had already been agreed upon. For example, the Implementation Plan
to the Independent Review of Papua New Guinea's University System (Steering Committee Approved Draft, 12 December 2011) states:
[The] Government of Australia will match any increase in university funding by the Government of Papua New Guinea over 2011 levels on a Kina for Kina basis.
The Plan also includes indicative Australian funding for 2011–15. Priority Outcome 2
of the Schedule to the PNG–Australia Partnership for Development (December 2012) states:
[The] Government of Papua New Guinea will seek assistance from the Government of Australia to rebuild of one of the four priority regional hospitals (for example Lae).
The Schedule also outlines Australia’s contribution (including indicative costings):
Activities under this Schedule are aligned to the NHP [National Health Plan] and the NHS [National Health Strategy]. Both these plans are aligned to the Government of Papua New Guinea’s longer term strategies including its Development Strategic Plan 2010-30, and MTDP. The formulation of both the NHP and NHS occurred in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including provincial, district and local level administrations, non-state health service-providers and development partners.Priority Outcome 4
states that one of its objectives is to:
… support the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) to progress growth, reform and development, with a particular focus on behavioural change, and improved service delivery.
This reordering of aid priorities was confirmed by PNG’s Foreign Minister who was reported
… that delivery had hitherto not been "clearly reflective of the PNG timeframe or of our priorities of health, education and infrastructure. Australia will now come forward with the money quickly…
"We asked them, for instance, to renovate the Angau hospital in Lae, and they said wait. But now it's being brought forward.
"Australia will retain its own financial and regulatory controls over such projects, though."
For further details, see the agreements
recently signed with PNG.