PNG PM calls for easier Australian visa access
Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has told Julia Gillard that easier visa access for his citizens will go a long way in improving his country’s relationship with Australia.
Peter O’Neill made the comments at a state dinner for the Australian Prime Minister, who is in Port Moresby on her first official visit to the nation.
But Mr O’Neill has his own agenda. He says while the bilateral relationship is in good shape, if Australia wants improvements, it should make it easier for Papua New Guineans to travel there.
“Our people find existing visa arrangements very frustrating,” he said. “Some regard them as insulting.”
Addressing Ms Gillard, he said: “Prime Minister I’m aware that citizens of around 40 countries can access what is known as the ETA visa, which enables them swift access for their trips to Australia.
“Unfortunately your closest neighbour, your best friend, is not one of the 40 countries on that list.”
In the past, the main focus of the relationship has been Australia’s large foreign aid program in PNG.
Mr O’Neill says while Papua New Guineans are genuinely grateful, he would like to see it more closely aligned with his government’s development priorities.
“Particularly the infrastructure that promotes genuine regional economic development and lifts productivity,” he added.
It was a forthright speech from a leader who wants PNG to play a bigger role in the Pacific.
Ms Gillard told the gathering Australia wants PNG to take on that role.
“Here Australians see a nation, a nation showing leadership in the Pacific, encouraging Fiji back onto the path of democracy, fighting the scourge of people smuggling,” Ms Gillard said.
However she also highlighted the domestic issues PNG has to deal with in order to gain a greater international profile.
“In security, especially for women who endure unacceptable levels of violence, in health where levels of maternal mortality remain worryingly high.”
The two leaders will hold a formal meeting later today, during which they will almost certainly discuss processing centre for asylum seekers on Manus Island where both leaders want a permanent facility built.
After the meeting, Ms Gillard and Mr O’Neill are expected to sign a joint declaration for a new Papua New Guinea-Australia relationship.