Radio – PNG wants a stronger economic relationship with Northern Australia

1 November 2013
Sean Dorney
ABC Radio
Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, is proposing the creation of a special economic zone linking PNG with northern Australia.

Mr O’Neill spoke about the idea when addressing a business lunch in the Queensland capital, Brisbane, yesterday where he also talked about his Government’s willingness to host more asylum seeker processing centres and his Government’s controversial takeover of the Ok Tedi mine.
Australia Network’s Sean Dorney went along to the lunch.
DORNEY: There was a big turnout from the Queensland business community at the $A140 a head lunch at the swank Brisbane Hilton Hotel. Peter O’Neill spoke of Papua New Guinea’s continuing economic growth of between six to eight percent a year. He said while PNG was not yet ready for a complete free trade deal with Australia he had another proposal.
O’NEILL: Clearly the economic development of the northern Australia area opens up unique opportunities to further strengthen the relationship between the two countries. I think it’s important we should consider possibly establishing a Northern Australia/Papua New Guinea Economic Zone.
DORNEY: And he suggested the zone could be powered by a massive hydro electric project on PNG’s Purari River which pours down from the Highlands into Papua New Guinea’s Gulf Province. This has been a project on the books since the 1980s but Mr O’Neill says he wants to turn it into a reality.
O’NEILL: The economic development of northern Australia is going to require a lot of resources and particularly electricity. The Purari Hydro Power Project has been talked about for many, many years. I know there is a consortium led by Origin Energy which has done a lot of work on this matter. Our Government has decided to progress this important project even further. We want to make it happen. We want North Queensland and northern Australia to partner us in this development. The Purari Power Project even at Stage One can deliver up to 2,500 megawatts of affordable, reliable and almost zero carbon emissions energy. If fully developed it can deliver three or four times that capacity. The great advantage about the Purari Project is that the strong river flows are very consistent. Drought is not a factor. That means that the project can deliver more reliable and cheap and clean power in abundance. It can deliver it in an environmentally friendly way.
DORNEY: Mr O’Neill also told the Queensland businessmen that PNG could take more asylum seekers.
O’NEILL: Our Government is absolutely committed to lifting our share of the weight when it comes to addressing regional issues such as trafficking, people trafficking and smuggling. The Manus Detention Centre is being rapidly expanded and if we need to expand it even further or approve the construction of other detention centres around the country we’ll do so if requested by the Australian Government.
DORNEY: After the speech Mr O’Neill was asked how many asylum seekers PNG would take.
O’NEILL: From what I gather the Australian Government is seeking up to three thousand. We are not there yet.
REPORTER: If you were a refugee where would you like to go? Where would you rather be – in Australia or Papua New Guinea?
O’NEILL: In Manus! And those who do not want to be in Manus please come and join us there you don’t know what you’re missing out!
DORNEY: Mr O’Neill defended his Government’s takeover of the Ok Tedi mine. Some of the tables at the Brisbane business lunch were abuzz with tales from PNG that an arrest warrant had been issued for Sir Mekere Morauta, the Prime Minister at the time BHP withdrew from Ok Tedi. Mr O’Neill has been highly critical of Sir Mekere’s role in that and of the PNG Sustainable Development Corporation which has now been stripped of its ownership of the mine. I put the question to Prime Minister O’Neill.
DORNEY: Sir, on Ok Tedi, is it true that there’s an arrest warrant out for Sir Mekere Morauta?
O’NEILL: Absolute nonsense. Absolute nonsense. This is the kind of gossip that people are constructing and putting out to discredit people. As I said we are not in Zimbabwe or somewhere you behave in that manner. We are just taking possession of what is rightfully ours. And that was the original intention. It was gifted to the people of Papua New Guinea and Western Province. So we are just putting it in an entity that truly has been mandated by the people and that’s the Government. Anybody else is not mandated by the people. The Government is mandated by the people to take charge of their affairs.
DORNEY: But you’ve been very critical of Sir Mekere’s role in all this?
O’NEILL: I mean anyone, uh, anyone in his position, of course, has got to make judgements. He has done that when he was Prime Minister. And we are now encouraging all parties to have common sense prevail. Let’s, ah, let’s move it forward.
DORNEY: Nevertheless some of the company representatives at the lunch were quite concerned about the nationalisation of the Ok Tedi mine.
Courtesy of ABC Radio