We asked two of our Emerging Leaders’ Dialogue alumni to give us their insights about sustainable development. This is what we learned…

Participants speaking at the 2013 Australia-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue

What do you understand ‘sustainable development’ to mean in the context of your country?

Justin: ‘Sustainable development’ is an immensely popular term and desirable concept in macro-economic commentary that remains stubbornly resistant to practical application. On occasion, however, one stumbles across evidence of true sustainable development such that the substance of the term can be realised. One such example in Australia is the commercialisation of new technologies in agriculture developed in conjunction with the CSIRO, farmers and private commerce to research, test and implement more efficient ways to produce the food our global population so desperately needs.

Reuben: A standard definition as found in the Oxford Dictionary is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ In the Papua New Guinea context this is discussed in the context of ensuring that the economic benefits of extractive industries can be spread to support development for all. Despite often being labelled as a ‘mountain of gold floating on a sea of oil’ Papua New Guinea has yet to experience the benefits promised by the extractive industries.

What are the opportunities for young people to contribute to sustainable development in your country?

Reuben: It is time now that the young people in Papua New Guinea should look for opportunities such as initiating dialogues and conferences to empower youth participation and sharing information using the information and communication technologies available to create a platform for their voices to be heard. Young people should rediscover themselves as future leaders for tomorrow and recognise that the source of action and responsibility lies with and within each of us. The next step is to think globally and to see humanity as a single moral community lined by mutual responsibility. The youth population of today should be encouraged to participate more actively on this journey.

Justin: Young people in Australia are presented with a fantastic opportunity to engage with each other on the frontier for development. The evidence for sustained economic and social development lies not in pontificating council rooms, but in local men and women participating across the medium of business and commerce. Locally engaged businesses and micro-market transactions build the infrastructure microcosms that intertwine to establish the socio and macroeconomic terms necessary for the brush strokes of sustainable development. A good microcosm of impressive knowledge implementation is the Garvan Institute. The centre, with the strong support of private donation, facilitates young Australian scientists to lead the world with medical breakthroughs.

Participants at the 2014 Australia-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue (Photo: The Lowy Institute for International Policy).

What are the barriers to sustainable development in your country and how can they be overcome?

Justin: The crucial element often overshadowed by machinated Anglo-Saxon political structure is that grassroots-led enterprise represents the foundations of a sustainable development. Research indicates that ‘countries which rely primarily on extractive industries tend to have higher levels of poverty, child morbidity and mortality, civil war, corruption and totalitarianism than those with more diversified economies’ (Dr Emil Salim, Chair of the World Bank funded Extractive Industry Review). However, countries such as Australia with locally engaged commerce coupled to that foreign direct investment are more likely to develop sustainably. An economy largely linked to commodity prices and export of the extractive industries has established sustainable benefits including infrastructure, capital investment and private employment.

Reuben: The lessons of history are cautionary given companies are working with a state and bureaucracy that are rife with corruption. The concerns of landowners have been the casualties of the recent push for investments as a weak regulatory environment makes the corporate social responsibility requirement set by the government more opaque. Another big cause of landowner agitation is the lack of transparency and communication by developers with affected communities. Many landowners in Papua New Guinea are being starved of information and developers are not paying enough attention to the risk this presents. Papua New Guinea needs to develop its own policies and regulations to guide sustainable development.

The ruins of the Panguna mine buildings in Bougainville (photo: Flickr user madlemurs).

What is required from the political leadership of your country to promote sustainable development?

Reuben: According to the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission of Papua New Guinea, it is strongly recommended that the government should look seriously at the environment, health and social impacts of all extractive industries rather than concentrating only on revenue generation. Our political leaders should call on the government of Australia to impose stricter standards on miners’ overseas practices. The Australian government does not seem to mind if the actions of Australian miners lead to the destruction of lives and livelihoods in Papua New Guinea. Our country is ripe with opportunities and our leaders need to ensure that the people who come in to take advantage of them do the right thing by the communities they operate in and the right thing by the government that gives them the licence to do so.

Justin: The government of Australia owes leadership to future generations to impress the importance of infrastructure investment, local employment and community support on commercially successful ventures. The tools used to enact this persuasion should include both the stick and the carrot; financially incentivised grants to those companies who can demonstrate active local investment, minimum locally based worker quotas and punitive taxation on those companies recognised to undermine progress.

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About the Authors

Reuben Mete - Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG - Lowy Institute

Reuben Mete

Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG

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Reuben Mete is the Director of the National Youth Desk of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG). He was recently appointed a Board Member of Praxis Pacific (Ola Fou) – a South Pacific Youth Development Project, and is also the CEO and Founder of the Union of Watut River Communities Association Inc, a community based organization in Bulolo District of Morobe Province that has dealt with mining impacts, environment and community development since 2009.

Reuben represents Papua New Guinea at many regional and international conferences and consultations, including the Mining and Mining Policy Conference in Noumea, New Caledonia (2011), Pacific Conference of Churches 10th General Assembly in Honiara, Solomon Islands (2013), International Youth Leadership Consultation in Germany (2013) and the Inaugural Australia-Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue (2013).

Reuben received a Local Changemaker and Social Entrepreneur award from Spark* International in 2012, for his work as the Director of the social enterprise, Watut River Development Limited. The organisation successfully engages with at-risk and illiterate rural youths from Watut River communities and gives them the opportunity to work building high-quality but affordable water supply and sanitation systems.


Justin Webb - Consultant, BlackRock Australia - Lowy Institute

Justin Webb

Consultant, BlackRock Australia

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Justin Webb is a Consultant for BlackRock Australia and the Chairman and Founder of PacWealth Capital, the first independent full-service wealth advisory and investment firm in Papua New Guinea. He holds an MBA from Saïd Business School, Oxford University and an AB Honors, majoring in economics from Harvard University. He is a former Oxford Union Debating Member and has rowed for Harvard University and Oxford University.