There are sister-city relationships between cities all over the world and some of them have been in place for hundreds of years. The main purpose of a sister-city agreement is to foster networks of communication across countries and enhance economic ties. They also provide avenues for cultural exchange and education. In Australia, there are three cities that have sister relationships with cities in Papua New Guinea; Townsville and Port Moresby, Cairns and Lae and Orange and Mount Hagen. These agreements are one aspect of the deep links between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Lae. Photo: Destination PNG

Just as Townsville and Port Moresby benefit from a close Sister City relationship, so to do Cairns and Lae. Their Sister City agreement, signed in 1984, has strengthened the already extensive links between the two cities. Cairns shares Sister City bonds with seven cities. In the lead up to National Sister Cities Day on 5 July 2014, the Mayor of Cairns, Bob Manning, said that “all of Cairns’ sister cities relationships help to strengthen international business opportunities, cultural awareness and friendship.”

The relationship between Cairns and Lae is especially important because Cairns is home to such a large and active PNG community. In fact, Papua New Guineans make up the largest migrant population in Cairns, with a permanent and temporary population of around 5000. As with Townsville, the proximity of Cairns in North Queensland to PNG has helped it take advantage of its relationship with Lae in particular and PNG in general. The PNG community in Cairns is very active, connecting through community and student groups like the PNG Wantoks Association. Many are students taking part in programs at the Cairns TAFE, which has staff travelling to PNG regularly. More than 600 students were able to complete their studies at TAFE thanks to the Papua New Guinea Technical Vocational Education and Training Skills Scholarship Program. TAFE QLD in partnership with the PNG Office of Higher Education began the program in 2011 to fill gaps in the PNG labour market by upskilling PNG nationals.

Cairns. Photo: Flickr/John (Shebalso)

Another central component of the Cairns-PNG connection is business. In April 2013 the Cairns Chamber of Commerce led a delegation to PNG to foster business connections. Members of the respective local governments used this visit as an opportunity to revitalise the Sister City relationship. The Cairns Chamber of Commerce looks set to make the trip to PNG again from 5-9 October this year, leading another business delegation to Lae and Port Moresby. The local business organisation, Cairns-PNG Tradelinked, plays an active role in connecting businesses in Cairns and PNG, hosting monthly networking events in Cairns and Port Moresby. Advance Cairns, the peak regional economic organisations for Tropical North Queensland, has also been involved in spreading awareness about the opportunities for Australian businesses in PNG and promoting business links between Cairns and PNG. In May this year, the Australia PNG Business Forum was held in Cairns. The Cairns Regional Council took advantage of the chance to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Cairns-Lae Sister City agreement in conjunction with the forum.

The Lae City Authority has also benefitted from the Sister City agreement through training opportunities. When the two cities renewed the bonds of the Sister City agreement last year a Memorandum of Understanding was signed, which will see the Cairns Regional Council assist the Lae local Government to improve infrastructure, disaster response and management, waste management and environmental monitoring. Members of the Lae local government visited Cairns for a reciprocal visit and were able to learn how the Cairns Regional Council operates. Cairns also afforded women from the Morobe Provincial Council the chance to gain knowledge on issues such as women’s shelters, child abuse and family planning when they visited the city.

There are also strong and growing cultural links between these two cities. Artists from Lae have been able to show their work in Cairns, alongside local and international artists. Exhibitions include the 2008 ‘Earth Links’ ceramic exhibition, 2009 ‘Face of a Sister City’ photography exhibition and the 2010 ‘Fibres of Life’ exhibition, which displayed works such as weaving, basketry and bark cloths. National Sister Cities Day is celebrated annually in Cairns. It includes performances and displays from the different cultures represented by Cairns seven Sister City agreements. In this way the people of Cairns can experience some of the rich cultural heritage of Lae and Papua New Guinea.

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Anna Kirk - Project Director, Aus-PNG Network - Lowy Institute

Anna Kirk

Project Director, Aus-PNG Network

Anna Kirk was Research Fellow and Project Director of the Aus-PNG Network at the Lowy Institute, where her work focused on Australia’s relations with Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. Anna holds a Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Queensland, with majors in Peace and Conflict Studies and Spanish. Anna grew up in Port Vila, Vanuatu. During her undergraduate degree she spent a semester studying Spanish language at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. In 2013, Anna spent six months teaching English in Santiago, Chile.