The MV Pacific Link in Townsville with YWAM Townsville staff. Photo: Townsville Bulletin
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.

The City Council of Townsville and the National Capital District Commission (NCDC) of Port Moresby signed their sister city agreement in 1983. It is the oldest of the six sister city agreements Townsville now has in place. The PNG community in North Queensland is substantial and active, particularly in Townsville and Cairns. Many are now permanent residents originally from PNG but there are also a large number of PNG nationals in the region on a temporary basis to take advantage of business, sport, education and training opportunities.

Port Moresby is even closer to Townsville than Brisbane. Over $500 million in two-way trade now travels between Townsville and Port Moresby every year. More than 60 Townsville-based organisations have business connections with PNG; many of them long term operations in Port Moresby. Townsville’s Port makes it the gateway of good going between PNG and Australia. As a result of these important business connections the two cities Chambers of Commerce have a close relationship, spanning the 30 years of the sister city agreement.

The Townsville Chamber of Commerce received the PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in June 2013. On his visit he encouraged continued business connections and said that there was still untapped potential for joint ventures between Australian and PNG businesses in his country.  The Townsville City Council, Chamber of Commerce and business representatives then returned the favour by visiting Port Moresby in July to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the sister city relationship.

The Ports of the cities also share links and benefit from the sister city relationship. In September of last year a delegation from PNG Ports visited the Port of Townsville and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to share information and skills. Another important connection between the two cities, facilitated by the Ports connections, is the YWAM medical ship, MV Pacific Link. YWAM is a global Christian not-for-profit that runs the MV Pacific Link initiative from Australia, where the ship is based in Townsville. Since 2010 the MV Pacific Link has spent 6 months of every year in PNG providing free health services to Papua New Guineans and opportunities for young Australians to learn new skills. More than $40,000 was raised at an August 8 fundraising event for the YWAM medical ship program. The money will go towards refitting the MV Ammari, which will take over from the MV Pacific Link in the future.

Capacity building initiatives have also been conducted under the umbrella of the sister city agreement. Namely, Project Hetura, instigated by the Townsville City Council to increase capacity in Moresby’s NCDC to deliver community services and improve levels of management and planning. The Project ran from 2002 to 2012, with funding from the Australian Government and in-kind support from members of the Townsville City Council. The Project’s approach was founded on a partnership between the members of the two city councils and a relationship of trust and good-will.  Susan Gheller, who coordinated the project from 2008-2012, said that, “all participants benefit from the opportunity to develop coaching, cross-cultural communication and problem-solving skills.” The two councils maintain regular contact despite the completion of the Project and last year members of the NCDC travelled to Townsville and other parts of North Queensland on a technical study tour into waste management. The collaborative work done on waste management was significant in shaping the National Capital District Waste Policy, the first waste policy in PNG.

The Townsville-based rugby league team the North Queensland Cowboys are also a key part of the sister city relationship between Port Moresby and Townsville. Rugby League is hugely popular in PNG, with the PM Peter O’Neill commenting he thought the Cowboys Jonathon Thurston would beat him if were to run against him in an election. The Cowboys support the YWAM medical ship program in PNG and with their help were able to expand their Boots for the Bush campaign to include PNG.

All of these projects demonstrate the strong connections that exist between Townsville and Port Moresby. The sister city agreement has allowed for thirty years of exchange in business, governance, culture and sport.

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

Anna Kirk

Project Director, Aus-PNG Network

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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.