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2018 Emerging Leaders Dialogue

The Lowy Institute hosted the sixth annual Australia–Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue from 4 to 6 December 2018 in Cairns, Australia.

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The Lowy Institute hosted the sixth annual Australia–Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue from 4 to 6 December 2018 in Cairns, Australia. The Dialogue is the flagship event of the Australia–Papua New Guinea Network, a project of the Lowy Institute to build stronger connections between Australia and PNG. The project is supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Dialogue reflects the importance of the Australia–PNG relationship. It brings together 20 emerging leaders from both countries to discuss common challenges and issues and to form new professional connections.

The 2018 Dialogue was held in Cairns shortly after PNG hosted the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Port Moresby. This was the first time the Dialogue has been held outside a capital city in either country. Cairns is closely connected to PNG, with direct air links to the country and a large resident Papua New Guinean population. There are also strong links between PNG and Cairns through business, government and community connections.

The 2018 Dialogue looked at PNG’s time on the global stage as the host of APEC 2018, and also considered whether hoped-for opportunities in tourism have been realised. The participants also discussed the current state of the PNG–Australia relationship, including recent initiatives led by Australia alongside increased interest in the Pacific region by non‑traditional development partners such as China.

Discussions were broadly focused on:

  • Contemporary PNG–Australia relations
  • People-to-people links
  • Tourism
  • Economic development
  • Politics and civil society

Participants developed a number of recommendations, summarised below, with the goal of improving links between the two countries and reflecting their perspectives on relevant public policy issues. Following the recommendations is a summary of discussions held in each session. Notes have been provided on a non-attributable basis.

The Dialogue was chaired by Alcinda Trawen, Director of Policy and Planning at the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority, and Shane McLeod, Project Director of the Aus-PNG Network at the Lowy Institute.

Shane McLeod Jonathan Pryke, Director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, contributed to the compilation of this report.

The Lowy Institute acknowledges the continuing support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the Australia–Papua New Guinea Network.



  • Congratulate PNG on the successful hosting of the 2018 APEC summit, and note the contribution of Australia in supporting that successful outcome.
  • Establish a ‘legacy’ committee to maintain and build on the human capital and capacity developed as a result of PNG’s hosting of APEC. This committee should, among other things:
    • Develop plans for the best use of APEC infrastructure and assets on behalf of the PNG community.
    • Recommend strategies to build on the human capital developed in the course of hosting APEC.
    • Quickly implement a public engagement strategy to recognise the shared community experience of hosting the summit and to communicate positive messages about the event’s success.
    • Report to the community on the funding spent and the achievements of the summit, including agreements, MOUs and other bilateral outcomes.
    • Ensure follow-up and implementation of all bilateral commitments made on the sidelines of the 2018 APEC summit.

2. Tourism

  • Recognise opportunities for tourism to foster economic empowerment and act as a catalyst for development. In particular, look at agritourism development opportunities.
  • Make use of the new Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) to develop a cohort of tourism and hospitality skilled workers in PNG. Make the development of the PNG tourism industry one of the goals of the scheme and encourage Australian Indigenous-owned businesses to affiliate with and recruit through the PLS.
  • Foster learning from other Pacific and Australian examples of tourism product development, including craft production and retail (e.g. markets), and the cruising tourism industry.
  • Find ways to connect Papua New Guinean community tourism proponents with Australian Indigenous business operators to share knowledge and models to foster the community tourism and hospitality industry in PNG.
  • Create linkages to share best practices in ethics, conduct, human resources, and protection of intellectual and cultural property.

3. Business

  • Mandate social impact strategies for foreign investment proposals.
  • Foster exchange and linkages between people from both countries in areas of weakness including business-to-business links outside of NGO/community/political relationships.
  • Facilitate high-level discussions between Australian and Papua New Guinean business groups to discuss elimination of barriers and obstacles to closer business cooperation.
  • Enable business to develop mixed Australia–PNG consulting teams.
  • Incentivise companies from Australia and PNG to develop mixed teams for technical skills consulting and sustainable business relationships.
  • Encourage regional partnerships (e.g. between Queensland and PNG provinces and regional centres) in both the public and private sectors for production and trade in goods and services.
  • Provide financial support to the Young Chamber of Commerce in Port Moresby and promote partnerships between chambers in Australia and PNG.

4. Education

  • Expand scholarship and exchange programs to provide opportunities in agriculture, trade and technical skills, and teaching.
  • Support efforts to develop skills in-country through train-the-trainer and curriculum development programs throughout the education system, including online.
  • Foster greater connections that support traineeships and skills development in agriculture (e.g. Didiman ‘young farmers’ program).

5. Migration

  • Work to improve migration processes between both countries. Look towards visa-free or visa-on-arrival immigration processes and closer immigration integration between PNG and Australia.
  • Expand the proposed Pacific–Australia migration card program to include young and emerging business leaders and entrepreneurs.
  • Address the high cost of dual citizenship processes in both countries.
  • Streamline dual citizenship processes for citizens of the two countries given the historical links and connection.

6. People-to-people links

  • Encourage Australian media outlets to invest in a presence in PNG.
  • Foster exchange programs to facilitate better understanding of PNG by prominent Australian journalists.
  • Renew sister city relationships and support meaningful exchanges that engage all sectors (beyond local government) within pairings.
  • Establish annual dialogue and exchange between elected officials from both countries, at all levels of government.
  • Support improved language in referring to the PNG–Australia relationship to make the relationship one of equality and respect, rather than dependence (e.g. ‘neighbourhood’ instead of ‘backyard’).
  • Recognise the value of having a PNG rugby league team in the Australian NRL competition, and support efforts to bring this to fruition.

7. Governance

  • Identify proceeds of corrupt activity flowing into Australia and prioritise law enforcement response.
  • Australia should provide support and expertise to build a new anti-corruption agency in PNG, and review and increase support for existing organisations that support anti-corruption efforts.
  • Australia should provide support for PNG during evaluation and design of electoral reforms.
  • Existing policing support programs should be refocused to support the development and training of new recruits.
  • Opportunities should be provided for Australian public servants to work within PNG departments, and vice versa, with the aim of capacity building and enhancing people-to-people links.

Summary of key discussion areas

Australia and Papua New Guinea share a bilateral relationship that is enduring, complex, and extraordinarily important for both nations. It is a relationship built on the foundation of our shared history but today extends from economics, politics and security to culture and sport.


Discussions at the Dialogue opened with a summary of the state of the Australia–Papua New Guinea relationship. There had been a number of significant announcements in the lead-up to the 2018 APEC Leaders’ Summit, which garnered considerable attention worldwide.

The view was expressed that Papua New Guinea had been successful as the host of the major world event. The contribution of Australia as one of PNG’s supporters in hosting the event contributed to this success.

APEC was also a success as a capacity-building and people development opportunity. In particular, it built people-to-people links within the PNG public sector, between public sector agencies and private providers, and between everyday Papua New Guineans who were involved in hosting the event as volunteers, as suppliers and service providers, or as APEC officials. The experience of being part of the event was particularly important for young Papua New Guineans who had not been able to be part of such a major event previously. Participants remarked on a feeling of national pride.

Some participants expressed concern at the diversion of government resources to host the event, and remarked upon challenges in other areas of government service delivery — notably health and education — as a result of limited PNG government financial resources. This was particularly acute in areas outside Port Moresby, which have seen little impact or benefit from the experience of hosting APEC. Participants commented on the need for the majority rural population in PNG to be considered and their voices heard in discussions about major events.

Participants highlighted Australia’s hosting of the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 as an example of a similar experience of initial negativity, followed by pride in the success of hosting the event. Some participants noted the efforts made in Australia after the Sydney games to build on the shared experience of organisers and volunteers and to utilise the capacity for other events. Participants agreed there should be a similar effort in post-APEC PNG.

There was discussion of the opportunity of major events such as APEC to highlight the work of small and medium enterprises, which make up the majority of economic activity among everyday people in PNG.

The outcome of the APEC summit was also considered. Despite the efforts of PNG as host, for the first time in the summit’s history leaders failed to agree on a final communiqué. This inability of world leaders to come to a consensus outcome should not be seen as a negative reflection on the capacity of PNG as event host, and instead should reflect the reality of geopolitics where major powers (notably China and the United States) were unlikely to come to a negotiated agreement at a multilateral event.


As part of the Dialogue, participants were able to undertake visits to tourism sites around Far North Queensland, including a tour of the Mossman Gorge and discussions with staff at the Mossman Gorge Centre, and a visit to the Cairns Aquarium for a briefing from the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. A short presentation by the Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours group during the Dialogue also provided perspectives on community-based and cultural/environmental tourism.

Participants with experience in the Far North Queensland tourism market outlined recent trends in the region’s tourism, with a big focus on inbound tourism from China. Remarks were made about the future direction of tourism in Far North Queensland. Those discussions included consideration of a potential change in promotional focus away from mass-market tourism towards a higher-value offering as a ‘premium’ tourism experience.

Note was made of Cairns as a significant destination within the Australian market, with the city’s airport the fifth busiest in the country. The FNQ experience showed tourism had been able to grow exponentially, building on the large numbers of international tourists visiting from China. Interestingly, despite Cairns having an international airport, many tourists travel domestically to Cairns having arrived in Australia through other ports. Comment was made that the Far North’s tourism strategies are sometimes constrained by national-level tourism strategies.

There was discussion of some of the challenges faced by PNG in considering development of its tourism resources. These challenges can include issues around cultural property and artefacts, in particular questions about who holds the rights to these assets, and the appropriate way to develop tourism products based on these assets. Comment was made about some of the examples of where this has not gone well. One example was recent civil unrest in Bougainville because of exploitation of important cultural symbols on retail products.

A question was raised about whether PNG can and should aim to be a mass-market tourism destination, or target a higher-value niche market. Data about PNG’s tourism industry was discussed, highlighting the strong proportion of tourists originating from Australia. There was also discussion that many of the negative perceptions of PNG are also sourced from Australia.

On the question of the ambition for PNG’s tourism industry, concern was expressed that some forms of tourism may not be positive. For example, while Bali is a major international destination and has a lucrative tourism industry it also suffers from the environmental and social impact of a dramatic upscaling of tourism. Comment was also made that the expectations of tourists who visit PNG may not be compatible with the PNG experience.

Mention was made of the opportunity to develop tourism based on agriculture. Examples were given of rural and regional areas in Australia that have been able to build tourism experiences around the food and wine industry. PNG has coffee and other ‘in-demand’ products that could drive engagement economically. There would also be opportunity to use these industries to showcase cultural and environmental assets as potential tourism products. Remarks were made that there had been some efforts on this front during APEC to showcase local food and produce to delegates.

There was discussion of the issue of safety for tourists amid perceptions of crime in PNG. There was commentary that this was a problem that particularly affects the Australian market, and is based on generally negative perceptions about safety in PNG among Australians. There was mention of some community-based efforts to deal with this concern including through policing initiatives that empower communities to deal with law and order in tourism hotspots.

There was discussion of the endurance of negative perceptions of PNG in Australia, and a need for Australians who spend time in PNG to be encouraged to focus more on positive experiences and away from an unnecessary focus on negatives. Participants commented on the tendency of some Australians to display one-upmanship when commenting on PNG, trying to make themselves appear more brave or experienced.

Participants remarked on experiences in developing tourism in some ‘poor reputation’ areas of Australia, and how success in this area had required sustained hard work to overcome negative sentiment. There were similar experiences highlighted for other countries such as Chile with limited or no reputation in international tourism markets.

There was discussion about legal structures to empower community-based tourism. The tour of Mossman Gorge demonstrated approaches that have worked in Australia where issues of land ownership continue to interact with the development of native title law. Remarks were made about the need to ensure community ownership structures were effective in PNG — incorporated landowner groups may be a legal structure that is most effective for potential projects, and while laws exist to support this approach they have been implemented to only a limited extent. There was consideration of the training and development opportunities that effective tourism operations can bring, in line with the operations of the Mossman Gorge Centre.

Related to this discussion was consideration of the importance of ensuring women are empowered as part of the development of tourism in community projects in PNG. Tourism does not always bring good results and can lead to issues with domestic violence. There was also discussion of the limited understanding that many people in PNG can have about what tourism means and the wealth of experiences available to be developed for tourism, including wartime history in the New Guinea Islands region, hiking, and walking tours.

Finally, there was recognition that successful tourism requires all levels of society to work together: this includes governments, communities and business.

Contemporary PNG–Australia relationships

Participants considered the current focus on the Australia–PNG relationship at the government-to-government level with significant recent announcements from Australia showing a determination to put more focus on the relationship. These announcements have included new partnerships on electricity infrastructure, military development of the Manus naval base, and educational partnerships.

Some participants commented on the focus of discussions on the government and diplomatic relationship at the expense of potential people-to-people and business-related links. There was the suggestion that a greater focus on business links would lead to longer-term connections with fruitful outcomes for both countries.

The experience of APEC and Australia’s support for it shows a pathway to a more mature relationship. There also needs to be a more sophisticated way to build on this experience in both countries in other areas of collaboration, for example in cross-border projects where Australian managers and consultants working with PNG teams look for ways to share their knowledge and experience.

A summary of the current state of the Australia–PNG relationship included assessment of some of the business investment links, but also the overall decline in the relative importance of Australia’s traditional development assistance (aid) relationship with PNG.

There was a view among some participants that the relationship needed to move beyond one seen through the context of aid and development assistance to a more mature relationship. With that in mind, participants suggested looking for ways to build relationships beyond the donor-recipient model, and to look for more mature ways to develop the relationship.

Participants were determined to use the opportunity of participating in the Dialogue to leverage their personal connections to ensure continued relationships. With that in mind, they advocated using existing networks and linkages to continue discussions and connections beyond the experience of the Dialogue to ensure strong relationships in future.

Contributors and observers

Alcinda Trawen – Co-convenor

Alcinda Trawen is the Director of Policy and Planning at the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority. She holds a Bachelor of Tourism from the University of Otago, New Zealand, as well as a Master of Tourism from James Cook University and a Master of Planning from the University of Otago. Her main interests lie in community planning and participation, especially in enabling communities’ involvement in tourism planning and product development.

Shane McLeod – Co-convenor

Shane McLeod is a Research Associate and Project Director of the Lowy Institute’s Aus-PNG Network. Before joining the Institute, he was a senior editor at ABC News in roles where he managed its Sydney newsroom and the flagship radio programs AMThe World Today, and PM. He is a former foreign correspondent with postings in Japan and Papua New Guinea, as well as reporting assignments throughout the Asia-Pacific region. He has a Bachelor of Business from Queensland University of Technology and a Masters in Legal Studies from the University of Technology Sydney.

Jonathan Pryke – Contributor

Jonathan Pryke is Director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program. Prior to joining the Lowy Institute Jonathan was a Research Officer at the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University where, on top of his research obligations, he was editor of the Development Policy Blog and a co-convener of the Australasian Aid Conference. Jonathan is interested in economic development in the Pacific Islands region, Australia’s relationship with Melanesia, the role of aid and the private sector in Pacific Islands development and Pacific labour mobility. Jonathan holds a Bachelor of Commerce from The University of Sydney, a Masters of Public Policy (Development Policy), Masters of Diplomacy and Graduate Diploma in International and Development Economics from the Australian National University.

Lyn Leger – Observer and Advisory Council member

Lyn Léger is a Principal Environmental Consultant at BMT. She has over 18 years’ experience and a background in environmental science, management and law. Lyn was previously an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development in Papua New Guinea, where she worked with the Milne Bay Community-Based Coastal and Marine Conservation Project. She has extensive professional experience as an environmental consultant in Papua New Guinea, where she has worked with a variety of government and industry groups.

Sean Dorney – Observer and Advisory Council member

Sean Dorney is a Walkley-award winning journalist and Nonresident fellow with the Lowy Institute in Sydney. He is well known for his many years covering Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific as correspondent for ABC News. Sean was both deported by and awarded by the Papua New Guinean Government, receiving an MBE and Companion of the Star of Melanesia (CSM) in 2018.  He is the author of three books, including Papua New Guinea: People, Politics and History since 1975The Sandline Affair, and The Embarrassed Colonialist.

Serena Sasingian – Observer and Advisory Council member

Serena Sasingian is a lawyer by profession and co-founder of The Voice Inc, a leading youth development organisation she co-founded while attending the University of Papua New Guinea. She is currently Executive Advisor for Gender at the Oil Search Foundation. Before joining the Foundation, she worked as a senior Policy Lawyer with the Department of Justice and Attorney General where she was in charge of the implementation of domestic violence legislation and the PNG government’s Action Plan to address sorcery and witchcraft-related violence. Serena has been very active in the non-profit sector where she sits on the Board of several organisations. She holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from the University of Papua New Guinea and a Masters of Business specialising in philanthropy and non-profit studies from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

Maggie Moi-He – Observer and Advisory Council member

Magdalene (Maggie) Moi-He is the Director General, Bilateral Division with the Papua New Guinea Department of Foreign Affairs. Currently based in Port Moresby, she is a career diplomat with international service most recently as Consul-General in Brisbane, Australia from 2013 to 2017. She has also served as Director of Trade Negotiations. Ms Moi-He has a Masters in International Relations and Development Studies from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Papua New Guinea.

Chris Elstoft – Advisory Council member

Chris Elstoft is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He has been Assistant Secretary, Papua New Guinea Branch since May 2018, when he returned from three years serving as Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to India. Prior to his term in New Delhi (2015–2018), Mr Elstoft served overseas as Counsellor Jakarta (2008–2010), Deputy Head of Mission in Baghdad (2007), Political Adviser Honiara RAMSI (2003–2004) and First Secretary Port Moresby (2000–2002).  Mr Elstoft has held a range of positions in DFAT including Assistant Secretary, South Asia Regional and Indian Ocean Branch. Mr Elstoft holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Melbourne University and a Masters of Economics (Development) from the Australian National University.