Anthony Albanese has drawn on Australia and Papua New Guinea’s shared values in a history-making speech to our nearest neighbour’s parliament.
The Prime Minister has become the first foreign leader ever to address the PNG parliament, telling local politicians this is a decisive decade for peace, prosperity, unity and security in the Indo-Pacific.
“Now, on the horizon, a world of opportunity awaits us,” he said on Thursday.
“Because Australia and PNG are bound not just by a shared past and a shared border but by a common determination to shape our own futures.”
Mr Albanese is expected to advance a new bilateral security treaty with PNG during this week’s visit, as Australia looks to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific.
He foreshadowed the signing of the agreement in his speech in Port Moresby, emphasising the need for a “family-first” approach to regional security.
After meeting with Governor-General Sir Bob Dadae and Prime Minister James Marape, Mr Albanese said the two nations should deepen their defence ties and achieve a “swift conclusion” to negotiations on the treaty.
In his address to parliament, Mr Albanese said the deal would underpin their joint efforts to address PNG’s “priority needs”, including law and order challenges, strengthening the justice system and rule of law.
“(It will be) a treaty based on deep trust,” he said.
“And a treaty that builds on the family-first approach to regional security.”
Mr Albanese talked up the two countries’ close relationship and their shared history, describing them as friends, equals and “neighbours who stand with each other and help each other in times of need”.
After Mr Albanese’s speech, Mr Marape told MPs all PNG citizens had been Australians 50 years ago, before his country achieved independence.
He welcomed moves to consolidate the relationship between the two governments, as well as contemporary links between citizens of Australia and PNG.
Mr Marape said an economically independent PNG was a “better, stronger, safer” country and that this position also benefited Australia.
Mr Albanese, who received a ceremonial welcome upon touching down in Port Moresby on Thursday morning, was driven to parliament to give his speech shortly after arriving in the PNG capital.
He was greeted by PNG’s Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso on arrival, as well as Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko and Australian High Commissioner Jon Philp.
Mr Albanese received military honours including a 19-gun salute and reviewed PNG military members at the airport.
He was presented with fresh leis by Miss Aivu Leana, a student from the Sunrise Bethel Christian School.
The Australian and PNG flags flew side-by-side from poles set up on the tarmac.
Mr Albanese’s trip to PNG comes after Australia signed a separate security pact with Vanuatu last month.
Security is expected to dominate the agenda when Mr Albanese meets with PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape in Port Moresby after six months of tension in the Pacific over China’s growing influence in the region.
The Australian federal election in May was held not long after China signed a controversial security pact with Solomon Islands.
The deal sparked deep concern among Australia officials about the prospect of Beijing expanding its military presence in the Pacific.
Since taking office, Mr Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong have stressed that the “Pacific family” — which includes Australia and the smaller island nations — should be responsible for its own security.
Senator Wong has also visited several Pacific island nations and made implicit references to China during her diplomatic blitz of the region, saying Australia’s support won’t come with “strings attached”.
China was last year unsuccessful in its bid to sign another sweeping security and trade agreement with 10 other Pacific island nations.
But Mr Albanese’s trip to PNG comes in the wake of reports Beijing is funding a hospital in Port Moresby for the Pacific nation’s defence force.
China’s Ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday that Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific were for peaceful development purposes only.
“There is no military intention. There is no geopolitical intention. There is no intention to set up so-called military bases,” he said.
“Let’s turn the page over. It’s already over. Let’s focus more on co-operation — where we can do something substantive to help countries in the region.”
Mr Albanese’s visit to PNG will be the first time an Australian prime minister has travelled to the Pacific nation since 2018.
He rescheduled the trip after being diagnosed with Covid-19 before he was due to embark on his original visit in December.
PNG is the largest recipient of Australian aid, worth about A$602 million in 2022-2023, and receives more than 30 per cent of Australian aid to the Pacific.
With pool reporter