|Wednesday, 16 May 2012|
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill took the opportunity to take the media to task in his keynote opening address at the 28th Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council forum and expo in Brisbane.
|PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.|
With an election looming, O’Neill was a late non-starter. In his absence, former PNG prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta delivered O’Neill’s speech to a packed audience on Monday.
“Politics in Papua New Guinea has obviously been in the news of late and some of the media coverage has been wrong and in some cases downright ridiculous,” he told the forum.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Papua New Guinea has its own developing brand of democracy that is often misunderstood by even our strongest supporters.
Critics and doomsayers constantly write off Papua New Guinea as a nation headed for totalitarian rule, or worse still, no rule at all.
“Far from it.”
The prime minister said PNG had a “vigorous parliamentary democracy”.
With reference to the recent parliamentary upheaval which has involved a former prime minister, the governor, the police and the judiciary, O’Neill’s speech said: “When political management degenerates into a ruthless abuse of power for the sake of self-interest, then parliament has the right to act. Indeed members of parliament have a duty to act on behalf of the people they represent.
“Parliament has a long-standing and lawful right to change the prime minister and the government without going to an election; to remove that government and an unpopular prime minister, as we did last August.”
O’Neill said that while his government had only had a short time to “correct some of the wrongs of the past”, he was now prepared to go to the people to confirm their support for his government.
“I believe that we will be elected and that will bring exciting prospects for all of us,” he said.
“But I also have to say that for foreign investment to thrive, the benefits must flow two ways. Papua New Guinea must also reap the economic and social rewards as a result of your taking advantage of opportunities and the environment that we can provide.”
And to add a touch of Australian political spice the federal Opposition deputy and shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop was one of the first day’s keynote speakers. the federal government failed to field a starter, although with a fairly good representation of former PNG prime ministers in the conference room, former Australian PM and foreign minister Kevin Rudd might not have been out of place.
But despite the presence of an impressive speaker panel and some interesting political and economic topics, the “elephant” – the huge $US15.7 billion PNG-LNG project – was never far away. It got a mention in every speech.
Business Council president and managing director of Rio Tinto PNG Peter Taylor told a packed house on the opening day that the 28th forum and trade expo as the most successful the Council had conducted since its inception in 1980.
“The Australia Papua New Guinea Business Council was formed to provide a channel of communication for business to government on policy issues of concern to business,” he said.
“It is independent of government and until 2001 as confined to meetings of council membership until someone had a bright idea that the forum should be open to business people outside the membership, so from 2004 to 2008 the forum was held annually in Cairns.
“In 2009 it was held in Papua New Guinea for the first time in Madang and now alternates between Australia and Papua New Guinea. In 2010 we moved from Cairns to Townsville where it was a great success and then it returned to Madang in 2011.
“And now, for the first time the forum is being held in this great city of Brisbane, the capital of Australia’s Pacific state, which of course is the only Australian state to have a common border with Papua New Guinea.”
Taylor said the forum and exhibition had attracted record numbers with the exhibition area at maximum capacity and delegate numbers restricted by the size of the conference auditorium.
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