Papua New Guineans head to Geelong to have voice at conference on their future

30 March 2012

It may seem incongruous but Australians have much to share and a lot to learn from their Papua New Guinean neighbours as its people face try to build a prosperous future Dr Jonathan Ritchie, the organiser of next month's Deakin University conference on the country argues.

'Papua New Guinea: Securing a Prosperous Future' will be held at Deakin University's Waterfront Campus in Geelong (April 12 and 13) and will be the second conference of its kind dedicated totally to the country – Australia's nearest neighbour.

The event is once again being organised by the University's Alfred Deakin Research Institute in partnership with the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, and Member for Corio, Richard Marles MP.

"Australia's relationship with PNG has been, and will remain, one of our most important regional relationships," Mr Marles said.

"The country faces some significant challenges particularly as it tries to utilise resource riches in ways that are sustainable, culturally sensitive, and promote internal and regional human security," Mr Marles said.

Conference organiser and spokesman, Dr Jon Ritchie who was born and grew up in the country before independence said Australians looking at their nearest neighbour might feel they would be doing all the giving yet both countries had much in common and lessons to learn.

"Papua New Guinea like Australia is a complex country, one size doesn't fit all, like ourselves its economy is dominated by mining, we have a long shared history, we play the same sports, our populations share concerns about educating our children, resolving social concerns such as the status of women and improving unhealthy lifestyles and interestingly as one of our presenters will show we may need their help in reducing our carbon footprint.

"Senator David Feeney will also highlight how Australia is working with Papua New Guinea to address issues of transnational crime and illegal and unregulated exploitation the region's natural resources."

Dr Ritchie said a key highlight for the organisers was the number of Papua New Guineans participating.

Papua New Guinea's High Commissioner Charles Lepani will be a keynote speaker on the morning of the conference on Thursday, April 12.

Papua New Guinea's Minister for Public Service, Bart Philemon will give the dinner address on Thursday evening.

Organisers were also hopeful Dame Carol Kidu, PNG's Opposition Leader and sole female Member of Parliament would be able to participate in the conference.

Dr Ritchie said other presenters from Papua New Guinea included the journalists Jeffrey Elapa, Dora Gawi, and Patrick Matbob, educators Russell Kitau, Eric Kwa, and Anastasia Sai, as well as public servants and researchers.

The Director of PNG's National Research Institute, Dr Thomas Webster, and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of PNG, Professor Ross Hynes, will take leading roles in the conference. A fresh voice will be that of Martyn Namorong, who uses new media to report and comment on political and development issues in the country.

"This really is about Papua New Guinea and its future and it is imperative that its community has a voice at a conference such as this," he said.

Dr Ritchie said Papua New Guinea would go to the polls in June after a tumultuous period in the country's politics.

"Voting and elections are something that Papua New Guineans have been familiar with since 1964, and the principles of democratic government are held very dearly by all the people.

"This coming election is perhaps one of the most critical since independence in 1975, as PNG faces many daunting economic and social challenges.

"A number of speakers at the conference will be discussing aspects of PNG's politics and governance structures.

"Patrick Matob for instance will look at the province of Madang once described as the prettiest town in the Pacific and how the current political crisis and the power struggles in PNG have led to a lack of political and administrative leadership to rebuild infrastructure, restore basic services, manage law and order issues and precent widespread corruption."

Dr Ritchie said a recurring theme in the presentations concerned the status of women in the country.

"Deakin University's Dr David Wetherell for instance looks at women's leadership in traditional Papua New Guinean societies while Professor Hurriyet Babacan argues that social, economic and political development cannot be achieved in Papua New Guinea without the participation of women.

"Jane Anderson looks at the potential the church can play in influencing change in gender equality.

"While Anastasia Sai has taken a different approach and talked to the men of the country and how they see their role in contemporary Papua New Guinean society."

Dr Ritchie said a number of presenters would look at the link between food security in the country and the mining industry.

"As in Australia mining plays and will play a big role in the Papua New Guinean economy," he said.

"But as George Curry and Phillipa Carr show this can change the relationship people have with the land, in particular those who use subsistence agriculture and cash cropping techniques," he said.

"Similarly Mike Bourke looks at the role agriculture will play in an economy dominated by LNG exports.

"A dominant theme of the conference is that of strong collaboration between Papua New Guinean and Australian researchers and on-the-ground practitioners. The partnerships that we are seeing in the conference stand for the many collaborations between the people of our two countries, and this is a really positive sign", Dr Ritchie concluded.

Full conference program

News facts
  • Conference puts focus on Papua New Guinea
  • Papua New Guineans to speak at Geelong conference
  • Mining, status of women, politics, carbon, economic and food security, reporting in,on and about the country among the topics to be canvassed

Media contact

Sandra Kingston
Deakin Media Relations
03 9246 8221/0422 005 485

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

30th March 2012