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"This forum in Papua New Guinea was a chance to listen and learn"
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"This forum in Papua New Guinea was a chance to listen and learn"

Opportunities presented by petroleum, oil and mining resources in Papua New Guinea are ‘fragile and could easily be reversed’, according to a business forum attended by Commonwealth Correspondent Steph Carter, 21, from Brisbane, Australia.

For the expat community in PNG’s budding capital, Port Moresby, bad imported wine and dynamic debate is to be expected for any successful gathering.

And in the spirit of ‘Australia Week’, a series of events for all things Australia in Moresby, the High Commission and its resident crowd of diplomats and AusAID officials were offering just that.

Having recently begun my career in aid and development, the High Commission’s Australia Week forum on business and development in PNG and the Pacific was a chance to listen and learn from experts at the development coalface.

For the assortment of diplomats, development consultants and business representatives also attending, this was the ideal platform for high-level discussion concerning PNG’s social and economic development landscape. With the government elections coming up next month, the timing could not have been more perfect.

Social and economic development was discussed in equal measure. Speaking on behalf of the Cairns Institute, based out of James Cook University, Professor Hurriyet Babacan advocated passionately for a more equitable and holistic approach to development across PNG and other areas of the Pacific.

Acknowledging the resource boom currently taking place across PNG’s regional provinces, Professor Babacan warned of the dangers that this purely marked based development approach may have for social and political equality. While global companies are lining up to extract their fair share of petroleum, oil and mining natural resources from the country’s fertile soil, according to Babacan this may not translate into well-being for the community.

“This is fragile, and could easily be reversed. We need to come back to the notions of holistic economic development,” the professor said. Drawing on ideas put forward by Nobel Prize winning Economist Amartya Sen, Babacan explained how to “take a wiser approach to economic development. Economic development viewed as freedoms – political, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guaranteed, and protective security.”

Also on the panel, the Hon. Richard Marles, Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Affairs and Foreign Affairs, highlighted PNG’s existing political challenges and successes. When asked how the country’s recent political instability would affect those companies wanting to invest in the resource boom, Marles spoke of the marked improvements occurring in and around Port Moresby.

“Corruption and law and order have been issues that the PNG government are seeking to address,” he said. “There’s a lot that’s positive that we can take from the way in which things have been handled here. By and large, issues have been handled politically. By and large, issues have been handled through the branches of government, and through the judiciary.”

Marles also highlighted PNG’s improving policy-making mechanisms, and the positive impact that this improvement is having on key social and development issues. Speaking to an audience which largely composed of business representatives from oil, mining and gas companies active in the country, this forum certainly offered much food, and indeed bad wine, for thought.

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