Australia's Foreign Minister spills the beans on lost love in PNG | Pacific Beat

Australia's Foreign Minister spills the beans on lost love in PNG

Australia's Foreign Minister spills the beans on lost love in PNG

Updated 27 November 2013, 10:52 AEST

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has told how a lost love in Papua New Guinea sparked her lifetime affection for the country.

Ms Bishop was speaking at a reception in Sydney last night for young Australians and Papua New Guineans taking part in the inaugual Australia-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speakers: Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister, Australia,

Sisa Kini, Social Impacts Manager, ExxonMobil PNG LNG Project,

Diane Peliokai, Director, Susu Mamas, PNG

GARRETT: The Australia PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue is intended to foster people to people links.

In front a packed reception at the Lowy Institute Australia's Forerign Minister Julie Bishop was in a confessional mood.

BISHOP: Yes I have had a long love affair with Papua New Guinea and it started when I was fourteen.

GARRETT: The matchmaker was a teacher who'd spent time in PNG and thought her students should know more about their northern neighbour.

BISHOP: So she arranged for fourteen-year-old girls in my class to be pen pals with 14-year-old boys in the school in Popendetta. (laughs) Well, I was mad about Oscar for all of 12 months and then with the attention span of a knat, as a 15-year-old, I sort of wandered off and didn't ever write back.

GARRETT: Despite her now weighty concerns, such as the scandal over Australian spying in Indonesia and China's latest moves to control airspace in the East China Sea, Australia's Foreign Minister, has often wondered what happened to Oscar.

In fact she even had a photo of him with her.

BISHOP: There he is. (laughs). That was sent to me in 1974. I've asked the PNG Foreign Minister if he can get PNG intelligence on to it (laughs) so I can track him down.

GARRETT: Ms Bishop is not the only one for whom early conections have left a lifelong bond.

Sisa Kini is now Social Impacts Manager with the ExxonMobil PNG LNG Project but she finished high school on a scholarship in the Queensland town of Charters Towers.

KINI: I did year 10, 11 and 12 here, some years ago (laugh) and I formed really strong relationships with people here. I also became the school captain in my final year at Blackheath Thornburgh College and I guess not just representing the school but representing my country instilled in me a stronger passion for going back home.

GARRETT: The emerging Leaders Dialogue recommended the PNG and Australian governments do more to promote exchanges for young people in vocational training, journalism, health and tertiary education.

It fell on fertile ground with Julie Bishop, who has made it a personal crusade to see that the Abbott governments new Colombo Plan works.

BISHOP: It is a huge project. I have enormous ambitions for the new Colombo Plan but we have to get it right. So we have started with a pilot program for next year in four locations; in indonesia, in singapore, in Japan and in Hong Kong and once we have got the model right and we have addressed things like visas and work permits, then we want to invite countries to join so that australian students can join. And i have already had conversations with the PNG government about PNG becoming part of the new Colombo Plan.

GARRETT: The emerging leaders dialogue discussed everything from PNG's economy and its role in the Asian Century, through to corruption, disaster preparedness and violence against women but the over-riding theme was how to make sure the wealth from the resources boom is translated into real improvements in the lives of ordinary Papua New Guineans.

In that, the young leaders saw many opportunities for partnerships and exchanges with Australia, particularly in medical care.

Diane Peliokai is on the board of the nursing mothers group Susu Mamas which struggles to provide services in remote regions of PNG

PELIOKAI: We don't have many clinical staff so one thing that Australia would help us to probably provide training. the students that they have in the universities that they have, if they want to come for training we would love them to come you know to help us work in the rural areas. We will try and train them of what we know of rural health. in the same time they going to help us deliver the basic health services to the rural areas which is very hard for most of the Papua New Guineans to receive.

GARRETT: Julie Bishop says PNG is one of Australia's top foreign policy priorities.

She wants to see as many Australians going there on scholarships as there are PNG students coming the other way.

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