Its theme is, PNG: Leadership for the Next Generation.
Australia's former parliamentary secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs Richard Marles was at the Symposium which was opened by his successor, Senator Matthew Thistlethwaite.
Mr Marles says he's confident his successor, will continue with the work he has been doing in the Pacific.
He told Radio Australia's Same Seke that he was pleased with his interaction with Pacific leaders during his term.
Presenter: Sam Seke
Speaker:Australia's former parliamentary secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs Richard Marles
MARLES: I feel enormously lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity of representing Australia in the Pacific and meeting so many wonderful leaders and people within the Pacific in PNG. We're celebrating PNG here today with PNG symposium in Geelong. The Pacific is the most wonderful part of the world and for the last two and a half years I've been blessed in being able to be a part of that world and be able to represent Australia within it. And my life is so much the richer for having had that experience. So if I've got a message it's one of thanks, thank you for being so warm to me and being warm to Australia and I will keep an interest and maintain an activism within the Pacific for the rest of my life.
SEKE: Have you received any messages from the leaders of the Pacific following your departure from the office?
MARLES: Yes I have and it's been very gratifying to have been able to communicate with a number of the leaders of the Pacific and they have been great wishes towards me. But the point I've also made is that we're very lucky to have a great depth of talent within the Gillard Labor government. Matt Thistlethwaite who is replacing me as the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs is a fantastic person who's going to be doing a great job. I had dinner with Matt last night actually and I've spoken to him a number of times since he's taken on the role, and I can absolutely assure people that the Pacific from an Australian point of view is in very good hands being in Matt's hands, and he is absolutely raring to go and very keen to get out to the Pacific and see it for himself. And he'll be in Papua New Guinea next week, and in seeing the excitement in his eyes about what the role that he has it warms my heart.
SEKE: He said that he has not been to Papua New Guinea, but what message did you have for him as far as maybe dealing with the leaders of the Pacific?
MARLES: Well I think the first thing is that what the Pacific I think wants to see from Australia is our interest and to know that we care and we do, and we are deeply interested. And what we've got here today with the PNG symposium in Geelong is an academic symposium which aspires to be the leading academic symposium in the world about Papua New Guinea. And it's a good example of the interest that there is within Australia towards PNG, but towards the Pacific more generally. And I think Matt in his role the key is really just to demonstrate that that interest exists, and we want to be deeply engaged and as engaged as we possibly can be. And I think foreign relations isn't that different to human relations, I think what people want to see is that sense of caring and interest and enthusiasm about what we do and before you get into any of the policy issues, that's really the demeanour that one needs to take in going to the Pacific, and probably for that matter anywhere else. And I can assure people that in Matt you've got somebody with all of those qualities.
SEKE: Do you agree with a sense that a closer sort of relationship between Australia and the Pacific Islands from your term as Pacific Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs?
MARLES: Well I certainly hope so, from my point of view that would be a great legacy if we can say that. Personally I obviously see the Pacific as being deeply important to Australia and that we are partners with the Pacific in terms of being the custodians of this part of the world. And whatever else happens in the world, whatever trade deals or security arrangements are reached, our neighbourhood will always be our neighbourhood, and we will always be brothers and sisters in this part of the world because of our geography. And so the Pacific in that sense is unique and special in Australia's world view, and that is very much how I feel. But I can assure people that's how the Gillard Labor government feels, but I think that's how people in politics in Australia generally are feeling. And there is a job which we need to keep doing in terms of raising the profile of the Pacific within Australia's national discourse, but that's happening. And again what we've seen here today with the PNG symposium is a very good example of that.