Presenter: Allyson Horn
PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill
Townsville's Mayor Jenny Hill.
Gavin King, head of the Queensland Government's PNG taskforce.
Dawson Wilkie, Townsville Chamber of Commerce
HON: The North Queensland Cowboys are a big deal in Papua New Guinea.
O'NEILL: Today I'm certainly wearing a Cowboys jersey and I'm going in to barrack for them.
HON: The Prime Minister of PNG - Peter O'Neill was one of the spectators at last night's Cowboys game in Townsville.
He toured the city over the weekend .... with trade and health, were on the agenda, as well as football.
Townsville's Mayor Jenny Hill.
HILL: We have a high number of Papua New Guineans who live here in the region, we've always embraced them. We've made them part of out sister city arrangements. When we created the sister city, our very first one with Port Moresby. And we've done that before the big economic development, mining developments that have occurred there.
HON: But it's PNG's economic potential that the Queensland Government is keen to explore.
Townsville and Cairns are geographically closer to Port Moresby than Brisbane.
The Queensland Government's says there's untapped potential for North Queensland businesses to expand into the pacific.
Gavin King is the head of the Queensland Government's PNG taskforce.
KING: The PNG Government has a lot of resources and a lot of funding available, but they don't quite have the capacity and the technical expertise to deliver on those projects. And that's the whole reason that they've come to the Queensland Government.
HON: Over the weekend, Queensland committed to build a hospital in Daru, the capital of PNG's Western Province.
Queensland will provide the expertise for the design and construction through to administration and management.
The P-N-G Government will provide the funds.
Dawson Wilkie from the Townsville Chamber of Commerce says North Queensland businesses should be the Queensland Government's first pick.
WILKIE: We want to increase the business links and I think from those business links, then there might be increases in traffic. You know we looking forward to hoping it will come to fruition.
HON: Prime Minister Peter O'Neill doesn't believe that Queensland businesses will threaten or stifle PNG nationals from developing their own businesses and prosperity.
O'NEILL: Where there is capacity within our country, we are encouraging joint ventures with the national businesses to participate in.
HON: In fact, he wants the exchange to go both ways, and boost the number of PNG nationals coming to Australia.
Already thousands of PNG students are learning trades at TAFE colleges in Townsville and Cairns.
And while Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill supports the increase, she says getting the balance right will be difficult.
HILL: We don't want to see massive people movements out of PNG into Australia because, while they are our neighbours, a lot of people may very well see them as refugees too.
HON: But for all the grand visions for stronger links between Townsville and PNG, there's still one major problem. Access.
There are no direct flights between the two.
Peter O'Neill plans to change this as well.
O'NEILL: We're looking at direct flights between Port Moresby and Townsville. And we are going to encourage that with our own airline.
HON: And it's not only the business leaders he wants to see more of in PNG.
But the North Queensland Cowboys and their captain Johnathan Thurston.
Although the PM admits, it may lead to some friendly competition for his job.
HON: Of course JT, much loved in Papua New Guinea, I think his face is everywhere. I think if he ran from the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea he might get elected in. He's very popular.