Anthony Albanese to push ‘family-first’ security treaty in address to Papua New Guinea parliament

Australian PM to call for ‘a swift conclusion to negotiations’ to treaty and say both countries should ‘work as equals with our fellow Pacific states’

Anthony Albanese will seek progress on a new security treaty during a visit to Papua New Guinea, pushing a “family-first approach” amid increasing competition with China for influence in the Pacific.

On Thursday the Australian prime minister will become the first foreign government leader to address PNG’s parliament and will say he sees the relationship as “a bond between equals”.

Albanese will also declare that other Pacific countries are counting on Australia and PNG to lead on climate action, warning there is “not a moment to waste”.

With sport seen as another area for Australia and PNG to deepen connections, Albanese will tell MPs: “Today I affirm my view that I want to see a PNG-based, Pacific Islander team compete in the National Rugby League competition.”

But security is shaping up as top of the agenda for formal talks with the PNG prime minister, James Marape, in Port Moresby later on Thursday. A state dinner is scheduled in the evening to mark the first visit to PNG by an Australian prime minister since 2018.

In his address to parliament, Albanese is expected to express gratitude for “the extraordinary service your people gave to ours in the darkest days of the second world war”.

He is expected to call for “a swift conclusion to negotiations on a bilateral security treaty” to build on “a family-first approach” to security in the Pacific – framing that implicitly excludes China, which is increasingly active in the region.

China last year signed a security agreement with Solomon Islands, a development that Albanese described as a “Pacific stuff-up” during the Australian election campaign.

Albanese will say on Thursday that a treaty between Australia and PNG would be based on “deep trust” and address “priority needs including law and order challenges, strengthening the justice system and rule of law”.

Both countries, he says, should “work as equals with our fellow Pacific states to build a stronger, safer, more secure region”.

The Australian foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, has embarked on a series of visits to Pacific countries since the election, where she has promised to listen respectfully to the region’s priorities and has sought to use the new government’s climate policy as a bridge to closer relationships.

Last month, Wong signed a new security agreement with Vanuatu, setting out a brand range of areas for closer cooperation, including in climate change and disaster risk reduction.

In Thursday’s speech, Albanese will say the Pacific “is on the frontline of the global fight against climate change”.

He will also tell the PNG parliament he is “proud to lead the first Australian government in 122 years where the majority of members are women” and he will congratulate “two new women members elected to this place”.

Albanese will be the first foreign head of government to address PNG’s parliament, although the president of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville has addressed the chamber several times.

The Refugee Action Coalition called on Albanese to use his visit to “ensure that no refugees or people seeking asylum are left behind in PNG”.

The group said there were now only about 90 refugees and asylum seekers left in PNG, from the more than 1,000 initially taken to Manus Island in 2013, but they had “suffered terribly” and many needed physical and mental health treatment.

“The deal that dumped asylum seekers from Australia in PNG was only possible because of the neocolonial relationship between Australia and PNG,” said Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“Labor granted independence to PNG in 1975. Albanese should do the ‘adult thing’, take responsibility and bring the remaining refugees and asylum seekers to Australia.”

Rintoul said some people were waiting for third-country resettlement, but some who were accepted for the US had “already waited for four years with no idea of when they will eventually be able to get on with their lives”.


Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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