Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a population of approximately 7.7 million. The PNG mainland and its six hundred islands have a total land area of 452,860 square kilometres. Most people living in PNG are Melanesian, but some are Micronesian or Polynesian. PNG has over 800 known languages. English, Tok Pisin (Pidgin), and Hiri Motu (the lingua franca of the Papuan region) are the official languages.
The spectrum of PNG society now ranges from traditional village-based life, dependent on subsistence and small cash-crop agriculture, to modern urban life in the main cities of Port Moresby (capital), Lae, Madang, Wewak, Goroka, Mt Hagen, and Rabaul. Some 80-85 per cent of the population directly derive their livelihood from farming, and 15-20 per cent of the population live in urban areas. Population growth is estimated to have been 2.1 per cent in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.
The Road to Independence
The Papua and New Guinea Act, passed in Australia in 1949, confirmed the administrative union of New Guinea and Papua under the title of 'The Territory of Papua and New Guinea' and placed it under the International Trusteeship System. The Act provided for a Legislative Council (established in 1951), a judicial organisation, a public service, and a system of local government. The first House of Assembly, which replaced the Legislative Council in 1963, opened on 8 June 1964. In 1972, the name of the territory was changed to Papua New Guinea and elections saw the formation of a ministry headed by Chief Minister Michael Somare, who pledged to lead the country to self-government and then to independence. Independence from Australia was proclaimed in 1975, and Somare became the first Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
System of Government
Papua New Guinea is a constitutional monarchy. The Head of State is HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented in Papua New Guinea by a Governor-General, currently His Excellency Sir Robert Dadae. The Governor-General is elected directly by Members of the National Parliament and performs mainly ceremonial functions.
Papua New Guinea has three levels of government - national, provincial and local. The National Parliament is a 111 member unicameral legislature elected for five-year terms by universal suffrage. The Prime Minister is appointed and dismissed by the Governor-General on the proposal of Parliament. The Cabinet – known as the National Executive Council or NEC – is appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Supreme Court, National Court, and local and village courts form an independent justice system.
Members of the National Parliament are elected from 89 single-member electorates and 22 regional electorates. The regional electorates correspond to Papua New Guinea's 20 provinces, plus the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and the National Capital District. Members from regional electorates also serve as provincial Governors. Each province has its own provincial assembly and administration.
Up to and including the June 2002 general election, members of parliament were elected on a first-past-the-post basis and, due to the large number of candidates, they frequently won with less than 15 per cent of the vote. After the 2002 election a system of limited preferential voting was introduced, under which voters are required to list a first, second, and third preference.
To date, all governments have been coalitions. Historically, there has been a high turn-over of parliamentarians at general elections. In 2002, for example, around 80 per cent of sitting members lost their seats. In the 2012 elections, the figure was almost 60 per cent, with 45 incumbents re-elected.
The PNG Constitution protects new Governments from Parliamentary motions of no-confidence during the first 18 months of a five-year term. Once the 18-month moratorium expires, a successful no-confidence motion may result in a new Prime Minister forming a government without the need for a national election. If the no-confidence motion occurs during the last twelve months of a five-year term, a national election must be held. Changes in government following motions of no-confidence have been a characteristic of PNG politics since independence.
Geographic proximity and historical links have given Papua New Guinea a special place in Australia's foreign relations and the bilateral relationship is one of our most complex and wide-ranging. Government relations are underpinned by the Joint Declaration for a New Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership, which is built on the Joint Declaration of Principles of 1987 (revised in 1992). The current bilateral agenda includes a commitment to develop a Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership to boost our engagement across key areas – security cooperation, trade and investment, governance, people-to-people and institutional links, development and regional cooperation. Our leaders and ministers are in close and regular contact, including through an Annual Leaders’ Dialogue and the Ministerial Forum.
The Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum is an annual high-level meeting between the two countries. Papua New Guinea hosted the 27th Ministerial Forum on 26 August 2019 in Port Moresby. Ministers agreed to cooperate in areas that will maximise bilateral and regional stability and prosperity, including through progressing the Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership, enhanced trade and investment arrangements, development cooperation, critical infrastructure, defence, policing and border management.
Defence and security cooperation
2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the Papua New Guinea-Australia Defence Cooperation Program, by far our largest defence cooperation program with any country. Australia provided support for PNG's hosting of APEC in 2018, particularly assisting with security arrangements. This involved support from both the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police. The Papua New Guinea Defence Force made a valuable contribution to peace in the region through its decade long involvement in bringing peace and stability back to Solomon Islands.
From the mid-2000s, Papua New Guinea experienced over a decade of comparatively robust economic growth, with expanding formal employment opportunities and strong growth in government expenditure and revenues. This economic performance was driven by high international prices for PNG’s exports (including for agriculture), conservative fiscal policies and construction activity related to the PNG LNG project. Economic growth peaked in 2014 with the commencement of exports from the LNG Project.
Lower commodity prices and successive budget deficits, however, have placed pressure on the government’s fiscal position, and growth has slowed. Major planned resource projects are expected to restore economic growth in the medium term.
Papua New Guinea continues to confront considerable development challenges. Over 2 million Papua New Guineans (an estimated 27 per cent of the population) are poor and/or face hardship (2015 Pacific Regional MDG Tracking Report). With around 80 to 85 per cent of Papua New Guineans residing in traditional rural communities, the majority secure their livelihoods from subsistence gardens and small-scale cash cropping.
Trade and investment
Australia is PNG's largest trading and commercial partner, with bilateral trade worth A$6.7 billion in 2018. Major Australian exports to PNG are crude petroleum, meat, civil engineering equipment and parts, specialised machinery and parts and wheat. Major imports to Australia from PNG are gold, crude petroleum, silver and platinum.
Australian investment in PNG is worth A$17 billion (2018). The resource sector has traditionally been a focus of this investment, particularly gold mining and oil and gas. Australian investment has also been directed towards light manufacturing, infrastructure and service delivery.
The Governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea welcome dialogue with the business community. The annual Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum includes a Business Dialogue with private sector representatives. The Bilateral Business and Officials Working Group brings together senior officials from both governments and senior representatives from the business sector to discuss issues raised by the business community. The Australian High Commission in Papua New Guinea also facilitates the Australia-PNG Business and Development Roundtable, which brings together leaders in the business community with senior Australian Government officials. Business representation at these meetings has included, but is not restricted to, the Business Council of Papua New Guinea and the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council.
The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) is the Commonwealth Government's agency which assists Australian companies to build and implement their export strategies. Austrade offers practical advice, market intelligence and ongoing support (including financial) to Australian companies looking to grow their business in PNG.”
More information on development assistance to Papua New Guinea.
See the AusTender website for opportunities in Papua New Guinea.
Direct Aid Program
A small grant scheme that partners with various organisations to support projects which directly contribute to the welfare and the income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups, or enhance the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment. For more information, visit our page on the Direct Aid Program.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) makes an important contribution to PNG’s development. ACIAR’s work supports the PNG Government’s Medium Term Development Plan to promote economic growth in the rural sector (comprising agriculture, forestry and fisheries). PNG faces many challenges to agricultural development, including poorly developed infrastructure, weak market signals and services, new pest and disease threats, poor product quality, and pressure on land and renewable resources as a result of population increases and mining development. ACIAR’s research in PNG aims to help secure improvements in food supply, food access and rural incomes for smallholders through increased productivity and enhanced access to markets and services. For more information visit the ACIAR website.
People to people links
Reflecting the close historical association between Australia and Papua New Guinea, there are over 10,000 Australians in PNG at any time, and approximately the same number of PNG nationals in Australia.
PNG participates in the New Colombo Plan, which gives Australian undergraduates the opportunity to undertake study, research, work placements and internships in our region. Under the New Colombo Plan in 2017, Australian students will study or undertake work-based experiences in PNG in sectors including agriculture, anthropology, and business. By giving students the opportunity to study in PNG, the New Colombo Plan helps to lift knowledge of PNG in Australia and provides a basis for ongoing engagement in business and tertiary education.
The Australia-Papua New Guinea Network is an initiative to strengthen people-to-people links between the two countries, and to foster practical partnerships and sharing of knowledge between business, civil society, communities and academia. The Network is run by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, in partnership with the National Research Institute of Papua New Guinea.
The annual Australia-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue, last held in December 2018, brings together young leaders from both countries across a range of sectors to exchange views on the bilateral relationship and contemporary challenges.
The Australia Awards provides opportunities for Papua New Guineans to study at Australian or regional universities supported by Australian scholarships. Applications are open to both public sector employees and individuals employed in the private sector or endorsed by other institutions, such as non-government organisations. Individuals must be able to demonstrate how their studies will help contribute to the development needs of the country.
For more information see the Australia Awards website.
The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes.
Australia’s overseas volunteer program, Australian Volunteers for International Development, has a one-stop entry point to Australian volunteering. See the AVID website for further information.