Australian Foreign Minister visits PNG and Timor Leste

The Foreign Minister of Australia is visiting Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste this week.

In PNG, Senator Penny Wong held talks with her counterpart Justin Tkatchenko, who was recently appointed to the portfolio in the newly established cabinet. At a media briefing after their meeting, Minister Tkatchenko described the discussions as ‘fruitful’ and ‘productive’. Increasing the participation of Papua New Guineans in Australia’s labour mobility schemes was one of the issues discussed.

Minister Wong advised that the next Australia-PNG ministerial meeting will be held in Canberra during November.

Senator Wong also met with Prime Minister James Marape. She went on to spend time with Kessy Sawang and Rufina Peter, the two women members of the PNG Parliament.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Minister will travel to Timor Leste. She will meet with President Jose Ramos-Horta.

US ships do and do not visit Honiara

USNS Mercy has arrived in Honiara. Its visit is part of the “Pacific Partnerships” program which has been in existence for 17 years. The program associated with the call includes medical exchanges, performances by the ship’s band, and provision of medical treatments to Honiara residents.

However, a request to dock made by USGS Oliver Henry was denied by the authorities in Solomon Islands. The Oliver Henry was undertaking patrols to detect illegal fishing on behalf of the Forum Fisheries Agency, which is in Honiara. This has prompted criticism by the Parliamentary Opposition in Solomon Islands who claim it makes a mockery of the “friends to all, enemies to none” basis of the country’s foreign policy.

The government of Solomon Islands has since advised the US that there will be a moratorium on all naval visits whilst protocols are being reviewed.

Bougainville tensions

Political developments in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville have led to concerns about the post-referendum process in the autonomous region.

Prime Minister Marape has announced his cabinet, but there has not been anyone appointed as Minister for Bougainville. This marks a departure from previous practice and may indicate that the future of the province is not a priority for this government.

Meanwhile, Marape’s plan to conduct nationwide consultations on the future of Bougainville has been met with criticism in some quarters, including from President Toroama. Critics argue that this is not what was envisaged by the Bougainville peace agreement, which requires the PNG Parliament to agree to independence for the province.

In Bougainville, disgruntled leaders from the north of the province have threatened to withdraw their support for President Toroama’s independence work. This comes further to a reshuffle in the Bougainville government that saw two northern MPs lose their ministerial portfolios.

Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police meeting held recently

The Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police (PICP) met recently in Fiji. It was the 49th meeting of this group and the first in-person gathering since 2019, owing to the impacts of COVID-19.

This meeting was used to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the group, which could not be celebrated last year because of the pandemic. This year’s conference was focused on workforce issues, including wellbeing and welfare of police officers. Regional security priorities such as those contained in the Boe Declaration and the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent provide the framework for the PICP’s agenda.

It coincided with the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Pacific Transnational Crime Network, which operates across the region and has its headquarters in Apia, Samoa.

The meeting also saw the transfer of chairing from Fiji to the Northern Mariana Islands.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.