Papua New Guinea, Australia sign security pact aimed at regional stability

Harlyne Joku and Stephen Wright
Port Moresby and Bangkok
Papua New Guinea, Australia sign security pact aimed at regional stability Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape (right) shakes hands with Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Parliament House in Canberra on Dec. 7, 2023. Australia and Papua New Guinea signed a security agreement on Dec. 7.
Hilary Wardhaugh/AFP

Australia will give new support to the overtaxed police force in volatile Papua New Guinea as part of a broad agreement that reinforces Australia’s status as the main security benefactor for many of the Pacific’s island nations.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed the agreement on Thursday in Canberra. Albanese said the pact was accompanied by a commitment of 200 million Australian dollars ($131 million) in support of Papua New Guinea’s national security priorities.

“This is a comprehensive and a historic agreement which will make it easier for Australia to help PNG address its internal security needs and for Australia and Papua New Guinea to support each other’s security and the region’s stability,” Albanese said at a press conference.

The text of the agreement was published on the website of Australia’s foreign affairs department, a pointed contrast to the secrecy that shrouds a security agreement signed last year between China and the Solomon Islands and which helped to galvanize renewed U.S. attention to the Pacific.

“In the world of many relationships out there, we choose to ensure we go deeper and strengthen our bond with Australia,” Marape said. 

“The signing of the strategic security agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea is a step in constructing our shared future.”

Papua New Guinea, the most populous Pacific island country with more than nine million people and a former Australian colony, suffers frequent tribal violence and also grapples with corruption and lack of infrastructure. Its election last year was marred by dozens of deaths.

It has one police officer for about every 1,800 people, nearly four times less than the level recommended by the United Nations to ensure law and order, according to a Griffith Asia Institute report released earlier this year. The ratio of police to people has declined substantially in the past half century as Papua New Guinea’s population tripled.

A joint statement from the two governments said they had agreed “full-circle support” for Papua New Guinea’s internal security from police to courts and prisons.

With Australia’s assistance, Papua New Guinea will set up a Port Moresby-based police training center with the aim of enabling the Pacific island country to recruit and train a larger, more capable police force, the statement said.

Papua New Guinea has offered to open the training center to the police forces of other Pacific island nations, it said. 

The agreement covers traditional security concerns such as defense and policing as well as violence against women and children, biosecurity, cybersecurity and other areas. It allows for sharing of classified information. 

Marape said the pact complies with Papua New Guinea’s laws and doesn’t require approval from his country’s parliament.

Papua New Guinea’s expansive defense cooperation agreement with the United States, signed in May but not yet ratified, has faced strong criticism in Papua New Guinea. The country’s opposition leader has asked the Supreme Court to review its constitutionality. 

Mihai Sora, an analyst at the Lowy Institute think tank, said the agreement makes Papua New Guinea’s ambition to substantially increase the number of police officers more achievable though it still faces the constraint of limited financial resources.

“For Australia it’s very much about bedding down the regional security order. So projecting to the region, to other Pacific countries that Australia is a trusted security partner,” he said in a television interview.


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