Nothing better illustrates this "potential" than does the test matches between PNG, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa being played in Australia this weekend. The tests are receiving both free to air and pay television coverage in Australia and across the South Pacific.
A moderate Australian Government support package including funding to encourage junior and women's sport as well as international competition will have a massive impact. And a wholly positive one.
Half the registered NRL players were born in or have direct family connections with Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, NZ Maori or are indigenous Australians. That is fertile people-to-people ground to say the least.
I have written about a number of other policy priorities centred around enhanced people-to-people engagement with the region.
While Senator Wong is taking a very activist approach to the region there are two other areas that ought to be considered. Both were largely neglected by the former government.
The first is engaging with the Christian churches to strengthen people-to-people links.
While Christian church membership in Australia is in serious decline, the very opposite is the case in our region. Christianity is flourishing in most countries. Perhaps less so the traditional churches, but the growth in Pentecostal churches is more than making up for that.
Most of our regional neighbours lack serious capacity in health care, school education and vocational training. A number of Australian churches already have a strong presence in the region but with government support they could do much more!
A greater role for church-based NGOs also needs to be supported and funded more.
Including the Townsville based YWAM which is already doing outstanding work in Papua New Guinea, and is doing so with significant local support and engagement.
The third area that should be a priority is engagement with Australian business through industry and professional groups such as the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Councils. The Councils are broadly representative of Australian businesses active in Papua New Guinea and have the capacity to grow business links in a productive way.
China has capitalised very effectively on the decline in Australian business activity in PNG in some key sectors. With our banks withdrawing or downsizing China banks and financial institutions are doing the very opposite including significant loan support for the PNG small business sector.
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