Australia and Papua New Guinea: connected through history

Chris Elstoft By Chris Elstoft, Assistant Secretary, Pacific Division, Papua New Guinea Branch

Recently returning to Papua New Guinea for the first time in 15 years, I was struck by the visible changes in Port Moresby.  Like many Australian officials, businesspeople, police and defence personnel, I have come back to Papua New Guinea throughout my career. The city I knew as a junior DFAT official at the Australian High Commission is reshaping as new and rebuilt roads, high-rise construction and sprawling suburbs and settlements mark the hills, skyline and waterfront. These changes are occurring rapidly and indicate Papua New Guinea’s place as a regional leader and close neighbour to the economies of East Asia.

Of significance to me is how the enduring relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia, which is steeped in shared history and culture, is also growing. The partnership between our two nations is one of Australia’s closest. There is less than four kilometres from the Papua New Guinea mainland to the nearest populated Australian island. Our Foreign Policy and Defence White Papers both point to significant shared regional challenges and the high importance we place on a stable and prosperous Papua New Guinea. Strengthening the partnership even further is one of Australia’s highest priorities.


Papua New Guinea’s hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings this year is significant. Their preparations have been comprehensive and this enormous undertaking is a unique opportunity for the country to show its potential to the world. Only a handful of cities in the world would have a standing capability to host a meeting of, and provide security for, major world leaders. So we are supporting Papua New Guinea as it prepares to welcome world leaders and thousands of media and officials to Port Moresby for APEC Leaders Week in November.

Our APEC support is focused on security and policy development. It is an extension of our broad and enduring cooperation. Our support is significant. It will involve more than 1,500 Australian police, defence personnel and public servants working closely with Papua New Guinea counterparts, reflective of the deep institutional links between our two governments. We expect this will have enduring benefit beyond APEC.

Australia’s high-level security support for APEC Leaders Week is a natural extension of our longstanding security partnership – our Defence Cooperation Program and the policing partnership with Papua New Guinea are Australia’s largest. Working behind the scenes, our support aims to build the capability for Papua New Guineans involved in APEC.

APEC 2018
Australian Army sappers Luke Jones (rear) and Joseph Lam (kneeling) with local children in Port Moresby as the Australian Defence Force helps build facilities in support of APEC.

Beyond APEC, Australia is there for the long term. We are committed to helping Papua New Guinea achieve its ambitions for sustainable development and inclusive growth.

Together we are increasing access to quality healthcare. We are improving literacy and numeracy; building tertiary and vocational skills to get more people into skilled work; and developing leadership skills, especially supporting girls and women.

Australian nurse Kath McDermott holds one of the five babies her team helped deliver after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea’s Highlands Region in February 2018. 

We are supporting local businesses, and building and improving roads and other infrastructure across the country. We are supporting technological transformation, including high-speed internet through the Coral Sea Cable. This will take Papua New Guinea to the world – and bring the world to this important Pacific country.

Together we are also working to protect Papua New Guinea’s remarkably unique cultural heritage. In October, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne, opened the refurbished and expanded National Museum and Art Gallery in Port Moresby. The museum houses diverse cultural artefacts and artworks that highlight the close connection with the indigenous peoples of northern Australia and the Torres Strait – another bond linking our two nations.

The refurbished and expanded National Museum and Art Gallery in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. 

The Papua New Guinea that the world will see during APEC Leaders Week is a country ready to embrace the future and everything it has to offer. A country defined by its people – friendly and warm; hardworking and ambitious; always ready with a helping hand. We are proud to continue to work with Papua New Guinea during this important historical event, and beyond.  We know our future together will be as rich and meaningful as our history.

Chris Elstoft is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He has been Assistant Secretary, Papua New Guinea Branch since May 2018, when he returned from three years serving as Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to India. Prior to his term in New Delhi (2015-2018), Mr Elstoft served overseas as Counsellor Jakarta (2008-2010), Deputy Head of Mission in Baghdad (2007), Political Adviser Honiara RAMSI (2003-2004) and First Secretary Port Moresby (2000-2002). In Canberra, Mr. Elstoft has held a range of positions in DFAT and the former AusAID. Mr. Elstoft holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Melbourne University and a Masters of Economics (Development) from the Australian National University.

Leave a Reply