Economics Professor on Regional Visa and Pacific Labour Scheme
by Marcelle P. Villegas - October 04, 2021
Stephen Howes, Professor of Economics, Crawford School of Public Policy (ANU College of Asia and the Pacific) [Photo credit: Australian National University]
In a commentary of Stephen Howes, Director of the Development Policy Center and a Professor of Economics at the Crawford School of Public Policy, shared his opinion and discussed how the June ASEAN agricultural visa announcement could develop or evolve. He noted three possibilities.
First point he made is the possibility that Asian countries will by allowed to join the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) and the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS). Another scheme might be in place as well for Asian countries. Lastly, "existing backpacker caps for Asians to work in Australia would be increased." 
An announcement made last August by a group of Ministers on both sides of the Coalition entails that a new Australian Agriculture visa is to be created in addition to the SWP and PLS. However, the commentary notes that "it is hard to believe that the regulations for the new visa will be in place by the end of next month."
"Agriculture Minister David Littlepround highlighted the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam (and the UK) in his ABC interview."
However, the press release only says that the Australian Agriculture visa will be open to applicants from a range of countries negotiated through bilateral agreements. No countries were mentioned.
"Despite these assurances, the press release is in some ways more alarming than the initial Littleproud announcement," said Howes.
Aside from the agriculture sector, the new visa covers other related industry such as the meat processing, forestry, and fishing. Administration of the new visa is to be given to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Even with DFAT being assigned to handle the new visa, some speculate that this might pose a threat to the Pacific labour mobility in the PLS. The meat processing industry comprises 71% of the PLS jobs, while agriculture and horticulture is 21%.
"If employers in these two sectors switch to the new visa PLS will collapse," according to Howes.
He also points out that the SWP might also be in danger. "The risks are especially high given the press release's commitment to a 'demand-driven approach' -- the implication being that the new visa will be uncapped. The Australian Agriculture visa lacks public policy justification. All the sectors covered by it are already covered by the PLS."
Timor-Leste and the Pacific island nations sends workers under the SWP and PLS, and they have to meet the demand for labour in those sectors.
"If this new visa is to have a pathway to permanency built into it (something which the press release says will be considered) then so too should the PLS. And whatever safeguards are applied to the PLS should equally apply to this scheme," said Howes.
 Howes, Stephen (30 Aug. 2021). "Yesterday's Regional Visa announcement: The End of the PLS?". Post-Courier. Retrieved from -
Note: The article by Stephen Howes that was published on Post-Courier first appeared on Devpolicy Blog (devpolicy.org), from the Development Policy Center at the Australian National University. ret
Photo credit - https://crawford.anu.edu.au/news-events/news/5686/developing-research-centre-region
PNG Business News - March 09, 2021
INVITATION TO THE 36TH AUSTRALIA PAPUA NEW GUINEA BUSINESS FORUM AND TRADE EXPO
The Australia Papua New Guinea Business Council and the Business Council of Papua New Guinea are pleased to be re-launching the 36th Australia Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo, which was deferred from 2020 to 24 to 26 May 2021. For the first time ever, this event will be held concurrently in Brisbane (at the Royal International Convention Centre), Port Moresby (at Hilton Port Moresby Hotel) and also online, with a shared speaking program. The Forum theme for this year is “Reimagining the Future Papua New Guinea”. The theme aims to capture the important message that Australia and Papua New Guinea along with the rest of the world, must move and pivot with the times and circumstances in order to prosper. It also looks to advance discussion about greater diversity in the PNG economy. Coronavirus and all its related restrictions and issues, along with advancements in technology mean that we must, collectively, think of different ways to work in trade, economy and indeed life. Online connectivity appears to be one of the important forms of communication that will continue for the foreseeable future. This Forum is distinctly established as the leading annual bilateral business meeting between Australia and Papua New Guinea, and builds on the work both Councils have done over more than three decades in growing the bilateral business relationship. The program for the Forum includes an overview of the political and economic climate, particularly issues which affect business and investment, and will include specific sessions by expert presenters on topics such as the Covid-19 Pandemic, emerging economic business opportunities in PNG, agribusiness, infrastructure, SME growth, Papua New Guineans in the Australian labour market, and resources. Key government ministers from Australia and Papua New Guinea, and a range of other expert speakers, have been invited to address the Forum to inform business representatives of policy issues in their portfolio relevant to business, and they will be able to join us from whichever location they are in, whether Brisbane, Port Moresby or elsewhere. Delegates will be able to engage in lively interaction with presenters in most sessions either live in person, or via the online platform with a Q&A feature. Video recordings of presentations will become available online soon after they are given so that delegates may go back and revisit portions they may have missed. There is something in the program for just about anyone who has an interest in the bilateral business and economic relationship and in the economy of Papua New Guinea. Delegates will be able to connect via the online platform by sending messages and/or booking appointment times with each other, particularly if they are not attending the Forum at the same venue. The Forum will again feature a Trade Expo for Australian and Papua New Guinean companies wishing to use the opportunity to match their goods and services to clients and purchasers in each country, and to broaden their business relationship. An innovative development this year is that all the trade booths will be online, with a limited number of physical booths at each location (as well as online) due to Covid restrictions. Booth exhibitors will be able to display their corporate logo, upload documents and short videos for visitors, include links to their own website, and chat one-on-one with delegates online, who can request meeting times with them via the online platform. This is a new, exciting and pioneering way to do things, and we will endeavour to have answers for you immediately should you encounter any problems while using the online platform. Register early for this conference as in-person spots at each location are limited and demand will be heavy. To register, complete the online booking process at https://events.apngbc.org.au/event/36APNG/. Please take care to show where/how you wish to participate. There are many new features that we will be introducing during this Forum as we look to resume regular business to business engagement, which has been so disrupted during the last year. This is a very good value conference. Enquiries about registration, Trade Expo bookings and accommodation should be directed to the secretariat of the Australia Papua New Guinea Business Council, on telephone + 61 7 3348 5142 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Business Council of Papua New Guinea on telephone + 675 323 8465, fax + 675 323 5162 or by e-mail at email@example.com. We look forward to hosting you at the 36th Australia Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo on 24-26 May 2021, whether in Brisbane, Port Moresby, or Online.
PNG Business News - May 03, 2021
Agriculture and Extractive Industries Projected to Expand in 2021
According to the Asian Development Bank's 2021 forecast, the extractive and agricultural industries are projected to expand in 2021. Mine and quarry production could rise in 2021 and 2022, according to the ADB's recently issued forecast for 2021, as favourable international metal prices spur production. The Lihir and Ok Tedi mines, both multibillion-dollar ventures, are projected to increase gold production in 2021 after a tough year in 2020, while oil and gas production is expected to plateau. However, two new mineral and petroleum developments on the horizon, the Wafi-Golpu gold and copper mine and the Papua LNG project, both multibillion-dollar projects, have the potential to drive substantial development. In 2021, Papua LNG is scheduled to begin front-end engineering and design. Meanwhile, the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries sectors are projected to rise by more than 3% in 2021, owing to low demand in 2020. If conditions improve, transportation and storage, hotels and lodging, and renovation can all improve. Capital spending is expected to increase by 16.9% in 2021 and another 9.7% in 2022, according to the National Budget for 2021. The resulting stimulus would boost growth and local industries, but successful implementation would depend on development partners' support, according to the outlook.
PNG Business News - July 21, 2021
PNG and New Zealand PMs Sign MoU
The prime ministers of Papua New Guinea and New Zealand have signed a memorandum of agreement to further their cooperation. The leaders signed a Statement of Partnership in a virtual conference, reinforcing efforts to work through issues of trade and economics, as well as regional solidarity, amid the epidemic. PNG's Prime Minister, James Marape, has suggested that New Zealand and Australia must do more to help Pacific economies cope with Covid-19. "As I have stated to the Japanese Prime Minister at a recent meeting, and again at the recent Pacific Alliance Leaders Meeting, we would like to call on these bigger countries to step in and intervene, create 'economic bubble' or put in similar measures to assist these smaller economies. "Many of us are really stuck. Fiji, for example, survives on tourism dollars. For us, Covid19 is not just a health issue; it is also an economic issue as well," Marape explained. Ardern sounded receptive, saying the new Statement of Partnership underlined New Zealand's commitment to tight economic, cultural, and people-to-people ties with Papua New Guinea. "It is an important milestone in our relationship. By formalising the values, priorities and principles which underpin our strengthening partnership, we've set a clear pathway forward for the future engagement between our countries." "We look forward to continuing to work alongside Papua New Guinea on issues facing our Pacific region, including the ongoing management of COVID-19 and the regional economic recovery," Ardern said. The statement said the countries have committed to "a safe and stable Pacific region where Pacific sovereignty is respected, and unhindered access to open waterways and marine resources are preserved, in line with the international rules-based system". Bougainville link The two presidents also spoke about Bougainville, PNG's autonomous province, which had a historic referendum in 2019 in which over 98 per cent of voters opted for independence from PNG. Negotiations between Bougainville's autonomous administration and PNG's national government, as well as wide-ranging discussions, must take place before PNG's parliament can consider whether to accept the outcome. Marape updated Ardern on the current status of the discussions, expressing his thanks for New Zealand's long-term assistance in ending the civil conflict on Bougainville and the ensuing peace process, which the referendum is a part of. "Thank you also for your interventions in the matter of the Bougainville Referendum and under your leadership, we have been able to ramp up our warm relationship through the New Zealand and Papua New Guinea Statement of Partnership," Marape said. He also requested New Zealand's assistance in providing 'eminent individuals' to mediate the Bougainville discussions once more. Other topics discussed were PNG's public sector reforms based on the New Zealand model, as well as PNG's labour export to New Zealand. Marape and Ardern also talked about Micronesia's decision to resign from the Pacific Islands Forum, with both leaders pledging to attempt to prevent this from happening. The gathering served as a warm-up for the APEC Informal Leaders Retreat on July 16th, with Marape emphasizing the importance of the group's role in assisting smaller Pacific nations. "The APEC family of nations can also assist (us) to maintain specific niche trade while being sensitive to COVID19, as many of our island nations are dependent on these niche businesses for the sustenance of our economies." Reference: RNZ (15 July 2021). “'Economic bubble' idea floated as PNG and NZ sign partnership”.
PNG Business News - October 26, 2021
Australia buys Digicel, PNG’s mobile monopoly
Photo credit: Devpolicy by Stephen Howes Yesterday, Telstra announced that it was buying Digicel Pacific. Telstra itself is only paying $270 million, and the Australian government $1.33 billion. Yet, Telstra is obtaining 100% ownership. The deal is certainly an attractive one for Telstra. But does it make sense for Australia, and for the Pacific? Digicel has had a transformational impact in the Pacific, but now has too much market power. As the Telstra release explains, it holds the dominant position in all the Pacific countries in which it operates, except for Fiji, where it is in second place. In Papua New Guinea, which I know best, and which is by far Digicel's biggest market, the company has a 92% share of the mobile phone market. That makes Digicel effectively a monopoly in PNG. And that is why it is so profitable: like any monopolist, it exploits its market power. Australian and PNG researchers have been tracking mobile internet prices in PNG since Australia gifted it a new underwater cable . Their conclusion is that since the completion of that cable in December 2019 to today there has been no decrease in mobile internet prices. The reason is simple: the lack of retail competition. Michelle Nayahamui Rooney, Martin Davies and I last year exposed Digicel PNG’s predatory loan scheme. Digicel lends phone credit to its customers. They pay it back when they next top up. Our estimate is that Digicel made a 17% return from such loans every week, which is equivalent to an unbelievable 351200% a year. Is this really the way in which Australia want to engages in the Pacific – owning an enterprise that keeps prices high for consumers, and rips them off when they are desperate to make a call? Any monopolist is necessarily engaged in a battle between the consumer and their profits. At some point, Telstra will end up going toe-to-toe with the PNG telecom regulator, NICTA, as Digicel has done several times. It’s going to be awkward for both Telstra and the Australian government. Many will welcome the investment as a sign of Australian commitment to the Pacific. However, if we want to invest in the telecom sector in the Pacific, we should be backing alternatives to Digicel, to push prices down and improve services, not buying out the dominant player. Amalgamated Telecom Holdings based in Fiji is the Pacific’s second biggest telecom provider. It is currently planning to enter the PNG mobile market with support from the Asian Development Bank. This is the sort of investment we should be financing. That Australia has bought Digicel shows the extent to which the Pacific is now viewed through a China lens. That’s unfortunate. China is a massive economic power. Its companies will have increasing stakes in economies around the world. That is a fact we have to accept. The Australian government also needs to decide if its only goal is to counter China or if it is still seeks to promote Pacific development. When I was AusAID's Chief Economist, Digicel was the new kid on the block in the Pacific, and it was successfully challenging state-owned telcos that until then had been dominant. In 2006, in Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's flagship Pacific 2020 report, we wrote glowingly about the competition that various Pacific countries had recently started allowing in the mobile phone sector. Our analysis was right then, and remains relevant today. Yet here we are, in 2021, doing the opposite: rather than supporting greater competition in the telecom sector, subsidising the purchase of the incumbent monopolist. The decision to buy Digicel Pacific should be reversed. If it is too late for that, the Australian government should at least – in return for all its cheap and risk-reducing finance – oblige Telstra to operate Digicel for the benefit of the people of the Pacific rather than solely for its shareholders through an agreement that makes it clear that the Australian company is not only expected to return the cheap loan it has been given, but also reduce prices, and end rip-offs. This article appeared first on Devpolicy Blog (devpolicy.org), from the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University. Stephen Howes is the Director of the Development Policy Centre and a Professor of Economics at the Crawford School.
PNG Business News - October 26, 2021
Taureka Replaced As Managing Director
Isikeli Taureka's position as managing-director (MD) of Kumul Consolidated Holdings (KCH) was terminated by the National Executive Council (NEC) recently. Professor David Kavanamur has been appointed as interim MD until a permanent appointment is made, and Moses Maladina, the current chairman of PNG Power Ltd, has been named as acting chairman. Taureka was removed after 20 months, according to Prime Minister James Marape, due to poor performance by KCH and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and missed national project deadlines. “The reforms of the SOEs were endorsed by the Government in October 2019,” he said “We see it as the most-significant reform programme to be undertaken by any Government since the corporatisation of the state utilities and the creation of the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC), now KCH. “Building governance and accountability must go hand in hand with successful project execution. These are viable projects that can fundamentally change the accessibility and affordability of services and benefit the welfare of our people. “Extensive unexplained delays to major projects by KCH and SOEs are not acceptable. The Government understands that SOE issues cannot be immediately resolved as they take time. “That is why the NEC provided well over a year for KCH to work with SOEs to support the development and execution of strategies. We had hoped more would have been achieved during Taureka’s tenure. We regret to take the difficult step of severing the MD’s appointment. However, the NEC felt it had to be done. “The Telikom merger and partial privatisation with majority ownership and board control to be passed onto the super funds, for example, is one major issue the Government has been pushing since 2019 when we took office. “The merger of Water PNG and Eda Ranu is another matter that has been outstanding and not yet resolved. This merger is to take on a subsidiary structure where 20 percent of Eda Ranu is to be owned by Koiari landowners and 10 per cent each by Central Province and the National Capital District. “This decision was taken in 2019 but has not been implemented to date. “As for PNG Power and its continuous performance issues, these have been ongoing and evident. “These are badly-needed reforms within the SOEs and responsive policies have been launched by the Government, yet, very little or no progress have been made. “Out of respect to Taureka as a leading Papua New Guinea son, I had reached out to him for a meeting but there was no response forthcoming. Hence, the announcement of this decision (termination),” he added. Those nominated to crucial positions, according to Marape, must grasp the larger picture and act quickly to fulfill the government's goals.“For others in key leadership roles, whether as chair, members of boards, departments or agency heads, you are not here to pass the time or warm seats. Everyone must step up. “The Prime Minister’s Department is working to take stock of work done. So, if you feel you have not met your key performance indicators, I suggest you start thinking about resigning before the NEC asks you to leave.” According to Marape, Kavanamur had previously served as the chairman of KCH and had a thorough awareness of the organization's issues as well as the government's goals. Reference: The National (22 October 2021). “Cabinet Axes Taureka”.
PNG Business News - October 26, 2021
Digicel Pacific to be Acquired by Telstra
Telstra has announced that it will buy Digicel Pacific for $US1.6 billion, plus up to an additional US$250 million based on business performance over the next three years, subject to government and regulatory approvals. In its six South Pacific markets – Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu – Telstra, Australia's leading telecommunications and technology company, will continue to invest in and operate the business under the Digicel brand name. Telstra International CEO Oliver Camplin-Warner said the agreement will allow Telstra to expand on Digicel Pacific's regional leadership and increase mobile connectivity in Papua New Guinea. “Denis O’Brien and the Digicel team have built a phenomenal business that’s centred on providing exceptional customer service, the best coverage and leading digital experiences. Telstra will add to these strengths and the team’s local knowledge with our more than one hundred years’ experience connecting the vast expanses of Australia to continue delivering great experiences for Digicel’s customers across the Pacific.” “We have 19.5 million retail mobile customers in Australia and our 4G network is the largest and most reliable in country. It covers some of the remotest parts of Australia – from the coast, to the outback and the Torres Strait Islands, just off the coast of Papua New Guinea. And we’re in the process of building Australia’s largest 5G network that now stretches to more than 240 towns and 75 per cent of the population,” Camplin-Warner said. There will be no employment losses in the region as a result of the transaction, and the present Digicel Pacific team will continue to manage the company on a day-to-day basis. Denis O'Brien, the current owner of Digicel, will continue on the Board of Directors. “We will invest our know-how and capital to further expand coverage and over time bring the benefits of 5G to Papua New Guinea. But we’ll retain the same Digicel brand the people of PNG know and love today with the same team and services they have come to rely on,” Mr Camplin-Warner said. The purchase, according to Camplin-Warner, is in line with Telstra International's expansion plan, which now comprises operations in 20 countries outside of Australia and thousands of clients, including businesses, governments, and some of the world's largest technology firms. “Beyond Australia Telstra also has the most extensive subsea telecommunications cable network in the Asia Pacific. And we’re one of the biggest providers of voice and data services connecting the South Pacific to the rest of the world through our Southern Cross cable.” “Network traffic is growing faster than at any other period of time and digital technology is changing our world. We are at the centre of this, and so is Digicel Pacific. We are committed to delivering the best technology on the best network for PNG,” Mr Camplin-Warner said. The people and businesses of PNG will benefit from Telstra's experience rolling out a world-class 5G network and connecting diverse geographies, according to Colin Stone, CEO of Digicel Papua New Guinea. “Telstra’s network innovation has played a critical part in Australia being ranked first in the global Mobile Connectivity Index which assesses networks based on performance, affordability and availability. We look forward to working with Oliver and the Telstra team,” Mr Stone said. The two firms' ideals, according to Camplin-Warner, were likewise matched. “Digicel Pacific and Telstra are both committed to building a connected future so everyone can thrive and this includes supporting some of the most vulnerable in our communities.” “Digicel Pacific has taken community development to the next level through the Digicel Foundation’s investment in health, education and community-based programs. We look forward to continuing this work, just as we do today with the Telstra Foundation and its commitment to using technology to support young people and help to reduce the digital divide.” “We will also bring a commitment to addressing climate change to help drive better environmental outcomes for the people of PNG,” Mr Camplin-Warner said. Despite the fact that the transaction is funded by the Australian government, Telstra will remain the only owner and operator of the company. Reference: Loop (October 25, 2021). “Australia’s biggest telecommunications company to acquire Digicel Pacific”.