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Cabinet papers: Fears grow over Papua New Guinea’s perceived ‘weaknesses’

A riot policeman takes cover outside Murray Army Barracks in Port Moresby. Photo: Michael BowersConcerns for Papua New Guinea’s ability to take care of its own domestic problems caused the cabinet to develop new guidelines for handling Australia’s closest northern neighbour.

“The course of PNG’s development has significant implications for Australia given its crucial strategic location for us. Problems between PNG and Indonesia could complicate our own relationship with Indonesia. Indonesia’s opinion of Australia is shaped by, inter alia, its assessment of our ability to protect shared security interests in PNG,” said Defence Minister Robert Ray and Minister for Foreign Affairs Gareth Evans in a submission to the cabinet.

“A close strategic relationship with PNG benefits our regional security environment. PNG’s weaknesses could create opportunities for inimical foreign involvement and the divergence of regional strategic perspectives.

“If its problems are unchecked, PNG could cease to be a positive factor in our defence planning, undermining assumptions about the security of our north-eastern approaches. We would then have to review our defence planning and force structure.”

The cabinet was told of concerns about the ability of PNG police to remain loyal to the government in Port Moresby and defence co-operation should focus on improving the PNG defence force’s leadership, discipline, planning, basic military skills and logistic support systems.

“We should support PNG’s efforts to improve its capacity to administer and create conditions for order in the country, but we should accept that we cannot engage in crisis management on PNG’s behalf.”

Cabinet records release

Cabinet records for 1990 and 1991 held by the National Archives of Australia became eligible for access from January 1, 2016. Information about the cabinet records, lists of the documents and copies of key cabinet documents, including selected submissions and decisions, are available on the Archives’ website (naa.gov备案老域名). Click on the “Collection” tab, then “Popular research topics”, then “Cabinet”.

Requests for access to records not already released may be made via RecordSearch on the Archives’ website.

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