Deja Vu PNG – The ‘Bulolo Phenomenon’ all over again?
I was recently reading a number of Wall Street investment analysis reports covering emerging markets within the Asia-Pacific, and as expected, Papua New Guinea’s economic profile popped up. The opening sentence of PNG’s economic profile was the first and last line I read in this particular brief. This introductory sentence follows:
“Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with natural resources, but exploitation has been hampered by rugged terrain and the high cost of developing infrastructure and facilities“.
This opening line designed to inform potential global investors about the Land of the Unexpected bothered me to such an extent that I completely discarded reading the report for a few days. Why? Because the structure and context of the language used in this particular sentence is largely representative of how the corporate world views PNG. There is no subtle hint or Chinese-qianzai in relaying this purpose or reason for action as described in the sentence. It is stated unashamedly, crudely and matter-of-factly, i.e., “exploitation“.
One country that has had more than its fair share of PNG is Australia. The potential of our resources has long been identified by Australia with the Wau and Bulolo goldfields the first major incursions into exploiting PNG’s mineral wealth. The Bulolo phenomenon in the 1930s, which saw thousands of kilograms of PNG gold contribute to the development of Sydney and Brisbane, set the precedent for capitalised monolithic corporations to focus their largely then inefficient energies on PNG. Seventy years on their progeny have evolved into leaders in the fields of technology and innovation, enabling them to overcome many of the geographical limitations that plagued early pioneers.
Just like the Bulolo gold fields, the PNG LNG project has once again attracted the attention of the globe. And once again, Australian cities are in line to reap rewards. One, in particular, has caught the eye due to its geographic location, economic dearth and particularly, its agressive strategic approach to taking advantage of PNG’s mineral wealth. That city is Cairns.
Since 2009 the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Advance Cairns, the regional business incubator and development organisation, with the support of Queenslands’ Bligh Government, have set their sights on tapping into the economic opportunites PNG presents. Contributing to an agressive investment strategy has been regular high-level meetings between Cairns business delegations and PNG:
- November 10, 2009: Cairns Chamber PNG trade mission visits Port Moresby
- March 15, 2010: Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser leads 40 business representatives to PNG on a 3-day delegation
- November, 2010: A trade mission of Cairns business representatives will leave for PNG in November armed with The Cairns Prospectus
Such is the emphasis on PNG and the importance of converting opportunities into dollars that Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser recently launched The Cairns Prospectus, a blueprint aimed at broadening out the Cairns economy and attacting investment, and which places special emphasis on PNG.
This commitment to deliver on an overarching PNG strategy for North Queensland to capitalise on opportunities in the market via a structured and coordinated manner has resulted in Jeremy Blockey, President of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Director of Advance Cairns, being appointed as the Queensland Government’s new Special Trade Representative to Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The Cairns-based Special Trade Representative to PNG is an initiative of the Queensland Government under the Cairns Economic Future Plan released in November 2009 which is tasked to create new jobs in Cairns and Far North Queensland. The Special Trade Representative will also be a member of the new Queensland-PNG Business Group to advise Trade and Investment Queensland on business relations with PNG.
The simple fact that PNG is beginning to be included as an integral part of the strategic direction of both local and federal government thinking is an encouraging sign for business confidence in the nation. There is no doubt that Cairns and North Queensland are placing a particular emphasis on PNG in the hope of boosting the regions’ stagnating economy.
However, it is this same desperation in the wake of opportunity that we must be attentive to – the Bulolo phenomenon has showed us quite clearly what can happen if we aren’t.