An Analysis of Papua New Guinea’s Political Condition and Trends Through to 2025

last updated: August 2017


Papua New Guinea entered its 2017 National Election after a tumultuous period in the country’s politics and economy, and there remains much uncertainty about the election process, with significant implications for the country’s future. In the last ten years key political, bureaucratic, and regulatory institutions have struggled and in some cases, failed. These struggles have been more profound under the O’Neill government despite some tangible advances in the country’s ambitious Vision 2050 roadmap.

There is a widespread desire across the country for robust and independent institutions to ensure economic gains are transparently and sustainably managed. The ultimate question for many voters in the 2017 general elections was not who would form the next government, but who would be the most credible leader. With elections now over, and the O’Neill government returning for a second term, what does Papua New Guinea expect of the new government and those in power?

This analysis attempts to address how key trends in PNG’s politics will impact upon both the bureaucracy and regulatory environment. It will identify some of the key actors and how they are likely to change. It will discuss current political trends, their impact on the regulatory and legislative environments and how likely they are to continue in the future. Finally, it assesses the prospects of continuing dysfunction in PNG politics, the further marginalisation and deterioration of the bureaucracy, and how this destructive course might be avoided.

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Changing Geopolitical Dynamics For Papua New Guinea

last updated: August 2017


The new O’Neill government faces a rapidly changing external environment as it struggles to manage a significant domestic economic downturn and unprecedented pressures on the national budget. Australia remains Papua New Guinea’s closest foreign partner; by far its largest bilateral aid partner, trading partner and foreign investor, but its influence is diminishing as that of other actors is growing. China is an increasingly important player — as a trade partner, investor in infrastructure and source of foreign loans, as well as in the small to medium business sector. Relations with other Asian nations are expanding. Large foreign companies are exerting more influence on government policy than most nation state development and trade partners of Papua New Guinea can hope to exercise. These relationships are likely to come into sharper focus over the next year, as the PNG government prepares to host APEC in 2018. It is not clear that the new PNG government has the capacity to pursue the national interest abroad while it is preoccupied with a complex set of challenges at home.

How Papua New Guinea Interacts With The World

The Pacific Islands region, once remote from the global centre of economic gravity, is now benefiting from its proximity to the centre of global growth that is China, East Asia, and India. The neglected and relatively poor Pacific Islands end of the Asia-Pacific region is increasingly attracting the attention of outside powers as its neighbourhood has grown wealthier. China’s profile in the Pacific Islands has grown enormously. China’s interests in Papua New Guinea have predominantly focused on trade and investment but in the last year Beijing has for the first time leveraged these interests to put public pressure on the PNG government and other governments in the region to support its actions in the South China Sea, signalling a shift in dynamics in its relations with the island states.

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Internal Security in Papua New Guinea: Trends and Prospects

last updated: August 2017


Concerns about personal security have been prominent in Papua New Guinea for many years. Personal security figures regularly in travel advisories issued by foreign governments. International news coverage of Papua New Guinea is often about violence or crime, reinforcing the country’s reputation as a dangerous and lawless place. A visitor
to Port Moresby, the sprawling national capital, sees evidence of this in the elaborate security arrangements that shape the urban landscape. Drivers of insecurity in this young nation are complex and multidimensional, stemming from the legacies of a recent colonial past, along with the ongoing challenges of state consolidation and the uneven effects of economic globalisation.

The main security threats are non-traditional, including urban crime, gender-based violence, corruption, arms trafficking, border protection, resource poaching, climate change, natural disasters, and transnational crime. Although some view China’s growing presence as a potential threat, its activities in Papua New Guinea have been largely confined to diplomacy, development assistance and investment. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has acknowledged the absence of any “distinct conventional external threat”, while PNG’s National Security Policy recognises the developmental and political character of the country’s security challenges.

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most complex development environments. Its population of almost 8 million people is dispersed across a vast and challenging topography, rendering effective administration and economies of scale hard to achieve. Around 85 per cent live in rural areas, reliant on a combination of subsistence agriculture and cash-cropping. Although it has the lowest urbanisation rate among Pacific Island countries, Papua New Guinea has the biggest urban population, at around 800 000 to 1 000,000 people. Well over half this number live in Port Moresby, making it the largest city in the region. While its population has more than trebled since independence in 1975, shortage of land and affordable housing has led to the growth of large and poorly serviced informal settlements. Limited employment opportunities and the high cost of living add to the hardships facing many urban residents.

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