THE inaugural Australia-Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue was dominated by talk on ways to attract investment and was used as a platform to announce a new online forum for the exchange of ideas.

The event, hosted by the Lowy Institute took place at the end of 2013. The Dialogue was convened with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and was an initiative that arose from the 2012 PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum. Twenty two emerging leaders from PNG and Australia, from across the business, government, media and non-government sector, participated in the Dialogue.

The Dialogue focused on four main themes: Growing the economy and attracting investment in the Asian Century; Politics and accountability – new expectations; National infrastructure challenges – new approaches and reform and innovations in the delivery of health and education services.

Participants proposed a number of ways people-to-people relations between Australia and PNG could be expanded. They also agreed to establish an online forum to continue to exchange ideas and cooperate on new initiatives that will increase mutual understanding, develop small business cooperation and support communities in PNG.

Some of the key findings of the forum included the fact perceptions of PNG among the Australian public and business community remain narrowly based. They focus on media reports on mining, crime and corruption. The forum found that perceptions could be improved by businesses better publicising their successes in PNG, the use of creative media and increasing people-to-people links between the two countries through networking and structured collaboration

Additionally, social media was rapidly changing the media landscape in PNG. Although traditional media continues to be important, the proliferation of mobile phones has given Papua New Guineans the ability to influence what the media reports and to get their message into the public sphere.

Suggestions that PNG could benefit from Australia’s experience in consultative infrastructure planning between governments and business was also a hot talking point.