PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill and his deputy’s Independence Day speeches were dominated by notions of leadership, both past and present, as they urged the country to reflect on how far it has come in the last four decades.

“It is now 39 years – and we are still standing,” Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion said at his Kiriwina address.

“Who would have thought that we will make it this far as a united country?”

Mr Dion said Papua New Guineans had proven the doubters wrong, many of whom he said had “expected the country to collapse as soon as the Australians left”.

He referred to Australian Pacific historian Hank Nelson’s words on the spirit of Papua New Guineans and the confidence the people gave him that the country would prosper in their hands.

“In his words, and I quote, ‘In the long term, it is the people of Niugini who make one confident – they possess a courtesy, imagination and pragmatic strength to provide their own solutions.’”

“He was one of the few who sensed that the country had the inner spirit of confidence and determination,” Mr Dion said.

Mr Dion qualified his enthusiasm for the determination of Papua New Guineans to succeed by highlighting the need for a “leadership changing of the guard” to be embraced.

“The country has been on a threshold in terms of a leadership change over the two decades or so,” he said.

“We are witnessing the last of the founding fathers that have steadied the country for some time now.

“The burning question is whether or not there are leaders capable to carry forward that mantra of quality leadership.”

O’Neill calls for stability

Prime Minister O’Neill, presenting at the Independence Day flag raising ceremony in the nation’s capital, was more direct in his assessment of the need for leadership in PNG.

“[Opportunities for PNG] continue to be hampered by one major issue in our country – that is lack of stability in governments since independence,” Mr O’Neill said.

“If we do not have political stability, if we do not have consistency in policy, if we do not have certainty in government systems – then we will not secure the billions of kina investment that we require to create new jobs and opportunities for our people.

“I am proud to say here today, that over the last two years since we have been elected to government we have achieved the greatest political stability than we have seen in many years.”

He looked to highlight his government’s moves to delegate decision making to lower levels of government, boost health and education, and effectively manage the commodity boom.

He assured those listening that the coming economic benefits of the PNG LNG project would not fall “into a few elite hands”.

Papua New Guineans celebrate the nation’s Independence. Image courtesy MadNESS Photography.

Papua New Guineans celebrate the nation’s Independence. Image courtesy MadNESS Photography.

“I can assure you that as revenue from our first LNG project comes in, we will manage it responsibly,” he said.

He said much of the revenue from the project would be transferred to an independent managed fund for long-term financial security, with the government having approved the final draft of the Sovereign Wealth Fund for presentation to Parliament.

Government plans to help Papua New Guineans start and grow their own businesses were also soon to come through, with Mr O’Neill citing the progress made in boosting local tourism, agriculture and transport.

“Recently we have also launched a K200 million initiative that will make home ownership more affordable and make it easy for people to be able to take care of their families,” he said.

He also highlighted the need for PNG to continue to demonstrate leadership in the South Pacific.

“The recent election of one of our distinguished citizens, as secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum is a further example of this commitment,” he said.

He said the next few years would be big for PNG as it hosts the 2015 Pacific Games before preparations for the biggest international event since independence – the APEC Leaders’ Summit.

“This will bring together the leaders of 20 of our partner economies including the presidents of the United States and China,” Mr O’Neill said.

“What many people do not know is that between now and the Leaders’ Summit in 2018, Papua New Guinea will also host up to 200 associated APEC meetings.

“This will bring thousands of delegates to our country from as far away as South America and Russia.”