Speech at the Australian High Commissioner's reception for the visiting Prime Minister’s XIII Australian Rugby League team
28 September 2006; Airways Hotel, Port Moresby, PNG
Australian High Commissioner to PNG, HE Mr Michael Potts
I would like to welcome you all to this evening’s reception for the Prime Minister’s XIII Australian Rugby League team.
I would particularly like to welcome the players themselves. For those of you who have not been to PNG before I am sure you are thrilled to be here. Those of you who have been to PNG before are no doubt delighted to be back.
For our part we are all very pleased to see you here.
The Prime Minister’s XIII team is in Port Moresby for the rugby league match on Saturday with the PNG Prime Minister’s XIII. It should be a great game and I know there is a great deal of excitement about it. I understand that when the Australian team arrived today there were over 1,000 people at the airport, so the word is clearly out.
The PNG Prime Minister’s XIII is also a strong team – worthy of respect – with some excellent players.
The game follows from the successful exhibition match last year to mark PNG’s 30th anniversary of independence and celebrate the strong people to people links between our two countries. This year, the Australian Rugby League and the PNG Rugby Football League are working together to host a similar match. I would like to thank both the ARL and the PNGRFL for their hard work in arranging this event.
Papua New Guinea is the only country in the world where rugby league is the national sport. I know from personal experience that there’s no point trying to organise official or social functions on State of Origin nights, for example, because everyone’s always busy – watching the television! The incredible passion that Papua New Guineans have for the sport adds a different dimension to this game and makes this trip even more special for the Australian team.
The trip also highlights the strong partnership between Australia and PNG – both on and off the sporting field.
The bilateral relationship is broad and it is strong. Close partnerships exist between governments, businesses and people. Australia and PNG also have a shared commitment to developing sports and using sport as a vehicle for community development.
Sport can bring individuals and communities together to discuss tough issues.
Tomorrow morning the players from both teams will visit a number of communities around Port Moresby to talk about how staying fit and healthy includes protecting yourself from HIV and AIDS.
They will also discuss the importance of playing by the rules - this includes staying safe on and off the field and respecting other people, especially women.
One of their key messages is that violence against women is against the rules. We all need to respect women, stop the violence against them and protect them from the spread of HIV and AIDS – here, in Australia, and internationally.
The Australian Government supports these objectives, including through the aid program, and I know that the players from both teams support them as well.
I do not wish to speak for a long time tonight. I think we should all seize this opportunity to talk to some of the players and enjoy the evening in these pleasant surroundings.
I would, however, like to wish the best of luck to both teams for the game on Saturday. I know that all of the players will play their best and both teams will go out there to win.
But in truth, the final score in Saturday’s match is not what this trip is about.
This trip is about the strong friendship between PNG and Australia. It’s about the importance of sport. It’s about making a contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS and the fight against domestic violence and it’s about remembering that at the end of the day, we are all on the same team when it comes to wanting a healthier, safer, stronger future.