Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade ‘Inquiry into supporting democracy in our region’

By Terence Wood

December 2022

This submission covers Australia’s electoral assistance to Papua New Guinea and the important role it can play in helping strengthen democracy in the country.

The 2022 general elections in Papua New Guinea were plagued with problems. The roll was inaccurate, procedural issues were present at many polling stations, and violence marred the elections in the Highlands, Morobe and Port Moresby. There is an urgent need for Australia to work with the government of Papua New Guinea to improve electoral quality.

The submission discusses how Australia could be most effective at rising to this task. It recommends that:

  1. DFAT ensures that ongoing electoral assistance to Papua New Guinea becomes a priority for its aid work in the country. In particular DFAT should increase the amount of aid it devotes to electoral assistance. This will help to provide the Papua New Guinea Electoral Commission with needed resources. It will also increase Australia’s voice and influence in electoral discussions.
  2. DFAT proactively engages with electoral issues throughout the five year period between now and the next election. Given the length of Papua New Guinea’s electoral cycle it is easy to understand why electoral improvements become a low priority for aid agencies in the wake of elections. However, concerted work needs to start soon, particularly on areas such as the roll.
  3. DFAT ensures that it very thoroughly evaluates the electoral assistance that it gave over the period from 2017 to 2022.
  4. DFAT carefully investigates how it works and which organisations it works with on electoral matters in Papua New Guinea.
  5. Australia engages at a political level with its partners in Papua New Guinea. There are senior politicians in Papua New Guinea’s parliament at present who appear eager to improve electoral quality. Ongoing political dialogue will be an important aspect of improving elections and supporting democracy in Australia’s nearest neighbour.

Wood, T. 2022, Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade ‘Inquiry into supporting democracy in our region‘, Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, Canberra.

Karen Downing

Karen Downing is Research Communications Coordinator at the Development Policy Centre.