Peter O’Neill tells Australian media a bedtime story on corruption
It was late at night, and the Australian media pack were tired after a long day of following Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
One sleepy reporter asked O’Neil a delicate question.
‘It’s been alleged by one of your former colleagues – so that’s Sam Koim – that Australia is the Cayman Islands of the Pacific in the way that it provides unlimited opportunities for corrupt officials to invest here. The ABS – Australian Bureau of Statistics – says Australia has received $5 billion in investment in five years from PNG nationals, a lot of which I gather goes into the Cairns property market. Are you pressing this in your visit here to Australia? And if so, what measures would you like the Australian Government to take?’
Peter O’Neill responded to his sleepy colleague, offering to tell a bedtime story on corruption in PNG. It was a more fanciful tale then they had ever been told before. It went like this:
‘On the issue about Papua New Guinean funds being invested in Australia, let me put it on the record very clearly that there are many successful Papua New Guineans who, in their own right, are able to afford to invest in Australia and of course in the property market in Cairns and elsewhere. There is no doubt that the transfer of funds between the two countries have got vigorous scrutiny. If you wish to even pay bills for you schools, kids who are going to Australia, you have to go through the financial regulations bodies which clear those funds to come.
So when you talk about corrupt funds coming to Australia there must be substantive evidence. Unfortunately, everybody jumps on the bandwagon of emotional statements without facts to support it. Now, there is no doubt the Australian Government has got access to the records about who owns properties in Australia and how it was applied, and there’s nothing stopping the Australian Government, there is no requests from the Papua New Guinea Government into whether they should investigate further on how some of these properties were acquired. So we encourage Australian Government to do so.
In Papua New Guinea, of course, it’s an easy issue about corruption and politics. But when you look at the history of the country, since 1964 when self government was introduced in Papua New Guinea to date, do a survey of the politicians who are in office and who have left office and find out how many of them are well off because of corrupt funds that they’ve acquired. Over 90 per cent of them today who have either left office or in office are struggling to even pay their own bills. So this notion that there is great wealth being acquired by Papua New Guinean politicians is ridiculous.
We are doing all we can in Papua New Guinea now to introduce legislations like ICAC, which will be of the final reading in this March session, and we will receive overwhelming support from Parliament where the sorts of funds received by individuals in their wealth will be a subject of investigation, and of course they will be held accountable for them. They have to explain whether they had a rich grandmother who passed on a lot of wealth to them. So those are legislations that we are now putting in place to address this issue.
Even today, when you put more than 10,000 kina, transferring it out of Papua New Guinea, you must declare them to the financial intelligence unit who will give the necessary approval for you to do so. It must the banks are working very closely, all the big banks who work in Papua New Guinea like Westpac, ANZ, BSP, all enforcing these regulations and rules to the strictest terms possible. So there is no uncertainty in that.’
By the time O’Neill had finished his tall tale, the press core was fast asleep.
Download the full transcript of Peter O’Neill speaking at the Press Club