Australia and Papua New Guinea have a strong and unique relationship, with ties spanning historical, economic, political and cultural spheres. The depth of our shared history goes far beyond the Kokoda Track and wartime experiences that most Australians associate with PNG. Many Australians don’t realise that PNG is Australia’s nearest neighbour and former colony, marking 42 years of independence this year.
The strong personal relationships that existed at the time of independence are deteriorating and with them an understanding of PNG in Australia, particularly among the next generation of Australian leaders. At the same time, youth engagement in politics on both sides of the Torres Strait is at an historic low. This Lowy Institute Aus-PNG Network event will bring together a panel of exceptional young Australian and Papua New Guinean leaders who are working to engage their peers in the political process.
Panellists include, Barbra Thomas, Executive Director of The Voice Inc., a youth leadership development organisation running programs in PNG’s major universities; Arianne Kassman, Interim Executive Director of Transparency International PNG; a representative from Oaktree, Australia’s largest youth-led development agency; and Benson Saulo, Group Indigenous Opportunities Manager at Australian Unity and founding and former Director of the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy. The discussion will be chaired by Anna Kirk, Research Associate in the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute.
Arianne Kassman has been involved in anti-corruption work since she was 15 and has spent the last five years with Transparency International PNG Inc. She is the Interim Executive Director at TIPNG and continues to coordinate the youth programs and manage the Advocacy & Legal Advice Centre. Arianne is passionate about fighting corruption and believes that young people have such an important role to play, not just in raising awareness, but also refusing to practice corruption in their own lives and rejecting any attitudes that support or allow corruption to take place. She shares a similar passion for the fight against climate change and is a strong advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities.
Lachlan McPhee is PNG Programs Director at Oaktree, Australia’s largest youth-led organisation. Oaktree has worked in partnership with locally-led organisations in PNG on education service delivery for over a decade and also partners with The Voice and Youth Against Corruption Association to collaborate for positive social change. Oaktree is also a recognised expert on youth participation in development practice and has authored a practice note in conjunction with ACFID on the topic. Lachlan graduated with a Masters of International Development Practice from Monash University in 2016, and is passionate about youth leadership, governance, democratisation and social change in the Asia-Pacific. At Oaktree, he is responsible for engagement with the development sector in PNG and is currently conducting research on the political, economic and social impact of growing youth populations across the region, and how the development sector should respond.
Benson Saulo brings unique insight from his wide range of experience across corporate, not-for-profit and government sectors. In 2011, Benson was appointed the Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, undertaking a national engagement tour to gain a deeper understanding of issues impacting Australian youth. He then became the founding director of the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy (NIYLA), which engages young Indigenous Australians to develop and drive youth-led social action campaigns. In 2013 – 14, NIYLA participants developed and launched ten youth-led social action campaigns focusing on suicide prevention, climate change, mental health and welcoming refugee and asylum seekers. He delivered a speech at the 2014 TEDxBondUniversity event titled 'What would it take to lead a resurgence in political participation in our generation'. In 2014, Benson was a finalist for Young Australian of the Year, and the Human Rights Medal.
Barbra Thomas is the Executive Director of The Voice Inc., a youth development organization that runs dynamic leadership programs with high schools and universities in PNG. The programs run by The Voice Inc. aim to develop a sense of purpose in the lives of young people, build their confidence and create avenues for them to contribute to their communities. The organization also operates three Centres of Leadership across the three main state-run universities in PNG. Barbra has been in involved with The Voice Inc. for the past seven years, serving in various capacities, beginning as a student volunteer, then progressing to program mentor and team leader. She is also passionate about sustainable rural development and spends her free time assisting her local rural district office, The Kundiawa Gembogl district office.