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So close, but so far apart: only a few kilometres separate Papua New Guinea and Australia at the Torres Strait – but the coronavirus pandemic has made that close geography seem a world away.

Travel between the two countries requires a substantial amount of time in quarantine and that has put business, tourism, education and the diplomatic relationship under pressure. While Australia is dealing with a pandemic flare-up, PNG tentatively hopes it has escaped the worst from the virus for now.

Minds are now turning to what happens next: when relations can return to normal, what will have changed in the PNG-Australia relationship? What should be the priorities for two countries that share geography, history and economic interests?

Lowy Institute Non-Resident Fellow Annmaree O’Keeffe will host this discussion with former Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to Australia Sir Charles Lepani and former Australian High Commissioner to PNG Ian Kemish.

Sir Charles Lepani KBE served as High Commissioner to Australia and Ambassador to the European Union as part of a diplomatic, public service and business career that has spanned Papua New Guinea’s history as an independent nation. He was recognised with a knighthood in 2017 for his service enhancing PNG’s foreign relations with Australia. Sir Charles was the Director-General of the 2018 APEC Summit in Port Moresby, and previously was CEO of Orogen Minerals and the Mineral Resources Development Company (MRDC), and Director of the Pacific Islands Development Program at the East-West Centre in Hawaii

Ian Kemish AM served as High Commissioner to PNG, Ambassador to Germany and International Adviser to the Prime Minister as part of a diplomatic and public service career that spanned 25 years. He is a sustainability adviser with Newcrest Mining and a senior adviser with Bower Group Asia. Ian is a Non-Resident Fellow with the Lowy Institute and Adjunct Associate Professor in History at the University of Queensland as well as chair of the Kokoda Track Foundation. 

Annmaree O’Keeffe AM is a Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute. Previously with Australia's foreign aid agency AusAID her roles included Ambassador for HIV/AIDS and Deputy Director General. She has served as Australia’s Ambassador to Nepal and was Minister-Counsellor for Development Assistance in Papua New Guinea. She is chair of the Foundation for Development Cooperation. 

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