Burgeoning PNG population concerns PM

4:52 pm on 22 May 2017

Papua New Guinea's prime minister has described the country's rapid population growth as a burden on society.

Speaking at a government departmental heads' meeting in Central Province, Peter O'Neill said having more than a million children every four years was unsustainable for any nation but especially one like PNG.

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill (centre with glasses) on the campaign trail in Southern Highlands, May 2017.

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill (centre with glasses) on the campaign trail in Southern Highlands, May 2017. Photo: PMO Media

He said the rapid growth exacerbated the huge challenges PNG faced in meeting its many infrastructure needs in the areas of schools, hospitals, education, roads and bridges.

PNG's population is understood to be around 8-million, growing at a rate of 2.1 percent, compared to Australia with 1.3 percent.

The newspaper The National reports that Mr O'Neill suggested young people should be discouraged from rushing into having children.

"I know it is hard to sometimes stop these things that people enjoy, but you have to stop having children, you don't necessarily have to have children while you're having fun," he said.

"You see that the young couples who are getting married early most times have not secured decent employment, they have not finished their university or tertiary education.

"They are not skilled, they do not have an income level to look after the child that they bring into this world."

Education highlighted in campaign

Discourse on meeting the needs of a youthful population has been at the forefront of Mr O'Neill and his People's National Congress party's campaign for next month's general election.

The prime minister said his government's benchmark free education policy was providing a foundation for the country's future by helping more than an additional one million PNG children be in schools.

The Post Courier reports that while in Central province, he stressed the importance of continuing the policy.

"It is not cheap but we must continue to give each and everyone education," Mr O'Neill said.

However, amid collapsed government revenues in the past two years, many schools appear to have been unable to operate properly due to funding shortfalls.

PNG Opposition Leader, Don Polye, at Maramuni

PNG Opposition Leader, Don Polye, at Maramuni Photo: supplied

The opposition leader Don Polye and his Triumph, Heritage and Empowerment party want to make it compulsory for children to attend school and for parents to pay fees up to Grade 12, while making technical and tertiary education free.

Mr Polye said Peter O'Neill's free education policy had failed when most schools around the country were not being funded by government.

His party's policy, Mr Polye explained, was geared towards long-term gains for PNG, with an emphasis on the quality of education on offer.

"It is ownership and responsibility, so parents will have to pay some fees, the government will subsidise, we must build the country together, so I am not going to be scared about that."

Mr Polye said the O'Neill government's policy had undermined the quality of education whilst causing class sizes to increase sharply, and funding for teachers and schools to dry up.

However Mr O'Neill has gone on the attack over THE's policy.

"How could anyone think that ending free education could be a good thing?" said Mr O'Neill last week.

"Our government considers Education to be a right for all Papua New Guineans, not just those with money."