“The impact my Australia Award had for my work is huge. I can now confidently perform my work and at the same time impart knowledge and skills to other colleagues. I encourage other public officials to apply for Australia Awards,” says Ismael Sunga, Assistant Secretary for Extractive Industries in the PNG Department of Treasury and Australia Awards alumni.

Ismael grew up in Finschhafen in Morobe Province, with parents who were both health workers, providing him the motivation to serve his community from a young age.

“At the early age, I had the desire to help other people just like them (my mom and dad). However, I wanted to help more people, not just people of Finschhafen or Morobe, but Papua New Guineans. I wanted to work in a place where the decisions I make, or my contribution could impact every citizen of PNG,” he said.

Ismael visited Talison Lithium Greenbushes mining operations located in the southwest region of Western Australia.

Ismael started with the PNG Department of Treasury as a graduate 11 years ago, moving up the ranks thanks to his dedication, commitment and passion for economics. However, he soon realised that he, and his Department, lacked the capacity to properly analyse the economic impact of resource projects – essential in a country like PNG where resources dominate the economy. So, he applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Master of Science in Mineral and Energy Economics at Curtin University in Western Australia.

Australia Awards supports high performing public officials from across PNG access Masters studies in Australia, and bring back valuable knowledge and networks to make even greater contributions towards PNG’s development. However, applying as a public official is different to the general open category. Ismael had to go through a competitive internal selection process first.  He credits his supervisors and senior staff in the Department of Treasury, including the former Secretary Mr Dairi Vele, who encouraged and supported him through this process. He also notes that his success was because he targeted his application at an important area of need for the Department and PNG.

He recommends applicants reflect on how to align their applications and personal benefit with skills needed by their agency. “It is important to identify your lack of capacity because that will guide you to choose a program of study. As public officials, our mandate is to ensure Government’s agenda, plans and vision are implemented and therefore, if we align our personal goals with our work accordingly, the chances of getting an Australia Award are high,” he recommends.

Ismael completed his studies in 2021, and despite being affected by restrictions due to COVID-19 during his studies, he still found the experience invaluable. Skills gained during his studies have transformed how he approaches his work in the Department of Treasury, and opened up opportunities and networks that will be valuable throughout his career.

“I have built connections and even friendships that I would not have before. My connections have grown outside from the sphere of my area of work since I took the Australia Award. The skills and knowledge have also been useful with my review of new resource projects under consideration by the Government for approval,” he says proudly.

“The year 2022 was my full year working after returning from studies and I am eager to contribute more to the Department in 2023 and for many years to come for my country”.

Applications for Intake 2024 Australia Awards Scholarships open on 1 February 2023. Public officials or employees at public institutions are encouraged to speak to their human resources manager to discuss their interest. Find out more on the Australia Awards PNG website [https://www.australiaawardspng.org/study-in-australia/public-service-applicants].