12 Mar 2004

Opposition grows to Australia's call for immunity for its personnel being sent to PNG

4:18 pm on 12 March 2004

The Australian opposition Greens have backed Papua New Guinea's reluctance to grant immunity to Australians sent to PNG to help its police and administration.

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, says the demand by the Australian government is an affront to PNG, and an attempt by the former colonial power to dumb down PNG's sovereignty.

The issue threatens to scuttle plans to send more than 200 Australians to PNG and fresh top-level talks are now scheduled for Monday to try to break the deadlock.

Mr Brown says he doesn't agree with the government's position.

"It is absolutely hypocritical to be saying that we need to go and establish law and order and better process in the country, and the first thing we want you to do is to remove your laws as far as they apply to our citizens, particularly our police personnel, and you can't divorce this from John Howard's relationship with George W. Bush and the view that Australia should be deputy sheriff in the Pacific."

Meanwhile, the president of the PNG Chamber of Commerce, Michael Mayberry, says his group also disagrees with the Australian call.

Mr Mayberry says the Chamber doesn't know the reasons behind the request, but he says they made an assumption Australia felt the PNG judiciary was not working as well as it might.

And what we are saying is if that is the case then let's come out and address the judiciary as well, and have them subject to the legal processes here in PNG, but if it's a problem for them, it is also a problem for other people.