11 Apr 2005

Australian Foreign Minister puts PNG spat down to cultural differences

8:49 pm on 11 April 2005

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the diplomatic row between his country and Papua new Guinea is the result of cultural differences.

Prime Minister John Howard has refused to apologise to an angry PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, who was insulted by a request at a Brisbane airport last month that he remove his shoes during a security check.

PNG is threatening to suspend parts of a multi million dollar aid programme provided by Australia as a result of the row.

The incident sparked protests against the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby when about 500 demonstrators converged on the compound, demanding an apology and compensation.

Mr Downer says that at the heart of the disagreement is a cultural difference.

He says while Australian culture is fiercely egalitarian, one of the characteristics of Papua New Guinean and Melanesian culture is an emphasis on special treatment for leaders and chiefs.

The Australian Government insists the security checks apply to everybody regardless of their position or power.

Meanwhile ...

The secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Greg Urwin, says he hopes the row between PNG and Australia can be quickly resolved.

Mr Urwin says it is a bi-lateral matter between two countries with a close and complicated relationship and he is confident both sides will be trying to sort it out.

"'It always seems to me it's better for Australia and Papua New Guinea to be working constructively together, which they do in a range of ways, a very broad range of ways - I am sure that will continue."