19 Aug 2013

PNG Supreme Court fast-tracks challenge against asylum deal

3:03 pm on 19 August 2013

Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court has ruled in favour of fast-tracking a constitutional challenge by the opposition against the government's asylum seeker deal with Australia.

The opposition's first case against the Manus Island asylum seeker processing centre was thrown out of court on a technicality.

Since then, the opposition has relaunched a fresh challenge after the government agreed to an extended refugee resettlement arrangement with Australia.

The deputy opposition leader Sam Basil told Johnny Blades they are confident that their case has merits.

SAM BASIL: They have broken the laws daily since the deal was signed and executed. That was the urgency of the matter that the Supreme Court has agreed to fast-track the case. So we should be very concerned about the constitution because the constitution has been broken and recently the Prime Minister's office, in response, suggested that they will amend the constitution in parliament to ensure that the asylum seekers treaty doesn't break any PNG laws, and that has upset the opposition and upset a lot of Papua New Guineans that the government is going to go back and fix the laws that they've broken by executing the asylum seekers deal.

JOHNNY BLADES: What do you see as being constitutionally wrong about the deal?

SAM BASIL: I am not a lawyer so I will not go through many of them but one of those was the amount of time required to hold suspects under detention - that would be one of those laws that would be broken. The others would be if the asylum seekers come into the country and they are part of same-sex couples, they will break some of our rules. How do PNG laws apply to those asylum seekers? There is no policy on asylum seekers currently being adopted by PNG or that is in PNG's constitution.

JOHNNY BLADES: The government, do you get the feeling that perhaps they under-estimated the depth of opposition to the deal?

SAM BASIL: As Papua New Guineans, we understand our role. We should play our part in this region to mitigate any of those issues and threats that come into our region. In doing so, we the opposition of PNG are asking that we have to do it properly. We have to do it accordingly by our constitution. We understand that there is a federal election coming up in Australia. We believe that the urgency was because the Labor Party wants to use this issue to maybe get popular votes and return Rudd and his team back in to parliament. But not at the cost of our constitution. There is a figure of 450 million Australian dollars that has been mentioned by the Prime Minister of PNG, that that money is what we're going to benefit from this deal... but that money is actually the normal AusAID money we get every year. But I don't think that our constitution is worth 450 million dollars. Our constitution is pre-eminent. We must respect it. The case must be brought back to parliament and debated properly but instead they've already put the cart before the horse. They realise they've broken the law and Prime Minister O'Neill is trying to change the law so that has upset a lot of Papua New Guineans and we must understand that we Papua New Guineans are very jealous of our constitution. When you mingle with it, we have something to say about it. That's why we bring it to the courts now for the five-judge bench to make a decision.