Aust PM postpones visit as PNG PM faces challenge

4:51 pm on 15 November 2020

The Australian Prime Minister has deferred a planned trip to Papua New Guinea after it emerged his PNG counterpart could be facing a leadership challenge.

PNG PM James Marape and Australian PM Scott Morrison.

PNG PM James Marape and Australian PM Scott Morrison. Photo: PNG Govt

Scott Morrison was scheduled to visit PNG this coming week.

The announcement of his trip was greeted with questions from PNG Opposition Leader Belden Namah who called it "highly suspicious", suggesting it was bad diplomacy that would unduly influence local politics.

Developments escalated on Friday morning with a number of government MPs crossing the floor of PNG's parliament.

Deputy Prime Minister, Sam Basil, was among a number who joined the opposition as talk of a motion of no confidence became tangible.

Papua New Guinea's Deputy Prime Minister Sam Basil

Papua New Guinea's Deputy Prime Minister Sam Basil Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The group included a number of Cabinet Ministers including Foreign Affairs Minister, Patrick Pruaitch.

In PNG, such a vote can only take place 18 months after a prime minister takes office and for James Marape that is 30 November.

Basil, who's the leader of the United Labour Party was appointed Deputy Prime Minister early last month, replacing Attorney-General Davis Steven in a mini Cabinet reshuffle.

Both men were seen sitting on the Opposition benches on Friday.

Over the weekend the Opposition grouping flew out of the capital, seemingly in an effort to consolidate numbers and plan the way forward.

Marape has been in power for just 18 months after replacing long-serving leader Peter O'Neill in a similar process that involved prominent government ministers switching sides.

Basil told local media his group understood "the cries of the people" which had spurred them to act, adding he believed the country had gone backwards under Marape's leadership.

Marape said in a Facebook post he would not be easily removed.

"It's not over until it's over, leadership has its moments," he said.

However the ABC reported that a spokesperson for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that Marape had contacted his office and asked him to defer his visit.

The two had conducted a virtual summit back in August.

PNG's prime minister James Marape and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison hold a virtual summit, 5 August 2020.

PNG's prime minister James Marape and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison hold a virtual summit, 5 August 2020. Photo: PNG PM Media