18 Sep 2003

Agreement on possible deployment of Australian police in PNG

5:23 pm on 18 September 2003

Papua New Guinea has signed a joint agreement paving the way for the deployment of Australian officials and police to PNG.

The Australian Foreign Minister Mr Downer has indicated that it could take many more than 200 Australian police to help restore law and order in PNG.

He says when one starts to think that if Australia was to provide people to help in everything from technical assistance to training to forensics, 200 could be quite a low number

Mr Downer says the police could be in the country as early as January.

In Australia, the prime minister John Howard says Canberra is offering to help Papua New Guinea - not interfering - by proposing the use of federal police in PNG.

Mr Howard has also made it clear he is prepared to cut Australia's aid program to PNG of around 200 million US dollars a year if it refuses to accept its proposal to combat crime and violence.

He says Australia wants to ensure there are improvements in governance and financial accountability, not only in PNG but elsewhere.

In Canberra meanwhile, the opposition has urged caution over sending federal police to Papua New Guinea, suggesting the government bed down its Solomons operation before making fresh commitments.

The Labor Party's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd says Labor supports the government's effort to renegotiate Australia's aid deal with PNG.

But he says there needs to be care over help to restore law and order in PNG.

Mr Rudd says a wise course of action would be to wait a bit, bed the Solomon Islands down first and then see what's possible to do in PNG.