18 May 2005

Australia says police package revival may need PNG constitution change

3:46 pm on 18 May 2005

Australia says the only way to solve the legal crisis that forced the withdrawal of Australian police from Papua New Guinea may be to change the PNG constitution.

The Australian prime minister, John Howard, says last week's decision by the supreme court in PNG was set back.

It ruled that immunity provisions for Australian police were not constitutional.

Mr Howard says Australia is involved in talks with the PNG government on ways to resolve the issue.

The Australian opposition spokesman for Pacific Affairs says his country has to learn from the mistakes of the Enhanced-Cooperation Programme in Papua New Guinea.

Bob Sercombe says in the past Australia has been too slow to help with major problems in the region, but this time the government may not have thought out the legal issues properly.

Mr Sercombe says a lot can be learnt from the regional mission in Solomon Islands.

"We have to approach these matters in a spirit of genuine partnership not in the spirit of trying to make it a one way, top-down sort of approach. Secondly we have got to make our approaches in the Pacific as multi-lateral as possible."

Mr Sercombe says an exchange programme with PNG police and officials could better aid their development.

A Papua New Guinea research institute says both Australia and PNG want to resolve the crisis facing the aid programme, but it's hard to see how they will do this.

Although all police have been withdrawn, 46 Australian civil servants have remained.

The PNG Cabinet is discussing the issue today.

Mike Manning, the director of the Institute of National Affairs, says how quickly it's resolved depends on how fast changes acceptable to both sides are made.

The Australians are clearly at this stage seeking to be sure that the immunities which they have asked for in the past, and have been given under the present agreement, will be in some way or another continued. PNG at this stage has said it's not going to change its Constitution, so it really depends on the interpretation of the law and how the officials and Ministers, I guess, are able to work out a solution which covers both sides.

Mike Manning.