Former PNG official defends Torres Strait border arrangements
A former official who was involved in negotiating border arrangements between Papua New Guinea and Australia says they fairly recognise traditional rights of PNG people to the Torres Strait..
A former official who was involved in negotiating border arrangements between Papua New Guinea and Australia says they fairly recognise traditional rights of PNG people to the Torres Strait.
PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has called for a review of the arrangements, saying traditional hunting and fishing rights of Trans Fly villagers in the Strait have been extinguished, leaving many communities with no income.
However a former official with PNG's Department of Foreign Affairs who was involved in border negotiations as PNG approached independence in the mid-1970s, Geoffrey Dabb, says there was a great deal of provision for traditional rights of PNG people, mainly at the insistence of the Australian side.
GEOFFREY DABB: Superimposed on the jurisdiction lines governing the CNC bed jurisdiction were arrangements that guaranteed access for traditional purposes, for traditional inhabitants over the whole area. And when it came to commercial access there was an arrangement for, if we are talking about living resources sea and fish and CNC bed and so on. There was an arrangement for a sharing of them which I think was fairly equitable from both points of view.
JOHNNY BLADES: Do you think that O'Neill is sort of looking at this commercial area where he wants these people to have access to?
GD: I really don't know what might be in his head about that. If he really is talking about commercial it is clearly a different matter. Because of course traditionally there wasn't any commercial fishing. There might have been a certain amount of traditional trade but there was no refrigeration there was no means of storing the catch so commercial exploitation is really a later development if that is what he is talking about now then there is provision in the treaty and it allows for a proportional sharing.
JB: It's a quite a complex arrangement isn't it because you have got your EEZ border, you have got your political border and you have got this border that pertains to this access stuff that we are talking about.
GD: Yes well this took place at the time against the background of the developing law of the sea where jurisdiction was being asserted further afield under the fluted economic zone principle. And it was designed to anticipate that. But what was novel was the concept of a protected zone that is a big roughly square area superimposed on Torres Strait and within that special arrangements apply and they were certainly quite novel at the time.
JB: Yeah I mean looking on a map it looks like the border which I presume is the political border is very close to PNG it is a bigger region for the Australians. Is this like an East Timor thing that they have done?
GD: No the, what was traditionally regarded as the border was a line that indicated sovereignty over islands and back in those days there was only a three nautical mile zone around the islands. So all the rest of the area beyond three miles was up for grabs if you like. That was a completely new issue that had to be settled in this treaty. So instead of a line that runs between the islands and Australia you have now got a fisheries jurisdiction line sea-bed jurisdiction line. And the sea-bed jurisdiction line is quite a way south of the Papua New Guinea mainland getting down towards the centre of Australia.
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