Saturday, April 07, 2012

Too soon for sanctions against PNG: Carr

By Eoin Blackwell, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent


Foreign Minister Bob Carr says he is disappointed to see Papua New Guinea delay national elections for six months but says it would be premature for Australia to impose sanctions.

PNG's parliament voted 63 to 11 on Thursday to controversially postpone its constitutionally mandated five yearly elections.

Senator Carr, who in March suggested the option of sanctions in the event elections were delayed before recanting, says imposing sanctions now would be premature.

"To see elections suspended by six months is very disappointing," he told reporters outside his home in Sydney.

"We hope the decision will be reviewed and it's premature to talk about sanctions.

"I think we've got to give the processes in Papua New Guinea some time to work their way through."

Mr Carr said he hoped to talk with PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and his ministers about the decision and that holding PNG elections would be an object of Australian aid.

The Australian government has offered assistance to PNG in the form of 30 Australian workers to run elections and maintain the electoral rolls, as well as more than 100 computers.

PNG's Deputy Prime Minister, Belden Namah, criticised Senator Carr's previous backing of sanctions on the floor of parliament on Thursday.

But Senator Carr said Australia respected PNG's independence.

"We respect their sovereignty, but we've got a commitment to seeing the countries in this region stick by a democratic formula, the old formula that says that people determine their rulers and they do it on a regular basis," he said.

Deputy opposition leader and foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop on Friday told reporters in Port Moresby she hopes Australia will maintain its support role in ensuring PNG has a timely election.

She had just finished a week-long trip to the Pacific nation.

"Let's take it a step at a time," she said when asked if she would support sanctions against PNG if the election delay went beyond six months.

"At this point, there has been a vote in the parliament and then I'm sure there will be other matters unfolding in the weeks ahead."

The government of PNG has publicly toyed with the prospect of delaying the poll since early February, when it was revealed only 60 per cent of the electoral roll was complete.

Mr Namah also said security issues in the sometimes volatile Southern Highlands need to be addressed before the poll goes ahead.

The vote to delay the poll is a backflip for both Mr Namah and Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, who have both stated publicly the election will go ahead on time.

On Monday, Ms Bishop met with PNG's Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen, as well as Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga and defence force chief Brigadier-General Francis Agwi.

All three had indicated the nation was ready for an election.

The decision to delay has been strongly opposed by some parliamentarians who say the vote was unconstitutional.

PNG's former attorney-general Sir Arnold Amet has vowed a constitutional court challenge, while Opposition Leader Dame Carol Kidu on Thursday condemned the move.

Elections in the infrastructure-poor PNG are a multi-staged process.

The writs were due to be issued on April 27, with official campaigning due to kick off a week later.

Polling day was scheduled to be on June 23 and results would not be known for almost a month afterwards.

The six-month delay in the electoral process would put polling day on December 23, 2012.

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