Australian Development Policy Centre director Stephen Howes has described the Ross Garnaut episode as “ a sad commentary” on the part of both Australia and Papua New Guinea governments.
“First, it is remarkable just how little attention this issue has received given the stakes involved,” he said.
“ Not only is Ok Tedi by far PNG’s largest contributor to government revenue, and an environmental challenge which needs to be managed with care, but it is an operation in relation to which decisions have to be made about mine-life-extension in the next couple of years.
“Second, and more importantly, there is an issue of freedom of speech here.
“People should be able to criticise freely whichever country they want.
“ Individuals should be no more banned for critical comments from countries they don’t belong to than locked up for criticising their country of citizenship.
“Third, where is Australia in all this?
“The only public response of the Australian government has been from parliamentary secretary for Pacific Island affairs, Richard Marles, quoted as saying that ‘Papua New Guinea was within its rights to block entry to Professor Garnaut’ and that ‘who PNG says is welcome or not in its own country is obviously a matter for PNG’.
“Observance of human rights is now entirely a domestic issue for PNG?
“ We insist on democracy in Fiji but not free speech in PNG?
“Australia has no obligation to support its citizens to undertake lawful business opportunities internationally?
“It is hard not to see Manus behind Australia’s lack of protest.”