Gauging AusAID's effectiveness in PNG*
AusAID in PNG: any way forward from here?

Traditional rights under pressure in Strait

THE ABC has reported that community leaders in far north Queensland say the Australian government should risk a diplomatic stoush with PNG to fix ‘problems’ related to the Torres Strait.

An Australian Senate inquiry is examining the Torres Strait Treaty, which gives PNG residents from the Western Province traditional visiting rights to Australia.

The inquiry has been told that large groups of PNG residents are bringing drugs, alcohol, knives and machetes into the Torres Strait islands.

The Torres Strait mayor, Frank Gela, says the large number of PNG visitors is also putting pressure on local health services.

"We get the feeling that PNG does not care about the people of the Western Province because Australia is taking care of them via the treaty," he said.

"The Australian government needs to be tougher on the PNG government dictating where the foreign aid goes so it can be directed to the Western Province as this area is completely neglected."

Source: ‘PNG visitors bring problems to Torres Strait’ by Simon Cullen, ABC, 18 June 2010


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Paul Oates

Hi Albert - It's easy to get distracted about some issues, especially when they concern national borders that were imposed by others many years ago.

If I remember correctly, Sir Anthony Siaguru led the PNG negotiating team that formalised the current border arrangements and these were drawn up after listening to and respecting the local people's wishes.

My understanding is that there is acceptance of the traditional rights of all users of the Torres Strait specified in the border agreement.

This aspect is pretty significant when you look at many other border arrangements between neighbouring countries elsewhere in the world. It demonstrates a real partnership between PNG and Oz doesn't it?

I suspect the local mayor was not so much complaining about the people who are using the area or about Australia's commitment to helping our neighbours who use the Strait.

The concern, as I understand it, was over matters of law and order in that part of Australia. Everyone must respect Australian law if they are in Australia just as much as anyone in PNG must respect PNG law if they are in PNG.

Albert K Tobby

Australians and their government should not complain about Papua New Guineans frequenting their northern shores.

PNG's southern coast EEZ [exclusive economic zone] is not within the 200 nautical miles as per the international law of the sea.

Australia's northern EEZ extends so far beyond its limit to include Western Provinces traditional fishing waters. In fact Australia has the third largest EEZ in the world.

The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf confirmed in April 2008 that Australia has rights over an additional 2.5 million square kilometers seabed beyond the limits of Australia's EEZ.

So, if you Australians want more territory, you should be willing to cater for the welfare of the indigenous inhabitants.

There is so much historical and anthropological evidence that supports the western [Papuans] rights to access the Torres Stait. They should not be dinied of their inalienable rights by a single arrogant and inconsiderate boundaries drawn without concern for them.

It is only ethical for Australia and its citizens in the Torres Strait to tolerate PNG's Western Province people's presence there without prejudice and unneccessary complaint.

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