The Deputy Sheriff in charge of the South Pacific region seems to be following the example of the Sheriff in establishing relations with the natives.

Just as the Bush administration is having troubles with recalcitrant middle and South American states which will not do as they are told, the Howard doctrine of telling neighbouring island states that Australia knows best is running into problems as well.

This morning it is Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare lashing out at Australian arrogance. Sir Michael is displeased with the way Australia is trying to extradite Solomon Islands Attorney-General Julian Moti from Port Moresby to face alleged child s-x offences. According to his version, and there is no reason to doubt it is correct, Australia has not gone through the correct channels in seeking Mr Moti’s extradition.

The PNG police who arrested Mr Moti at Australia’s request did so without authorisation from their Police Commissioner. “Who are they listening to?” the PM asked. “Who is commanding them to take the orders?” According to Sir Michael, if he’s an Australian passport-holder then Australia deals with the problem. He’s only passing through and should be free to leave Port Moresby for Honiara, despite a court ruling he should be brought into custody.

The prime ministerial comments illustrate the considerable tension that exists in the PNG-Australia relationship now that Australia has made continuing foreign aid conditional on having its Federal police virtually take charge of law and order in its former colony.

Getting the Attorney-General of a Melanesian neighbour arrested without first informing the PNG government is just the latest in a string of real or imagined slights on the country’s sovereignty. Perhaps the most humiliating for Sir Michael was being forced to take his shoes off for a security check last year at Brisbane airport.

With this episode of the s-x charges against Mr Moti, Australian diplomacy has pulled off an amazing trifecta. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Menessah Sogavare says Mr Moti is still the country’s Attorney-General and Australia should stop bullying its south Pacific neighbours. Sir Michael Somare thinks the Deputy Sheriff is a bully as well. And for good measure, by charging Mr Moti with offences that Vanuatu, the country where they allegedly occurred, is not pursuing, we have rightly or wrongly said that Vanuatu justice is no good.

Peter Fray

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