Friday, June 17, 2011

ABC Radio Australia Asia Pacific News, 16 June 2011

PNG political instability 'deeply concerning'

The Australian Government's plans to re-open the Manus Island asylum seeker processing centre in Papua New Guinea are on hold due to Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare's poor health.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says he is deeply concerned about the fragile state of Papua New Guinea politics.

Mr Rudd says he has no plans to visit Papua New Guinea in the near future because of the impact it might have on the country's politics

He says Sir Michael Somare's illness and the looming elections in 2012 have led to a high period of fluidity.

"Right now with the Papua New Guinea Government, a great deal of care and sensitivity needs to be displayed given the uncertainties about who will form any successor administration, should Sir Michael step down," Mr Rudd said.

Last week, Papua New Guinea's acting prime minister sacked his foreign minister, who was a key supporter of Australia's plan to re-open Manus Island.

Vanuatu to vote on new PM

Vanuatu's parliament will vote on a new prime minister when it reconvenes next week.

The latest ballot comes after the Supreme Court ruled last year's appointment of Sato Kilman as Prime Minister was unconstitutional.

The constitutional dilemma began at the end of last year when Sato Kilman, who was then Prime Minister Edward Natapei's deputy, succeeded in a motions of no confidence against Mr Natapei.

A vote was then taken and Mr Kilman was sworn-in as prime minister, but without following the constitution provision which required that the prime minister be elected by secret ballot.

Mr Natapei, who challenged Mr Kilman's appointment by the Parliamentary Speaker in December, has been appointed caretaker Prime Minister.

In making his ruling, Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek said the case was the first if its kind in Vanuatu, and was a serious infringement on the rights of Mr Natapei.

Mr Natapei's former ministers have also become interim ministers until a new prime minister and cabinet is elected.

Australian authorities defend closing PNG TB clinics

The Australian health department has defended a decision to scrap tuberculosis clinics for Papua New Guinea nationals in the Torres Strait Islands from July.

The Australian Government has been paying the government of the north-east Australian state, Queensland, to run the clinics since 1999.

However, Queensland Health says the funding is inadequate and the tuberculosis clinics will stop after June.

In a submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry into the Torres Strait earlier this year, the Queensland Government said the Australian Government contributed about $3.8 million a year, but did not cover the costs.

The Australian health department says the treatment of tuberculosis patients from PNG is at odds with the World Health Organisation's strategy for the disease.

Queensland Health Minister Geoff Wilson says he wants the clinics to continue, but it is a federal responsibility.

Mr Wilson and the Torres Strait Island Regional Authority say they are concerned about possible health risks if the clinics are stopped.

A spokeswoman for the Australian health department says its priority is to help PNG improve its own health services so patients do not need to cross the Australian border.

It is investing $43 million through AusAid, including funding to improve tuberculosis services at Pang's Daru hospital and villages along the South Fly coast.

The department says that is consistent with the World Health Organisation's strategy for treating tuberculosis.

Community outcry at PNG cannery plans

There is growing community opposition to a development on Madang Lagoon in Papua New Guinea that is expected to house up to 10 tuna canneries and a fleet base that will rival anything in Asia.

The Pacific Marine Industrial Zone is being built by the government with the aim of becoming one of the world's leading tuna processing nations.

Attorney-General Sir Arnold Amet told Pacific Beat he is sure the government can counter the criticism.

"This is a different kind of project to a one-off mining project and so the people don't fully understand it," Sir Arnold said.

"So the work is on our part. I think when they understand it and we will negotiate.

"That's still the key issue - negotiate adequately the equitable distribution of the benefits to the people, then I think the support for it will come."

Ash cloud grounds Pacific flights

The volcanic ash cloud has moved further north over New Zealand, forcing Pacific Blue to cancel eight flights on Thursday bound for Australia

The Virgin Australia subsidiary suspended one flight from Honiara in Solomon Islands to Brisbane, Australia.

A flight from Hamilton in New Zealand to Brisbane in Australia was also cancelled.

Major airlines in Australia were expected to resume flights to Western Australian capital Perth on Thursday.

Air travel in and out of Perth was thrown into chaos on Wednesday when an ash plume- caused by an erupting volcano in Chile - spread over the city.

Earlier in the week, the ash cloud forced hundreds of flights to be cancelled in Melbourne, Adelaide, Tasmania and New Zealand.

About 10 airlines were forced to postpone or cancel flights, affecting at least 5,000 passengers.

Samoan PM meets with Ratu Tevita

The Prime Minister of Samoa has confirmed he met with former Fijian army commander Tevita Mara in the Australian capital Canberra on Thursday morning.

Colonel Mara fled Fiji after being charged with plotting to overthrow the Fijian military regime.

He has been in Australia on a tourist visa to canvas support for the Fijian democracy movement.

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, who is in Australia on a state visit, says he does not believe his meeting with Colonel Mara will inflame tensions with Fiji.

"For us, the process of mending differences is a long-term process and part of the Pacific 'way' is to talk and talk and talk," he said.

"We like talking and we talk our problems over."

The meeting came a day after Fiji's interim government filed papers with Australia to extradite Ratu Tevita.

Fijian attorney-general Aiyaz Sayyed Khaiyum has Pacific Beat Suva has assisted Australia with similar requests in the past.

"We have also of late assisted Australia regarding the Hague conventions, in a way," he said.

"For example, children have been abducted or taken away by one parent to Fiji and they've sent us their documentation.

"We've facilitated that and obviously to do with extradition also. So we expect a similar response from the Australians."

The Australian Government has not commented on the extradition request.

Solomons rebuff

On Wednesday, the prime minister of Solomon Islands, Danny Philip, said he would not grant entry to the Ratu Tevita if he attempts to visit.

Mr Philip told Australia Network he could not afford to damage Solomon Island's relationship with Fiji.

"We have just made peace with Fiji and the MSG (Melanesian Spearhead Group) group," Mr Philip said.

"We cannot afford to have anything else put some more cracks into that relationship.

"I think I'll stick to my policy of embracing Fiji for some time."

US imposes catch limits on Pacific waters

Annual catch limits will be imposed on all fish within American territorial waters in the Pacific by the end of the year.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is meeting in Honolulu.

It is discussing reccomendations for the management of fisheries surrounding Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Senior scientist at the Regional Fishery Management Council, Paul Dalzell, explained the motivation to Pacific Beat.

"It's come about because the US Congress has become increasingly intolerant of over fishing," Mr Dalzell said.

"Catch limits will apply to federal waters under federal administraion."

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