A lawyer and former Papua New Guinea official, who was involved in negotiating Torres Strait border arrangements between PNG and Australia, has rejected a claim that PNG villagers are denied traditional access rights to the Strait.
PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill last week called for the arrangements to be reviewed, saying traditional hunting and fishing rights of Trans Fly villagers have been extinguished, leaving many communities with no income.
He said the PNG cabinet will appoint an eminent persons committee to conduct the review, saying this would not affect Australia’s economy or border security.
But lawyer Geoffrey Dabb, a former PNG foreign affairs official involved in the border negotiations before independence, has told Radio New Zealand that the treaty has a great deal of provision for traditional rights.
"It was Papua New Guinea who were pressing for an early resolution quite strongly, as soon as possible, even from before independence,” Mr Dabb said.
“And I have no doubt in my mind that it was, in the circumstances, quite a fair arrangement."
Mr O’Neill’s announcement came as Australian prime minister Tony Abbott is due to spend a week in the Torres Strait next month as part of an earlier pledge to indigenous Australians.
A spokesman for Mr O’Neill told SBS World News that the timing of the announcement was a coincidence.
PNG and Australia signed the Torres Strait Treaty, which established the existing border, in 1978.
"The borders that were imposed on Gulf people are unfair and we just want a fair go for our affected villages," Mr O’Neill said.
Neither PNG nor Australian officials have alluded to any possibility that Mr O’Neill’s claim may relate to submarine resources.
There are believed to be large deposits of minerals, oil and natural gas beneath the waters of the Strait.
Sources: Radio New Zealand International and Special Broadcasting Service