THE Abbott Government will reject a push by Port Moresby to make it easier for Papua New Guineans to travel across the Torres Strait into Australia, fearing the move could increase drug trafficking and the spread of tropical diseases.
But prime minister Tony Abbott has dismissed calls for a beefed-up Customs, Immigration and Federal Police facility in the Torres Strait any time soon, declaring “there is no crisis on our border”.
PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill called for the Torres Strait Treaty to be renegotiated to allow his citizens easier access to Australian islands and to stay for longer.
Mr Abbott said he “will treat any request from the PNG government with appropriate respect and courtesy but there is no plan for change here”.
Attorney-General George Brandis was even more explicit, telling community leaders the Abbott government would refuse to renegotiate the treaty that already allowed some PNG citizens to travel to Australian islands without passports or visas for short periods to trade.
“I gave them a commitment that the Torres Strait Treaty would not be renegotiated,” Senator Brandis said after a visit to Saibai Island.
The small island is just 4km from PNG and already has a problem with the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Some precursors to the drug ice are not illegal in PNG and have been trafficked into Australia through this route.
Customs and Immigration checks are carried out on the island in one demountable building that is only staffed on a part-time basis by fly-in, fly-out officers.
Mr Abbott insisted the situation was under control and there was no immediate need to tighten security on the porous border between Australia and PNG.
“The important thing is to try to ensure that outsiders like the boat people that have on occasions turned up in this area are dealt with properly and that biosecurity and health issues are handled properly,” he said.