MALCOLM Turnbull will travel to Papua New Guinea this weekend - but has already copped an extraordinary spray for the "insensitive" and "dangerous" timing of the trip ahead of local elections.
PNG's former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta on Tuesday accused Mr Turnbull of interfering in the domestic politics of Australia's neighbour barely two weeks before the country's caretaker period begins.
Mr Turnbull has not travelled to PNG since taking over the top job in 2015 and Mr Morauta said the government in Port Moresby would "spin" a visit so close to the election as an endorsement of prime minister Peter O'Neill.
"That is a very dangerous position for the Australian Prime Minister to put himself in, especially with the prospect of a new Government just around the corner," Mr Morauta said in a statement.
Mr O'Neill - who struck a deal with Australia to host the Manus Island detention centre for asylum seekers - has faced persistent claims of corruption while PNG's economy has struggled.
Student protests against his government turned violent last year and Mr O'Neill later survived a motion of no-confidence in the local parliament.
"Mr O'Neill will use this visit to prop up his sagging image and boast to Papua New Guineans that he commands Australia's support," Mr Morauta said.
Writs for elections are expected to be issued on April 20, with national ballot considered mostly likely to be held over two weeks in July.
Australia has relied on PNG, along with Nauru, as part of the so-called "Pacific solution" for offshore processing refugee claims.
The supreme court in PNG last year ruled the Manus Island camp to be unconstitutional, but despite Mr O'Neill pledging to close the centre more than 800 asylum seekers remain on the island, with hopes a deal with the US will see some of the men resettled.
Mr Turnbull will also need to navigate a surprise request from PNG last month to transfer $550 million of Australian aid each year directly into the local budget coffers to fund local hospitals and education.
International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has already warned that Australia's "aid is not charity" and said the government would not honour the request.
Mr Morauta, a former governor of PNG's reserve bank who stepped down from politics in 2012, has been a fierce critic of Mr O'Neill in recent years and flagged he may run for parliament again.
He said the two leaders had met in Australia recently and at several international summits.
"What is so important that Mr Turnbull should be visiting now? What is so important that it cannot be conveyed to the incoming Government in a couple of months' time?" Mr Morauta said.
"If Mr O'Neill happens to be the Prime Minister after the election, fine, visit him then. We would all accept that. But to visit now is inappropriate," he said.