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Downer backflip on police commitment to PNG.

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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs


While Mr Downer seeks to divert attention from acute political problems at home

Foreign Minister Downer has engaged in a 180 degree policy about-face on Papua New Guinea in the last 48-hours.

On Wednesday, Mr Downer told the nation that Australia would be committing an additional 200 Australian Federal Police to PNG to help restore law and order.

On Thursday, I responded by saying that while Mr Downer’s objective was right, his timing was wrong. I said Australia should first bed down its $1.5 billion police and military commitment to the Solomons before biting off any further direct security responsibilities elsewhere in the South West Pacific.

Later on Thursday, Mr Downer attacked my critique as: “wrong”, “silly” and “muddle-headed”. However, Mr Downer’s problem is that the caution I expressed was then reinforced by the statements of a number of state and territory police ministers around Australia who indicated that police resources were already stretched to the limit.

Then Friday afternoon, we see Mr Downer’s complete policy about-face when he said: “The advice we’ve had from the federal police is that they think over a period of time they can cope with that (200)…They couldn’t do it immediately. It would take a year or so to build up the numbers like two or three hundred”.

In other words, Mr Downer makes a policy announcement on Wednesday about a police deployment to PNG. He then attacks the Opposition for saying that we should bed down the Solomons first because of resource constraints. Then a day later he says we may be in a position to make this deployment sometime by 2005.

This smacks of a Foreign Minister desperate to make a sharp policy announcement (even though he could not follow through on it) in order to distract attention from the acute political problems faced by he and his office in Canberra over government complicity in the leaking of a top-secret, national security document.

What it means of course for PNG policy is incoherency in the extreme: a policy of flip, flop, flap.

Further information: Kevin Rudd, MP 0418 796 931 or Alister Jordan 0417 605 823

Ends. 20 September 2003