A senior Papua New Guinea politician has called for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to once again be allowed to carry out investigations and help local officers address what he says is a "breakdown in law and order" in the country.
- AFP officers are currently only allowed to act as unarmed advisors
- Prior to 2005, Australian police working in PNG had immunity from prosecution
- Immunity was withdrawn following a constitutional challenge
AFP officers have previously had such powers when working in PNG, but were thrown out of the country more than a decade ago after its Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to give police powers to people who were not part of the PNG police force.
Enga Province, in PNG's highlands, is often considered to be a crime hotspot — more than 20 people died during tribal fighting that broke out during last year's election.
The province has also seen an upsurge in violence related to accusations of sorcery.
The latest victim was the Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea, Sir Salamo Injia, who was injured in an attack by a neighbouring tribe near his home village on Monday.
The governor of Enga Province, Peter Ipatas, said the current state of the PNG police force is largely to blame for the crime issue, with officers frequently cited for brutality offences but rarely facing discipline.
"The police have, I think, become a liability to the country," he said.
"I think that our police have lost their way and we need external help to ensure that there is proper training, and we need external help to make sure our policemen know their job."
Mr Ipatas said that external help could come from the AFP, which is currently providing assistance to PNG.
But an AFP spokesperson said its officers were not in position to undertake an operational policing role due to the 2005 Supreme Court decision.
AFP officers must be armed, immune from prosecution
Seventy-three AFP officers are staying on in the country until the end of November after PNG hosts APEC, at a cost of $48 million dollars to the Federal Government.
But officers serving in PNG are only allowed to act as unarmed advisors without powers of arrest.
"I don't think the current arrangement is working. We need policemen who work alongside our police," Mr Ipatas said.
More than 160 AFP officers working on the ground with PNG police left in 2005 after a constitutional challenge against the immunity from prosecution granted to the officers.
Mr Ipatas wants those laws changed so Australian police will once again have immunity.
"We have a duty to the nation's people to give immunity to the police of Australia to come into this country and help us restore order, and more importantly train and ensure our police are doing what they're supposed to do."
He said the high cost of sending AFP officers to work in PNG was worth it for both countries.
"We are the closest country to Australia. It may be in the best interests to both countries that we maintain law and order in PNG," he said.
PNG's crime issue 'blown out of proportion'
PNG's new Police Minister Jelta Wong said his Government was looking into changing the rules around what Australian officers in PNG can and cannot do.
"We're just putting things into place so that we don't end up in court again, like the last time," he said.
He said he is committed to cleaning up the police force despite financial constraints.
"We got our budget cut, but we're still maintaining a lot of things in the police force. And the Australian AFP have been really helpful to us, so I just want to continue that," Mr Wong said.
Despite PNG's reputation as one of the world's most dangerous countries, Mr Wong said the extent of the problem is often blown out of proportion.
"It's not as negative as the media makes it out to be. There's a lot of factors to it, as our population is not as huge as most places," he said.
"The same things happen in Australia, any other country — like in America a couple months ago a guy killed 56 people. It's nothing like that.
"Yes there are law and order problems and the police force is not as big as it should be to go out and sort out all these problems.
"We have our problems inhouse as well, not enough vehicles or infrastructure for policemen, we're sorting that out."