MICHAEL ROWLAND: But first we can take you to Papua New Guinea where Papua New Guineans will vote this weekend in the country’s general election. The political scene in that country, of course, has been marred by a long-running dispute over just who is that country’s legitimate Prime Minister.
Richard Marles is the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. He joins us now from Brisbane. Richard Marles, good morning to you.
What sort of support is the Australian government providing for these very critical elections?
RICHARD MARLES: Michael we're providing more support to these elections in PNG than we have to any elections in Papua New Guinea since independence.
We've got ADF as well as the New Zealand defence force up there providing support - helicopters, planes to provide logistical support - to get election materials out to what are very remote areas. Something like 1700 people have been moved as a result of the assets we've got in place up in PNG and 140 tonnes of material.
We've been providing support, for a long period of time, to get the electoral roll up to date. Something like 23 officials have been provided to the PNG Electoral Commission to make sure that is being done.
We've supported the recruitment of temporary election officials that we're all familiar with in Australia, who help out at polling booths. Something like 34,000 people need to be recruited on a short term basis in PNG and we've provided support to ensure that’s occurred.
We've also been working with community organisations to build voter awareness to work with community police who provide security, particularly in the highlands.
So, there’s a whole suite of support which has been provided for these elections and the reason is because it’s very important these elections happen on time and that’s now occurring.
It’s obviously important they happen in as secure an environment as can possibly be afforded in the context of PNG. We're very hopeful that’s what will occur.
What this will do is help provide the platform for a robust democracy in Papua New Guinea.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Yes, but how confident are you that robust democracy will be guaranteed by this election? Because both camps are still at each other and there’s no guarantee the volatility and the sheer refusal to accept any verdict, be it political or judicial, will continue after these elections.
RICHARD MARLES: Within the normal parameters of not wanting to commit oneself to anything about the future in PNG, what I would say is that I think we've got as much confidence about this election playing the role it should in terms of forming the next government as we have in relation to any election in PNG in the past.
What’s really clear is that all the key players in PNG today are out in their electorates campaigning, which is exactly what you would hope they would be doing in the context of a democracy. They are utterly buying into the practicality of this election. They're doing that because they know that the results of this election are going to determine the future of politics in PNG and the future government in PNG, which is what we normally expect in the context of an election. So, I guess the short answer to your question is we are as confident about that in relation to these elections as we have been in relation to any elections in PNG in the past.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, Richard Marles. Could I get you to turn your attention to Julian Assange? You may have heard him speak to our colleague Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast a short time ago, where he basically rejected the Prime Minister’s assertion that he has got more consular support than any other Australian. He told Fran Kelly that he felt abandoned by the Australian government. Has Julian Assange been abandoned?
RICHARD MARLES: Julian Assange is absolutely not being abandoned by the Australian Government. Julian Assange has been provided with consular support. He has been provided with strong consular support from the time that he has been in this circumstance.
Julian Assange has a warrant out for his arrest by the Swedish authorities seeking to question him in relation to a case about sexual offences. In relation to that, he’s sought to resist an extradition order from Britain. In the context of all of that and for all the heat and light which is going on in relation to this case, that’s the legal situation that Julian Assange is in at the moment.
We have been providing all the consular support that we can and I do reject the idea that he has been abandoned. I mean, frankly, justice is blind and the Australian government is equally blind to who we are supporting and the content of the allegations against them.
What we're focused on is that he is afforded due process and that he is cared for in the context of that due process. In that context he has been provided with all the consular support that an Australian in his circumstances would be provided overseas. That has been done without reference to all the heat and noise, without reference, in a sense, to who he is.
What matters to us is he’s an Australian abroad in trouble and he has been provided with consular support.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, Richard Marles in Brisbane, we'll leave it there. Thank you.
RICHARD MARLES: Thank you.
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