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Helping PNG improve border security is in Australia's national interest

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Tuesday, 18 August 2020

The Australian Federal Police deserve high praise for shutting down a major cocaine trafficking exercise near Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, that was intended to deliver a drug haul valued at around $80 million to Australia.

The AFP had excellent cooperation with the PNG police drug squad, which is to be applauded.

It's clear that the AFP had been monitoring the drug-trafficking syndicate for some time. Soon after the light aircraft carrying the drugs from a makeshift airstrip near Port Moresby crashed on take-off, alleged members of the syndicate were arrested in Melbourne, Sydney and North Queensland.


PNG has long been regarded by authorities as the source of significant marijuana trafficking to northern Australia, but the news that trafficking of a large (500-kilogram) consignment of cocaine has now been attempted is alarming.

This detection also highlights the extent to which PNG needs long-term help to improve its border security, with an emphasis on illegal people trafficking and movements, and now major drug trafficking.

This latest revelation, with its wider implications, surely adds to the case for the naval base redevelopment on Manus Island, driven by Australia, to be given an even higher priority.

The capacity of PNG's police and defence forces, and customs and immigration agencies, to detect and respond to sophisticated drug-running and people-trafficking operations is very limited.

Canberra alone has the capacity to help fix that-and to prevent PNG from becoming a half-way house for deliveries to Australia.

Australia needs to reprioritise its significant program of aid to PNG (over $600 million this year) and focus on just a handful of areas of highest need. Strengthening the police and the defence force heads the priority list.


Border security needs to be given a massive funding boost. Some of that money could come from the existing aid budget, but additional support for training and resourcing will need to be provided in October's federal budget, if not sooner.

Neither the PNG police nor the PNG defence force have the resources needed to monitor a very extensive land border with the Indonesian province of Papua. When it comes to coastal areas, including many inhabited and uninhabited islands, the PNG agencies' capacity is very limited.

That is not the fault of the police and defence force leadership. Their budgets have been inadequate for many years. Dealing with the challenges of local crime, tribal fights and illegal border crossings have stretched their limited resources well beyond capacity.

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This article was first published in The Strategist.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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