Australian and New Zealand give troops, aircraft and vessels for polls

04/06/2012 00:54

The PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) to play critical role in PNG 2012 general election security.

The Australian and New Zealand governments will provide over 200 defence personnel, helicopters, aircraft and ships to assist Papua New Guinea (PNG) conduct its general election.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and his New Zealand colleague Murray McCully announced the assistance recently as PNG begins the countdown to polling from June 23.

“Australia and New Zealand are providing practical support in response to a request by PNG authorities to assist them with the conduct of a safe, free and fair election. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is working with the PNG government and Defence Force to provide aviation support for the elections, including transporting personnel, ballot boxes and election materials to PNG’s many remote locations,” Mr Carr wrote on his blog.

He added that the personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force, Australian Arm and the Royal New Zealand Air Force will support the deployment PNG Electoral Commission (PNGEC) staff and equipment using fixed and rotary wing aircraft. A Royal Australian Navy land craft will also support the operation in coastal PNG.

According to Mr McCully New Zealand’s international aid agency NZ Aid will also charter boats in PNG to move electoral staff and equipment to remote coastal and island communities.

“The (Defence Force) will be there for peaceful purposes, not deployed in the sense that they’re expecting to be dealing with trouble, simply for logistical support,” he reportedly told New Zealand Herald.

Australia will provide the bulk of the support with its deployment of 200 troops, four helicopters and two B350 King Air aircraft, while their Trans-Tasman neighbour has committed 40 New Zealand Defence Force personnel and three helicopters. Australia will also lease three helicopters under its defence cooperation program with PNG for the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) to use in the elections.

PNG politician Arthur Somare has welcomed the assistance, saying a combined joint task force (CJTF) will oversee the election security operation involving military aircraft from PNG, Australia and New Zealand.

“Our democratic foundations are being challenged through breaches of the PNG constitution and attacks on the independence of our much respected judiciary. There is much at stake in the lead up to the election of the 8th National Parliament since independence, due to successive actions by the errant executive arm of government. This support could also provide the necessary logistics back-up to ensure that ballot boxes are handled with propriety and ensure the public is satisfied the ultimate outcome represents the will of the people devoid of concerns of widespread malpractices,” he added in a statement.

A paper published in March by Sydney-based think tank Lowy Institute titled “The 2012 National Elections in Papua New Guinea: Averting Violence” recommended technical and logistical support for the PNGEC including the provision of helicopters.

The paper also appealed to foreign nations with a similar Westminster system to PNG’s to maintain a vigil as a problematic election could prove costly to the Pacific Islands nation.

“As long as elections in PNG are flawed, high-quality candidates will think carefully about whether to nominate. An election process that is perceived to be corrupt or unwinnable because of the high personal costs and risks associated with running a campaign will deter many potentially good candidates, and particularly women candidates, from nominating. This eventually has an impact on the quality of a government and its ministers,” warned the paper.