Papua New Guinea minister facing domestic assault charge steps down. Opposition demands resignation

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Papua New Guinea’s opposition leader urged the country’s premier Tuesday to fire the petroleum minister who is stepping down from office as he faces alleged domestic assault charges in Australia.

Police in the Australian state of New South Wales said in a statement Saturday that a 58-year-old man was arrested and charged after a domestic dispute in Sydney after a 31-year-old woman known to him had injuries to her face following an altercation, the statement said.

Australian authorities did not name Petroleum Minister Jimmy Maladina as the accused, but his identity was widely reported by news outlets in Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said in a written statement Sunday that Maladina “offered to step aside” while he attended to a complaint “as it is heard in court in Australia,” without elaborating further on the incident.

The premier added he would appoint an acting minister to fill in for the petroleum minister.

Still, opposition leader Douglas Tomuriesa urged Marape to sack Maladina or request his outright resignation rather than allow him to step aside temporarily. “While Maladina won’t be performing his ministerial duties, he will still be getting paid as so,” Tomuriesa said in a written statement.

Maladina is due to appear in court Thursday on a charge of assault resulting in bodily harm. He is currently on bail, police said. He has not responded to requests for comment by The Associated Press.

In remarks attributed to him by news outlets in Papua New Guinea, Maladina said he was aware of the reports of his arrest and was “fully cooperating with the authorities.” He did not say whether he would defend the charge.

It was unclear whether Maladina’s visit to Australia was on government business. If so, it might grant him immunity from criminal prosecution under a legal equivalent of diplomatic immunity, said Don Rothwell, an international law expert at Australian National University.

Maladina is not a diplomat, but visiting foreign heads of state and, under some circumstances, visiting foreign government ministers may receive protections under Australia’s Foreign States Immunities Act, Rothwell said, which effectively confers the same immunities.

“One of the critical questions is did he come to Australia on a private visit? If he came to Australia on a private visit, then it’s very clear he doesn’t enjoy any privileges or immunities,” said Rothwell.

There was no immediate reply from the Papua New Guinea High Commission in Canberra Tuesday when the AP asked whether Maladina’s Australian visit was on official business.

Maladina, a former lawyer and member of Marape’s Pangu Party, became a lawmaker in 2022 and was appointed as a minister in January. The prime minister directed him to boost the developing country’s efforts to profit from its natural gas resources.

He has been a key ally to Marape, who faced political tumult in May when 18 members of his party defected to the parliamentary opposition in a bid to oust the premier in a no-confidence vote before Parliament broke for the summer.

The Parliament is set to reconvene in September.

Associated Press reporter Rod McGuirk contributed from Melbourne, Australia.

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