Belden Namah says people can only be detained for lengthy periods in PNG if they've broken the law. But the Attorney-General says the asylum seekers on Manus Island have effectively consented to their detention.
Presenter: PNG correspondent Liam Fox
Speakers: Belden Namah, PNG Opposition leader; Kerenga Kua, PNG Attorney General
FOX: Belden Namah likes to portray himself as a man of action. Last year, during PNG's long-running leadership crisis the then deputy prime minister stormed into the Supreme Court with a group of policemen in tow and tried to arrest the Chief Justice. He's since apologised for the dramatic act and now as the opposition leader Mr Namah says he's a defender of the constitution.
NAMAH: Why it's important that I take this action is that it's to prove that the entire operation of the asylum seeker centre on Manus Island is illegal. Just to show that our constitution is still supreme.
FOX: Mr Namah's engaged lawyers to launch a Supreme Court challenge to the legality of the Australian government's asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island.
NAMAH: By end of the week or early next week we'll be filing two separate applications to free the asylum seekers who are kept on Manus Island detention centre back to Australia, to declare the entire asylum seeker on Manus Island unconstitutional and have it removed.
FOX: He contends the processing centre is illegal because PNG's constitution only allows people to be detained if they've been charged with a criminal offence. Mr Namah says the asylum seekers on Manus Island have not broken any immigration laws so they should not be detained behind the centre's high fences. He says he respects the Australian government's desire to tackle the continuing flow of people-smuggling boats into Australian waters but the law is the law.
NAMAH: We can't go outside of our constitution, outside of our laws to try and police our friends.
FOX: The Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has said the processing centre is being run in accordance with PNG's laws. He told local media Mr Namah's court action was a joke that would make a mockery of the country's standing as a regional leader. The Attorney-General Kerenga Kua agrees.
KUA: That's rather unfortunate, it's a sad indictment on the country and its leadership.
FOX: He says PNG has an obligation to help Australia deal with the regional problem of people-smuggling. On the question of whether detention on Manus Island is illegal, Mr Kua says the asylum seekers there have effectively consented to being detained in a processing centre.
KUA: It isn't detention if they have consented to it themselves, when they left the shores of their own country they understood fully well the kind of processing they would have to be put through in order to be formally processed as refugees.
FOX: It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court agrees with Mr Kua's view. The Court has form when it comes to shutting down major Australian government initiatives in PNG. In 2005 a plan to have 160 Australian Federal Police officers walk the beat with their PNG counterparts collapsed after the Supreme Court ruled the immunity from prosecution granted to the Australian's was unconstitutional.