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09 June 2014


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There were a couple of public meetings in some of the villages in May Reilly, including Liunu. I don't know whether there have been any since then.

If you contact me on: I'll send you a copy of a report that I did in April.

This issue itself is like a puzzle, the more we critique and analyse it, the facts will begin to fit together.

Two weeks ago I was in Manus for semester break. Since my research was based on media coverage of the issue I observed what was going on, participated and had interviews with civil rights organisation leaders and listened to general public perceptions and the gossip of the day.

The first thing I realised was that people were talking more about cash flow, employment and infrastructure development than the social and security implication that would come beyond the asylum seeker package.

A lot of what is happening on Manus Island is never reported as it is. I started asking people whether or not there have been regular public forums held by the Manus Provincial Government, the processing centre officials or advocacy groups on the island.

The answer was negative.

In 2011, while the negotiation to reopen the Manus detention centre was going on, former Governor Michael Sapau addressed a letter dating 22 June 2011 to then acting Deputy Prime Minister Sam Abal.

The letter's subject was: 'Manus Province position to the Government of Papua New Guinea on the Proposal by the Government of Australia for a Permanent Asylum Seekers Processing Center in Lombrum'.

This letter spelled out all the Manus terms and conditions to the governments of PNG and Australia before approval for the temporary detention centre at Lombrum to become a permanent asylum seekers processing centre.

I won't go through details of the stand of the Manus Provincial Government and the people stated in that document but the thing emphasised was a regular dialogue between stakeholders before asylum seeker transfers began.

This means the National Government of Papua New Guinea and the Government of Australia agreed to meet the terms and conditions set by the Manus Provincial Government, Los Negros Local Level Government and the Local land Owners.

This was stated well in the exit strategy.

"Exit Strategy

"In the event of the Asylum Seekers Processing Center being closed, Manus Provincial Government must enjoy first and equal rights to share in the disposal of property, equipment and materials of the center.

"The past experience reveal the need for a clear policy on the ownership, maintenance and disposal arrangements of assets to stakeholders especially Manus Provincial Government, Los Negros Local Level Government and the landowners."

Another thing that caught my attention very much was the fact that, though this project was a partnership, none of the Manus Members of Parliament nor Manus island stakeholders were in the Ministerial implementation committee that decided on the package conditions and stuff for the Processing Centre deal (Post Courier, February 13, p4 & March 4 ,p2).

It was contradictory when then PNG Attorney-General Kerenga Kua rebutted toa statement by the UNHRC that the PNG Constitution covered every aspect of the issue when Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato stated otherwise that there is no policy framework in place.

If PNG was not ready, then why the rush? Asylum seekers travelling by boat from Borneo via Christmas Island to Australia were not a direct and immediate threat to Papua New Guinea.

The rush by the Australian Government and the Government of PNG to forcefully transferee detainees to PNG was the real threat to our national sovereignty. It was invitating a security threat under our own roof.

The fast track moving of transferees to Manus looks like a state of emergency by the two governments. The Manus detention facility doesn’t look permanent. It grieves me thinking about it.

Can Manus manage to keep and use this container accommodation should the processing come to an end, or will it pile up everywhere as metal scrap.

Is the Pacific so-called solution, a solution to Papua New Guinea's socio-economic and political problems? Is it sustainable development for the 50-60 thousand people of Manus Province?

Before I came back to school, I witnessed the death of a Grade 9 student and the serious injury of another at the hands of rogue policemen sent to protect the detention centre.

They were drunk and driving in Lorengau town when the vehicle skidded off the road and hit the two students walking home from school. One died on the spot and the other sustained severe injuries.

Is the government concerned about its people or a billion dollars from Australia? It is an opportunity cost for the government to consider and revisit policies to accommodate the aftermath.

Perhaps PNG should take a leaf from China's book and buy a few Aussie farms and water rights.

A big piggery for a start would soak up the all the managerial talent of our resident poet.

The progeny from those enterprises could be filtered into the various PNG markets and or local enterprises as clever minds might foresee and develop.

A bit of wheat and grain might be the prelude to custom milling for the PNG market.

Oh well, ting ting tasol.

(Got to do something with all that LNG money eh?)

Erasmus, I find your strong sense of nationalism charming. Thanks for your comments.

I am just another person trying to understand and analyse the asylum seekers issue with an open mind.

I do not have a solution but hope, by writing about the issue, in time I can find a way forward.

Bernard, I am confused not with your piece but with what Erasmus is on about.

A lot of what we get in PNG is dictated by politics. The 'look north' policy has ensured a lot of tuckershops and cheap day-old disposables and second class citizens, yeah nationals.

the Manus 'plonk in the puddle' is of no benefit to Manus locals when you have a ship alongside to house the workers who work this 'plonk in the puddle'.

The 'plonk in the puddle' decision is a bad decision that we have to live with. Nobody knew of these decisions but feel the brunt of them. The Manusians have been living with it for some time now.

Look north is a policy that we live with and cringe every time a toy gets busted (the toy was bought an hour ago).

True we are resilient and will not die, but our pollies need to be reminded that we are cringing at their decisions.

We sold our gas for mere pittance and the list goes on.

Bernard just roused us to start thinking. Should we continue in this relationship of being dependent. Tru tru, mi ting igat planti kunai long Markham long lukuatim bulmakau long kisim susu but we still have to import milk. That's the type of thinking.

Why didn't we think to do something about the dependency. Like packaging boiled kaukau water. Many of us grew up on drinking water that was used to boil kaukau.

I am not mentally deficient because I didn't have milk after I was weaned. I drank heaps of boiled kaukau water. That's why perhaps I am short, but ol narapela samting, mi gat na planti tru.

No Erasmus, Bernard ino rong, mipela noken ting mama Australia em i gat gutpela tingting olgeta taim long mipela.

I've no doubt that the PNG government knows exactly what it is doing with respect to the asylum seekers. I'm also sure that the governor of Manus and the open electorate member know what is going on.

I'm pretty sure that the majority of people on Manus don't know what's going on because no one bothered to tell them.

Some of them, who are able, like you Erasmus, have probably worked it out but that doesn't mean that everyone else is up to scratch on the deal.

Most people in Australia haven't got a clue about what their government is up to on Manus. A lot of them don't care, just like a lot of people in PNG don't care.

There has to be a debate on the issue and Bernard has done PNG a service by kicking it off.

Good piece, Bernard.

PNG has regional and international obligations to contribute towards common security collectively - in this case the asylum seekers' problem.

It is just that PNG contributes towards finding a "Pacific Solution" to the problem but not to an extent where vital areas such as sovereignty are tampered with.

Not every Australian taxpayer would want to see their hard-earned cents being spent on 'back-warding' Australia's third world neighbour in the north.

DFAT and the PM's Office can do better than this. This is too cheap!

Bernard you seem to be a very confused guy. It might benefit you to read a bit of history so that you do not get yourself caught in this helpless paradigm you seem to find yourself in.

Your description of the current relationship seems to breed a sense of hopelessness in yourself and you do not seem to have found any prescriptions to offer both Australia and PNG.

Unlike you many PNGians are not caught in your hopeless paradigms you spin. We know the deal. We know the history. We know who they are. We know who we are. We know what they are doing to us. We teach our children and constantly tell them the truth about them. We see things differently. We will always see things differently.

This is our country and we are first class citizens, not subjects of someone else's fiefdom. We are free people. Just read our Constitution and get a little understanding of who we are and what our sovereignty is about.

Just because some of our leaders are morally and intellectually inferior or just because the Australians use our leaders weaknesses to compromise them to trade our sovereignty does not mean PNG is dead or gone.

We know who we are. We know who they are. We know how they came to be n that great southland. We know who really owns the great southland.

So Bernard, don't be blinded or you will choke on the blood and tears of our brothers downunder.

Now lets see if KJ is brave enough to publish a contrary view such as this.

Assertion (and the unsubstantiated allegation by Erasmus I did remove) do not represent a contrary view since they lack both a quality of mature reflection and the rigour of evidence. Challenges to publish are infantile and influence me not. Bernard may not be right on every count, but in his three pieces he assembled and analysed the evidence he had, telling us what he made of it and drawing some conclusions. For some reason, this seems to have irritated Erasmus - who I admire as a writer and thinker - a great deal. Perhaps he should produce for publication some less personalised thoughts of more substance and purpose - KJ

Thank you for this very insightful comment . This helps me to understand the complicated Manus issue.

I just read Sir Michael Somare's autobiography "Sana". In this book he mentioned two Japanese, one of them is my boss's father - the late Ryoichi Sasakawa, who helped Sir Michael's independence movement in the 1970s.

Also I learned that relations with Australia seems PNG's fundamental issue since before the independence.

By the way, now Australia is our ally as Abbott said "Japan is best friend in Asia". I am looking forward to our prime minister Abe visiting PNG next month.

Australians are really puzzled by the way Australian politicians are handling the asylum seeker problem. I guess the politicians themselves are unsure of their policies.

Why make the matter "secret" when the whole idea was to publicise the whole system so that asylum seekers would learn that they cannot illegally enter Australia?

Australia's policy also shows a gross ignorance of Papua New Guinea society , their customs and their traditional tribal land ownerships.

The thing that really is unbelievable, is Australia's many issues with Indonesia, and yet Tony Abbott only spent 45 minutes in Indonesia discussion those issues.

One of those issue is what I know as West Papua, Australia is very much aware of the human rights abuses occurring in West Papua and yet never dare bring up the subject when talking to Indonesia.

Thank you guys for the wonderful comments.

The Fraser book sounds interesting. Time for Australia to stop hiding under the wings of America.

The government needs to be advised that the deterrence strategy promotes a negative image of PNG.

Good summary of the situation, Bernard.

But I have one question. Australia chose 'the PNG solution' as a deterrence, and has admitted this. So the message to asylum seekers is, 'we will send you to such a backward, primitive and violent country with no hope of coming to Australia, that none of you will want to set out on the journey in the first place'.

Isn't this a gross and disturbing insult to PNG? And doesn't it say a lot about how DFAT and the Australian government sees PNG.

Is it much different to Britain sending convicts to Australia in 1788? Except to make matters worse, Australia has outsourced the responsibility to another country.

This is a very useful summary Bernard.

What caught my attention was your reference to a 'dependency syndrome'.

Australia has a similar dependency syndrome when it comes to the USA. Prior to that it had a similar relationship to Britain.

These dependencies were ostensibly about defence but in reality they went much further than that because of the strings attached.

Australia was dragged into the pointless wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan because of such strings. It now looks like Australia will be dragged into the power struggle between the US and China in the Pacific region.

None of the strings that the more powerful nations pull benefit the smaller nation. Pundits even suggest that if a serious dispute arose between Indonesia and Australia the USA would side with Indonesia.

The ANZUS agreement is, after all, merely a treaty that requires the participants to consult in an emergency.

Malcolm Fraser, who was once prime minister, is now suggesting that Australia's relationship with the USA, now that the Cold War is over, is detrimental to its interests and should end. He published a book this year about it called "Dangerous Allies".

PNG is probably in much the same position in its relationship with Australia that Australia is in its relationship to the USA.

As you succinctly point out PNG has no real interest in the asylum seeker problem and to become involved is going to be detrimental to it.

In short, PNG has been lumbered with problem for no good reason.

Perhaps it is time for PNG to reconsider its relationship with Australia

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