THE Pacific Solution emerged as a policy of the Australian government under prime minister John Howard’s regime.
The policy aims at transporting asylum seekers to detention centres in small independent states within the Pacific region rather than allowing them to settle in mainland Australia.
When the policy was first introduced in 2001, it had bipartisan support from both the Liberal-National government and Labor opposition of the time.
The Australian government has a big problem on its hands with the influx of boats carrying people from different ethnic backgrounds who seek asylum in Australia.
Some asylum seekers are genuine, while others are searching for a better life. The Australian government needed to find an avenue to deal with the influx and accordingly introduced the Pacific Solution.
Offshore processing is to the advantage of the Australian government because on Australian soil asylum seekers have certain legal rights which make it difficult to send them back to their country of origin.
With the offshore camps in Manus and Nauru, the Australian government can easily process and settle them in a place other than Australia.
Australia, as a developed country in the Pacific region, is exercising its influence over the vulnerable developing Pacific island states including Papua New Guinea, which features greatly on Australia’s foreign policy radar.
The implementation of Australia’s Pacific Solution policy by the PNG government has led to the existence of the Manus Detention Centre and posed many uncertain questions in the minds of Papua New Guineans.
As a Papua New Guinean student interested in politics, this uncertainty creates a very big question in my mind.
Why did the PNG government accept and implement the Pacific Solution policy in the interest of the Australian government without realising the implications for PNG’s national sovereignty and security?
Our sovereignty defines Papua New Guinea as a legally recognised independent state in the international arena. Likewise our security is the cornerstone of the country and must be kept free of foreign threats and interventions.
The implementation of Pacific Solution came after diplomatic dialogue between the PNG and Australian governments.
The reopening of the Manus Detention Centre draws another question. Did the PNG government make a rational decision before signing the Regional Resettlement Arrangement Treaty?
The treaty was signed by prime minister Peter O’Neill and then Australian leader Kevin Rudd in May last year. It gave the green light for the full implementation of the Pacific Solution in Papua New Guinea.
It was a strange decision because Peter O’Neill and some few senior ministers did not consult elected Members of Parliament and through them the seven million population of PNG.
The Parliament was surprised when the treaty was signed. It was like selling our sovereignty by one-man making a decision rather than the collective decision-making of a democratic process.
PNG’s sovereignty was compromised, posing possible security threats such as human trafficking, money laundering, drug smuggling and other activities.
The Australian government pursued its Pacific Solution as a foreign policy approach to protect its own sovereignty and security not realising that it undermined PNG’s sovereignty and security.
From a global perspective, the so-called Pacific Solution could be seen as Australia’s hidden foreign policy objective to maintain hegemony over small Pacific Island states.
PNG's sovereignty is impinged because we have a patron-client relationship with Australia. So what is sovereignty if we need to repay our close friend Australia for all the aid they have given us over the years even after we formally got independence in 1975?
There is no free lunch. Our pro-Australian government ensures that every decision it makes is in the best interests of Australia.
Australia facilitates its interests in the Pacific to protect its own sovereignty and security without the realising that it may undermine the sovereignty and security of small Pacific Island countries.
As true Papua New Guineans taking pride of our unique and beautiful country, we must stand up for PNG’s sovereignty and security as they are of paramount importance.