The way forward for the Motu-Koitabuans
Belden Namah says Australia ‘interfered’ in election

PNG open to reviving refugee centre on Manus

ROWAN CALLICK
THE AUSTRALIAN

PAPUA NEW GUINEA Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has reaffirmed that his country would favourably consider reopening an asylum-seeker processing centre if asked by Australia.

Now in the middle of an election, Mr O'Neill said the recent sinking tragedies "underline that this is a regional issue".

"We need to work together to make sure this doesn't happen again. Our commitment to the region on this issue remains strong. We'd like to help where we can."

Opinion polls have tipped Mr O'Neill to retain the prime ministership when parliament meets in early August to vote in a new government.

The Manus assessment centre remained available to the Australian government, and others, to take up if it were needed. . "We will help wherever and however we can to facilitate a solution," he said.

An assessment centre operated from 2001 to 2004 as part of the Howard government's Pacific Solution at the Lombrum naval base on Manus island, at the north of PNG. About 350 asylum-seekers were processed at the centre, which was managed by the International Organisation for Migration.

Last August, just nine days after Mr O'Neill was elected prime minister, his new cabinet decided at its first formal meeting to accept, "in principle", Australia's request for the reopening of a centre to assess asylum-seekers.

Foreign Minister Ano Pala signed a letter outlining the arrangement in broad terms.

Julia Gillard thanked Mr O'Neill and his newly formed cabinet "for giving prompt consideration" to the Australian proposal.

But opposition spokesman on immigration Scott Morrison was sceptical about the deal.

"I'll believe it when I see it," he said of the centre. "I'm not holding my breath."

Senior officials of the countries began negotiations on the details, but Canberra had not provided full information about its intentions by the time the High Court ruled out offshore processing of asylum-seeker claims last August.

PNG indicated during last year's talks that if the centre were to be reopened, it wished to play a substantial role in determining management principles and methods.

The PNG government wanted to ensure that any remuneration for the centre was over and above the previously agreed AusAID commitment - which in the coming financial year reaches $491.7 million.

Manus is PNG's smallest province, smaller than the ACT. The population of about 45,000 broadly supports the re-establishment of an assessment centre there for economic reasons.

Comments

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Samuel Bariasi

Papua New Guinea has been maintaining a strong bilateral relationship with Australia and it would not be friendly if we rejected the proposal of setting up the centre in Manus.

In other words, rejection of the proposal would pose a risk in our relationship with the nation which we benefit largely from.

The oppostion had been questioning the legality of the asylum seeker centre in Manus. Opposition leader Belden Namah has been hot on the topic.

We have to consider the fact that PNG has once had the foreign policy of 'friends to all, enemy to none'. As a matter of fact, not everybody can be a friend, in this world, you will still have enemies.

However, considering the situation of the asylum seekers, they are hopeless and in desperate need they would rather much appreciate what we do, even though some may not like it.

Papua New Guinea claims itself to be a Christian country so how effective would the Christian status be if we reject fellow human beings who were persecuted?

It would also be beneficial for the country economically.

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