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Australian Current Affairs

Australia to continue Papua New Guinea asylum seeker scheme

Peter O'Neill

Peter O’Neill

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says he expects a Tony Abbott-led government to respect the asylum-seeker processing arrangements made with former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

But Mr O’Neill says he is open to the scheme being reviewed.

“The resettlement program (asylum-seeker deal) and the infrastructure development program associated with this, negotiated and agreed to with the Rudd government, was done with the Australian government, not a political party or individual,” Mr O’Neill told the Port Moresby-based The National newspaper.

“I would expect the incoming government to respect it.

“If there is a policy shift, or if the Australian government under Prime Minister Abbott wants this reviewed, we will welcome it.”

The previous Rudd government was criticised for rushing the deal.

There are currently 680 single adult male asylum-seekers being held at Lombrum naval base on Manus.

The processing scheme – which would see a series of camps built on Manus island – has caused divisions in the peaceful PNG province, with locals complaining they have been left out of the loop on building and procurement contracts.

Landowners last week blocked access to a dump site being used by the asylum-seeker facility inside Lombrum naval base, and to a gravel pit used by Australia.

Chey Scovell, chief executive of the PNG Manufacturers Council, said he expects the Abbott government to build on Labor’s relationship with PNG.

“When (incoming foreign minister) Julie Bishop came up here as the shadow minister, she took the time to meet with a number of people here in business and gave strong assurances that she was going to pay attention to PNG,” he told the Post Courier.

The Manufacturers Council has in recent weeks been critical of the deal after it was revealed Australia will only source 50 per cent of its labour force from PNG.

No such agreement exists for the procurement of building materials for the camps.

Local Manus MP and Vice-Minister for Trade Ron Knight, who had all but withdrawn support for the deal following tensions on the ground, is optimistic about the new Australian government.

“Now I think we have a bit more leeway for them to come to us and see what we can achieve out of this,” he said.

“I hope Scott Morrison becomes immigration minister.

“We’ve talked about this before and if he gets that portfolio it will be really good to be able to talk with him.”

Source: The Australian – Prime Minister Peter O’Neill open to PNG asylum deal review

About Craig Hill

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