Where is the PNG Debate on Manus Island?
With the successful passing of legislation by the Australian government to reinstate offshore processing in the Pacific, it is likely that Papua New Guinea and Nauru will be receiving Australia’s asylum-seekers within a month.
The Gillard government was so confident in achieving this outcome – a total back flip from its 2007 stance of abolishing it – that it confirmed that it had approved advance parties consisting of Australian Defense and Government officials who would be visiting Manus and Nauru – before the legislation had even passed.
That advance party touched down in Manus late yesterday afternoon.
The announcement that advance parties were being sent to PNG also indicated that an agreement of some sort had been in place between Julia Gillard and Peter O’Neill for some time – and most certainly well before the 2012 National Elections.
The speed by which developments have taken place to date, and in particular the dispatch and acceptance of Australian officials to PNG has been surprising, and to some degree – frightening.
Surprising and frightening – because our newly elected parliament has yet to even sit for its first official session of parliamentary debate, which has been announced to take place on Tuesday, August 21.
Furthermore, apart from the election of a prime minister and the announcement of a cabinet, PNG is still waiting for the official election of a Leader of the Opposition to take place.
@Tavurvur that's a sure fire way to get members of your own govt upset.—
IIO (@IOlewale) August 16, 2012
It is imperative that sensitive issues like asylum seekers, which have important international ramifications and domestic obligations too, be discussed in full and with the participation of PNG’s entire House of Representatives.
One of the main functions of the the Office of the Opposition is its role in scrutinizing the decisions and operations of the Executive – but how is that possible when that office remains vacant and the Parliament has yet to sit?
Furthermore, it is impetuous of Australia to have us believe that the problem of asylum-seekers is a regional issue, and that therefore, the Manus Detention Centre is a partnership between PNG and Australia helping to address this issue.
This so called partnership consists of nothing more than Australia funding the detention centre and PNG providing the location and a band-aid solution to a problem that is Australian.
In reality, the PNG government and Manus’ new MPs are not particularly worried about Australia’s boat people but support it because they view the detention centre as a boost for Manus’ stagnating economy – and very possibly for Peter O’Neill, as a favor in return to Julia Gillard for her support of him as PNG’s legitimate prime minister over the past 12 months – under the guise of enhancing our bilateral relations, which it will most certainly also achieve.
(@Tavurvur) August 16, 2012
And it seems that my view is shared by some senior politicians – albeit former cabinet ministers.
Former Attorney-General Sir Arnold Amet has come out today blasting Australia:
“Australia has debated this over many years as to whether they [asylum-seekers] go to Malaysia or go to Nauru or come to Papua New Guinea.
We cannot overnight be expected to rubber-stamp. It’s like a patronizing attitude towards Papua New Guinea and we cannot simply be expected to do this. And I think that Australia has handled this very poorly.
Struggling Pacific island states cannot be presumptuously treated like Australian territories with the token gestures of development dollar for removing this problem from Australian soil.
This is a moral dilemma. We can’t simply be forced upon to take these people.
They’re Australia’s problem, they want to go to Australia.”
But the reality is that Australia would not be sending its asylum-seekers to PNG had our government not consented to the request in the first instance.
And it is precisely Peter O’Neill’s consent which is concerning – because there has been no consultation outside of NEC chambers; and no opportunity for sincere and transparent debate to occur on the floor of our parliament.
Manus’ new MPs – Governor Charlie Benjamin and Manus Open MP Ronny Knight – need to re-look at the re-hashed economic argument which seems to trump humanitarian concerns time and time again when asylum-seekers are concerned.
Instead of profiting from the misery of others in the short-term, Benjamin and Knight should creatively be thinking of sustainable ways to generate organic economic growth for the people of Manus. It is no wonder that some Manus citizens have come out publicly stating that they are happy to receive Australia’s asylum seekers.
Their people’s statements that it will be good for them economically says it all.