Prime Minister O’Neill’s ‘Regional Resettlement Agreement’ with Prime Minister Rudd of Australia is highly improper and risky to the long term interest of Papua New Guinea. The Opposition has forewarned Papua New Guineans, and in particular, Parliamentarians of the dangers of Parliament deliberately removing the constitutional checks and balance mechanism on the Prime Minister’s exercise of power. This Agreement was signed unilaterally by the Prime Minister and we hope this is the last and not the first since securing his tenure through constitutional amendments.
FACTS AND ISSUES
Processing and Resettlement
The first Memorandum of Agreement between Papua New Guinea and Australia was for processing only of Asylum Seekers. After processing, genuine refugees were to be sent back to Australia for resettlement or sent elsewhere.
The revised or second Agreement called the ‘Regional Refugee Resettlement Agreement’ is for processing as well as resettlement of refugees in PNG and other places. Not one single sole will be resettled in Australia. PNG Government is making a whole sale take-over of an Australian issue and an Australian problem. The question, is, how in the whole world are we better than Australia, to deal with such a huge and complex international problem.
Forced Entry and Detention
The Asylum Seekers are forcefully brought into PNG by the Government of Australia and detained by the Government of Papua New Guinea. Australia and PNG may have violated international refugee and human rights protocols. The Agreement may also be in violation of our National Constitution. PNG may face a Class Action by the Asylum Seekers for agreeing to detain them on behalf of a third country, when it should have rejected the proposal as being not in keeping with PNG’s Constitution.
Lack of Sanction by NEC and Parliament
The Prime Minister has committed the Nation to an International Agreement, which essentially is a treaty, without any debate by the Parliament and civil society. This is simply disrespectful to the highest authority in the land. If indeed the NEC had made a decision to sign the Memorandum of Agreement in the terms it is, then it should have been brought to Parliament for scrutiny and sanction by Parliament.The Opposition believes the Prime Minister signed a substantially amended Agreement without the prior consideration and approval of the National Executive Council.
Asylum Seeker and Refugee Policy
PNG does not have a policy on Asylum Seekers and Refugees. The implementation of the terms of the Agreement has no policy basis.This is the very reason why our brothers and sisters from West Papua have never been processed and resettled properly in this country.
The earlier Agreement did not contain any financial benefit for PNG. The revised or second Agreement, also, does not contain any financial package, as we are lead to believe. There are no new millions of Dollars from Australia in consideration of the Agreement, apart from the $450 Million Annual Program Aid. It is free of charge.
The funding of Universities infrastructure, Lae Hospital re development and the two other named projects that the PM keeps mentioning to smooth out students, are to be funded partly from the annual Australian Aid of $450 Million and the PNG Government’s own funds over a five year period.
The truth is that it is a friendly gesture. O’Neill is doing a favour to Australia and the immediate beneficiary is the Australian Labour Party.
Regional and International Duty.
1. The PM has tried very hard to justify his rushed and hasty decision and has given the following reasons as justifications;
2. Australia gives annually to PNG the $450 Million Aid Money and other assistance during disasters.
3. PNG is a regional leader in the Pacific
4. PNG has plenty of land
5. PNG has signed various international treaties and conventions
PNG must be seen to be an important player in international affairs
These are not unimportant considerations. They are pertinent and indeed PNG must play an active role in regional and international affairs. But it must do so within the confines of domestic and international law, international conventions and protocol. PNG must also have the administrative and financial capacity to take on regional and international responsibilities. Failure to meet these requirements and expectations may be costly and damaging for PNG. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees which is a party central to the matter and issues at hand, has not been consulted and left out by the two governments, raising further doubts about the credibility of the Agreement.
Administrative and Financial Responsibility
It is not yet clear whether Australia or PNG will have administrative responsibility over the Asylum seekers and the processing centre. It is also not clear what the annual financial cost will be to run the facility and who will be responsible for funding it. In all probability, the PNG Government will foot the bill for as long as it keeps the asylum seekers processing program.
Resettlement of refugees is a huge administrative and financial responsibility. No doubt, it will further stretch our administrative and financial capacity. Land, employment and housing will have to be provided by the PNG Government.
The West Papuans have never been resettled on any land, let alone housing and other welfare needs. Our people from the atolls are yet to be resettled. Our people from Manam Island are yet to be properly resettled with housing and other basic needs. A huge chunk of our work force are living in squatter settlements, and are yet to be resettled and housed and provided electricity and clean water.
The fact remains that we are in a major crisis ourselves and our people are suffering and we can barely afford to care for others.
When talking about land, Australia is a vast continent while PNG is just a tiny island. Land in Australia is owned by the State, hence there is more land available to the government than here in PNG, where the state owns only less than 10 % of land. As state owned land is in short supply, the state has to buy land to resettle refugees. Additional land in Manus might be required to cater for increased number of asylum seekers. Should the government purchase additional land for asylum seeker and refugee purposes, so must it, purchase for all our landless people including the West Papuans. The people will be watching.
The Prime Minister unilaterally signed an Agreement which was substantially altered from the initial Agreement without Cabinet approval and Parliament’s scrutiny and sanction.
The program is likely to be disastrous as PNG does not have a policy on Asylum Seekers and Refugees.
The program is a huge financial and administrative burden to the people of Papua New Guinea for many years to come.
There is no direct financial benefit. The economic benefit to Manus and Papua New Guinea is negligible. Even the contracts seem to have been awarded to Australians as supplies are now being flown direct from Australia to Manus.
There are numerous social, cultural, religious and security concerns associated with such a grand international scheme, the full extent and impact of which is not obvious or visible as yet but will slowly unfold. It is any one’s guess as no impact study has been undertaken.
As the forceful detention of the Asylum Seekers may be unconstitutional, the Independent State of Papua New Guinea could face a multimillion Kina Class Action by the Asylum Seekers.
The Opposition commends the contributions to the debate by two Founding Fathers of our Nation in Grand Chief Rt. Honourable Sir Michael Somare and Sir John Kaputin and by Hon. Garry Juffa, Governor for Oro. We encourage other leaders to stand up for your Country on a very significant issue that will affect the socio-economic life and security of Papua New Guinea in the long run.
The Opposition recommends that the Government immediately rescind the revised or second Agreement which allows for resettlement and revert back to the original Agreement which is for processing only.
The Government will still need to amend section 42 of the Constitution to allow detention of Asylum Seekers on behalf of a third Country.
Hon Belden Norman Namah, MP
Leader of Opposition