A$130m allocated for asylum centre

National, Normal

The National, Thursday, May 26th 2011

AUSTRALIAN immigration officials on Monday night revealed the government “hid” A$129.97 million in the budget to set up the regional processing centre for asylum seekers on Manus, PacNews reports.
The Australian government was still awaiting a decision from the national executive council on whether it would agree to host a centre and was unable to announce a deal
on budget night two weeks ago.
West Australian senator Michaelia Cash accused the government of “hiding” the funds, after it was revealed in a senate estimates hearing on Monday night.
The money allocated for the regional centre did not include capital costs, so had not been separately highlighted in the budget, officials said.
The secretary of the immigration department, Andrew Metcalfe, said: “This is the first time a provision has been made in the budget for an assessment centre overseas.”
Although the government had prepared a draft memorandum of understanding, no further meetings would be scheduled until a clear indication of support was received from the PNG cabinet, Metcalfe said.
PacNews reported that despite this, immigration officials gave details of how the A$129.97 million in the budget would be spent on a PNG centre, including wages for 30 staff, interpreters, food for asylum seekers and chartered flights.
Metcalfe said that discussions had also been
held with the International Organisation for Migration in Geneva about running a centre, and the organisation had indica-ted it was “very happy”
to help Australia.
Meanwhile, Manus Governor Michael Sapau said he wanted major infrastructure development in return for reopening the Manus detention centre, Radio Australia reported yesterday.
He said that he was not involved in the negotiations but had repeatedly called for the centre to
be reopened.
Sapau told Radio Australia that if it went ahead,
he wanted the province’s infrastructure upgraded to promote development.
“For example, upgrade of the airport to international standards,” he said.
Sapau would also like to see schools rehabilitated, roads improved and the public hospital upgraded.