MP: How do we benefit?

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The National, Monday July 22nd, 2013

 OPPOSITION whip Tobias Kulang says he is shocked that a major foreign policy with immense socio-political and economic implications on the local economy, has again been shoved down PNG’s throat without much scrutiny.

“I would have expected the prime minister of the country, Peter O’Neill, to inform parliament of Australia’s decision to ‘dump’ more asylum seekers on our land, and for parliament to debate the pros and cons of this major Australian policy,” the Kundiawa-Gembogl MP said in a statement yesterday.

“I am aghast that this basic courtesy has been trampled on.”

The refugee resettlement arrangement, signed by O’Neill and Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd, was revealed at a press conference last Friday in Brisbane.

Under the arrangement, asylum seekers coming in by boat will immediately be sent to Manus Island or elsewhere in Papua New Guinea for resettlement.

“This major Australian policy has provoked more questions than answers, and again puts both countries on the international spotlight. 

“For Australia, it raises the question of a reputable country running away from its international obligations while for PNG, it’s become a dumping ground for Australia’s inadequacies,” Kulang said.

“Australia, in 1954, signed the (UN) Refugees Convention committing to protect people who come to its shores, and not exposing them to further risks elsewhere. 

“Has Australia abdicated from this responsibility?”

“I also cannot recall PNG having in place any specific domestic policy to accommodate resettlement of asylum seekers. 

“I am convinced we are far less equipped to handle the situation at this stage, especially to respond and to accommodate these asylum seekers. Australia must also come out and explain what and how it plans to assist PNG manage this affair.

“Last year alone, almost 16,000 people reached Australian shores, representing a mere 0.03% of total worldwide refugees. Is that too much for Australia? 

“Last Friday’s agreement did not come with any specifics as to how Papua New Guinea would benefit. 

“The only clue left behind was that the detention centre in Manus would be expanded to cater for 3,000 people from the current 600-holding capacity. 

“If anything, what about the benefit streams to Manus islanders? 

“What about the nation at large? What do we stand to gain out of this new arrangement?

“Also of national importance, if we are to resettle them in Papua New Guinea, then there are serious religious considerations to make. 

“Most of these asylum seekers are Muslims, and are we, as Christians, ready or resilient enough to accommodate an influx of their numbers, or for any other religion or faith, for that matter?

“I believe we have not addressed many outstanding issues with our refugee brothers and sisters from the other side of the PNG/Indonesia border. 

“The UNHR office here has, over the years, made representation to the government to sort these issues out but to no avail and so the best I can describe this latest government gimmick is hypocrisy at its best.”