Sir Michael: Rudd’s asylum plan will fail

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The National, Monday July 29th, 2013

 FORMER prime minister Sir Michael Somare has denounced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s asylum-seeker deal, accusing Rudd of using Papua New Guinea as a dumping ground for displaced people.

Sir Michael told The Financial Review that while Rudd was his friend, what he was doing to PNG was wrong.

“These people coming on boats want to go to Australia, so why send them to Papua New Guinea? It looks as though Australia is dumping them into Papua New Guinea,” Sir Michael told the Australian newspaper last Thursday.

“I know Rudd well and he is a friend of mine, but what he is doing to PNG is not right.”

Sir Michael’s comments were his first since Rudd and  O’Neill announced the deal a week ago under which all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat will be sent to PNG in an effort to break the people-smuggling trade and stem the flow of asylum-seeker boats.

The deal also includes a rejigging of Australia’s $500 million annual aid budget, the expansion of the Manus Island detention centre’s capacity from 600 people to 3,000, and the potential for a second centre near Port Moresby.

But Sir Michael said the difference between O’Neill’s deal and the Manus Island deal he had entered with former Australian prime minister John Howard as part of Howard’s Pacific Solution was that it was always understood the detention centre would be a “place of transit until Australia found a place for them (refugees) rather than resettling them in Papua New Guinea”.

“How can we resettle them? Papua New Guinea has its huge problems. 80% of the country’s population lives in rural areas,” he said.

“We need to find enough food to feed people in the villages, provide education and health services, without having to provide this to refugees and, in addition, we may have to find the refugees land.’

He did not share Rudd’s and O’Neill’s confidence that the arrangement would stop the boats. 

“These people are desperate to get to Australia and to live the lifestyle Australia provides and I believe they will keep coming,’’ he said.

“Dumping people on PNG is not a good arrangement . . . we need to stop this programme.’’

 O’Neill had also made a unilateral decision without consulting the PNG Parliament or the people and it was clear even now that the PNG public was opposed. 

“The proposal should have been publicly debated, the Parliament should have been consulted.’’