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No response to Australia on asylum, ministerial forum

By Peter Korugl PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 19, 2011) - The indifference by Government on major foreign policy matters is threatening Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) relations with its oldest friend, Australia and the big tiger economies of Asia, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Don Polye warned yesterday.

Mr. Polye said among the issues that should be of concern to PNG, is the Manus asylum processing facility, the PNG-Australia ministerial forum and the meeting of member countries of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which PNG has an observer status.

"Australia has expressed its willingness to open up the facility and sent a special envoy to PNG to discuss the project with Government. The Acting Prime Minister went to Manus and came back," Mr. Polye said. What is the Government doing now? PNG has not taken up a position. We are not an island, it is embarrassing when we do not take up issues of regional importance and this is threatening to destroy our relationship with Australia." Mr. Polye said it was taking too long for the Government of PNG to deal with the Government of Julia Gillard on the Manus detention centre issue, even when the Australian Government has sent its envoy Richard Marles and the Deputy Opposition leader, Julie Bishop visited PNG.

Another issue that was also threatening PNG’s relationship with Australia is the annual ministerial forum between the two countries.

"What is PNG’s position on this conference? It is at this conference that the two countries discuss issues related to development assistance to PNG and other bilateral matters," Mr. Polye said. The forum should be taking place around this time but it looks like it may never be held. The people of this country have a right to know, the public servants have a right to know, the Australian people have a right to know."

He said the annual forum was a very high level consultative meeting involving senior ministers of the two countries and it seems the PNG Government was not treating it with the respect it deserves.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Ano Pala yesterday said he will be meeting this week with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd in Bali, Indonesia, during the 44th ASEAN meeting and 18th ASEAN regional forum where he will take up the Manus detention centre issue.

"This mutual understanding follows the telephone discussions I had with my Australian counterpart earlier, for which I am pleased," Mr. Pala said.

Mr. Pala gave his assurance that he will work closely with the Australian Government to further boost and solidify the enduring special bond and friendly mutually beneficial cooperation that continues to epitomised both countries bilateral relations.

During that meeting, Mr. Pala is expected to open discussions on a wide range of issues and any new initiatives of mutual interest to the two close neighbors, which will include the possible re-opening of the Manus Processing Centre for asylum seekers.

Mr. Polye was also critical of PNG’s attendance of the meeting of the member countries of ASEAN currently under way in Bali, Indonesia.

He said ASEAN is made up of huge economies in Asia and PNG enjoys an observer status in the organization and this was going to change very soon.

"PNG should be opening up embassies in these countries and place diplomats which will allow the country to become a full member. Once that happens, there are certain benefits PNG can enjoy. The Government needs to be decisive, there is an important meeting under way at present and we are missing it," Mr. Polye said.

Mr. Pala would be accompanied by department Secretary Michael Maue and other officials but he did not reveal what was on the agenda for the Bali conference.

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