O’Neill: PNG-Australia Resettlement Deal Can Be Changed

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O’Neill: PNG-Australia Resettlement Deal Can Be Changed PM says no resettlement until legitimate refugee status decided

By Alexander Rheeney

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, August 6, 2013) – The Australia-Papua New Guinea Resettlement Arrangement is ‘not written in stone’ and can be changed, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said yesterday.

The controversial asylum seeker agreement between Australia and PNG continues to come under criticism with university students last Friday leading a protest march in Port Moresby to show their disagreement.

However, the PM reiterated at a media conference yesterday that there was no guarantee that refugees flown from Australia to Manus to be processed at the regional processing centre would immediately become Papua New Guinean citizens.

"I think the issues are very, very clear that there is nobody who is coming to be processed in Manus is going to be a citizen of our country without following the laws of our country. Nobody will be resettled anywhere in Papua New Guinea until genuine refugees are established," he said.

"So you can see that all the protections that need to protect our national interests has been catered for so I think let us see how it goes and we have an opportunity to review it, this is not written in stone just so that we cannot change it. We will address it if we have problems along the way."

The first opportunity to review the agreement will avail itself at next year’s Ministerial Forum, where according to the PM the finer details of the agreement will be discussed and reviewed at the Ministerial level.

"This will be revealed in 12 months time when the Ministerial Forum, annual Ministerial Forum that happens between the two countries, we will review the arrangements and if we feel we are not able to manage those then we will discuss those issues," he added.

The Australian government has already started to fly asylum seekers to the PNG island province with work also underway at the PNG Defence Force-run Lombrum naval base to build permanent infrastructure to cater for their increasing numbers.

With the Government continuing to come under scrutiny over the agreement, the PM said he welcomed mature debate by Papua New Guineans but warned that they should avoid politicizing the issue as it was done in the national interest.

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