Australian Foreign Minister Visits With Officials In PNG

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Bishop to discuss asylum centre, economic relations with leaders

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 6, 2014) – Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop says she is confident any risks posed by hazardous material at the Manus Island detention centre will be handled "appropriately".

Ms Bishop had a brief meeting with Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and extensive meetings with the country's Attorney General and planning minister as well as her foreign minister counterpart Rimbink Pato.

The economic relationship was said to be the focus but unconfirmed reports of protests at the detention centre were also discussed.

"These are matters that will be dealt with by the PNG Government obviously and if necessary by the PNG legal system, the judicial system," Ms Bishop said.

Ms Bishop said she was confident any risks posed by hazardous materials on the expansion site for the asylum seeker processing centre would be handled appropriately.

"We're making sure that any work that we do there - that the Australian Government has contracted there - is done appropriately and with regard to all necessary risks, and ensuring that we manage them."

"I'm confident that that's being handled appropriately."

[PIR editor’s note: Radio Australia reports that, while on her first official trip to PNG while in government, Bishop will focus on economic and business relations. Bishop also said Australia will be focusing on economic and business relations, as PNG is one of Australia's highest foreign policy priorities. She also said Australia is reassessing its approach to foreign aid, which she will be discussing with officials during her visit.]

A leaked report commissioned by the Immigration department reportedly found asbestos and other hazardous material at the Manus Island regional processing centre.

The detention centre was first set up in PNG by the Australian Coalition government of then-prime minister John Howard in 2001.

It was closed by the Labor government in 2008, but re-opened by Labor four years later.

Investment, aid and the fate of asylum seekers at the detention centre will feature prominently during Julie Bishop's first ministerial visit to PNG.

The foreign minister arrived in Port Moresby today for the two-day visit to Australia's closest neighbour.

Some on the remote northern island have complained that Australian-funded development projects are not happening fast enough.

Australian officials say more than 500 locals are employed and local contractors are earning $230,000 a week providing goods and services to the regional processing centre.

Economic ties

Ms Bishop has also met with PNG businesswomen and will also travel to Bomana Cemetery, near the start of the Kokoda Track, for a wreath-laying ceremony.

Ms Bishop is no stranger to PNG, having made several visits while in opposition.

"It is a deep and diverse relationship, but we want it to be even stronger on the economic front," she said.

"To move away from the stereotype of aid donor-aid recipient and be a much more mature relationship built on strong economic ties."

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