Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Australia arrogant, says Manus governor

AAP PNG correspondent

THE governor of Papua New Guinea's Manus Island says Australia is showing arrogance in failing to consult properly with residents about the re-opening of an asylum seeker processing centre.
Governor Charlie Benjamin says he has been left in the dark about construction contracts and a proposed aid package for reopening the Howard-era facility, despite being told to expect the first boatload of arrivals by the end of next week.
The Australian defence force has been preparing the site, on Lombrum Naval base, which was run down following its abandonment in 2004.
"There was an aid package that was going to come with the asylum seekers coming to Manus ... and from what I heard sometime next they will be arriving on Manus, but no-one seems to be discussing that package," Governor Benjamin told AAP  today.
"There was never any understanding that has been reached with this package so we are still in the dark about Australia assisting us.
"I understand contracts have been given out without any consultation with us. In 2001 that is exactly what happened and Manus missed out on everything and it appears as if the same thing is happening again. That is arrogance."
In a joint press conference with PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill two weeks ago, Australian Immigration minister Chris Bowen said he was keen for Manus residents to view Australia as good neighbours.
"And that we leave a benefit and legacy on Manus Island, recognising that they are being very hospitable to us," he said.
Mr Benjamin said the island's provincial administrator, Kulen Homou, and another official were flown to Brisbane last week for negotiations with Australian officials.
However both officials reported to Mr Benjamin they were not consulted at the meeting and were instead informed that contracts linked to Australia's assistance package had already been handed out.
"We have no problem with Australian companies being considered, because you want a job you would be satisfied with, but we have tried our best to be involved in this but they have not even consulted us," Mr Benjamin said.
"I am letting (Prime Minister Peter O'Neill) know, the PM and his team, the minister of foreign affairs and migration officials who are negotiating, they probably have not done their job."
Landowners on the island, who have also been left in the dark, on Wednesday took out a notice in local media informing of their intention to take legal action in seven days to stop the site reopening.
Spokesperson for one of the landowner groups, Mary Handen, says she and other traditional landowners have not been consulted by the two governments and want $45 million in aid and building contracts in return for use of land.
"If the two governments are not going to get us involved as key stake holders, then what difference does (the facility) make for us," she said.
"They might as well have the asylum processing centre in Australia."
She said she was concerned about the administration of the site.
"I went home two weeks ago and I got off at the terminal and the first thing you see is a defence tent right at the end of the tarmac and their laundry being hanged out right on the tarmac fence.
"When I saw that I saw my home land being invaded. Things are being whisked through. We don't know who is doing what, who is approving what."
Mr O'Neill and Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato could not be reached for comment.
Australia has opened a similar site on Nauru

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