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Questions surrounding PNG asylum seeker deal
Australia's Gulag is one description being applied to the deal struck by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his Papua New Guinea counterpart Peter O'Neill as he tries to get the issue of asylum seekers off the domestic agenda ahead of rapidly approaching elections.

Jim Middleton speaks with Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney.
Transcript
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Australia's Gulag is one description being applied to the deal struck by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his Papua New Guinea counterpart Peter O'Neill as he tries to get the issue of asylum seekers off the domestic agenda ahead of rapidly approaching elections.

On a flying visit to Port Moresby, Mr Rudd won agreement for all asylum seekers heading for Australia by boat to be processed in PNG. And any of them who are eventually declared refugees would then have to settle not in Australia but in Papua New Guinea.

The big question is how could PNG, a country struggling to meet the demand for jobs and health care for its own people - for example, manage to assimilate thousands more from very different cultural backgrounds?

Sean Dorney is the ABC's Pacific correspondent.

Sean a threshold question, we know why Kevin Rudd wants this but what's in it for Peter O'Neill?

SEAN DORNEY, REPORTER: That's an extremely good question, Jim. Obviously there's the financial aspect of it, the fact that Australia is going to refurbish the hospital in Lae – the Angau Hospital. It's going to provide enormous amount of support for Papua New Guinea's tertiary education system, the universities, there's going to be the building of these processing centres and the member for Manus, or one of them, wants the airport in Manus to be upgraded to international standard.

But I can't see this being a very popular decision at all in PNG. It's not as if Papua New Guinea is totally free of problems and as one Papua New Guinean I spoke to yesterday said, well, if Peter O'Neill is going to do this why doesn't he take all these people and put them in his electorate in the Southern Highlands?

There's going to be all sorts of problems created in Papua New Guinea because of this. There's another aspect to it is that all the processing is supposed to be done through a Papua New Guinea system, through Papua New Guinea's bureaucracy. Well, that's going to require an enormous amount of support and the actual numbers, there's no limit to it. Manus is supposed to be upgraded now to take 3,000 people but in the first half of this year 15,000 people arrived in Australia or tried to arrive in Australia by boat.

JIM MIDDLETON: There is already some antagonism in Papua New Guinea towards Asian immigrants, shop keepers, entrepreneurs and the like. PNG is also a very Christian nation. You've raised the question of culture shock as a result of this decision. How is Peter O'Neill going to address the opposition already evident among people on the street to this watershed announcement?

SEAN DORNEY: Well, I really don't know how he's going to present it. He's got a significant majority in parliament, an overwhelming majority in parliament but I can't see a lot of the members, his supporters thinking that this is such a brilliant idea. The question also is so close to an Australian election why has he allowed Papua New Guinea to be dragged in to the centre of an Australian election campaign?

I think there's going to be a lot of opposition to this in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea has no welfare system, there's a huge shortage of jobs. Most Papua New Guineans still survive by growing their own food and working their own gardens, there's no social welfare system. Australia has said that it's going to support these people and provide them with accommodation.

JIM MIDDLETON: You mention this question of Papua New Guinea being dragged into an Australian election campaign. Is there any sense yet of reaction from people in PNG to the idea that this must make PNG once more, more dependent on Australia that it harks back to the days before 1975 when PNG became independent of Australia?

SEAN DORNEY: Well, there's a residual resentment still in Papua New Guinea towards Australia and Australians and I can't see that this is going to ameliorate this. It will exacerbate it. The attitude of many people in Papua New Guinea, I would think, is that this really is not Papua New Guinea's problem. Why is it being dumped on us? Kevin Rudd said yesterday there had been this whole series of passing the parcel. Well in Papua New Guinea this is going to be seen as Australia passing the parcel entirely to Peter O'Neill and the PNG Government.

It's also an issue that's going to possibly create quite a lot of tension inside Papua New Guinea and that religious issue too that you mention, Jim that is also an issue. There's one mosque that I know about in Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, but the country is overwhelmingly Christian and there's even a suggestion by one of the church organisations that all other religions should be banned from Papua New Guinea. So this is the beginning of a very interesting situation and I can't see anything getting better.

JIM MIDDLETON: Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney.
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