Manus Island Detention Centre – Who’s running PNG?

By PNG Echo.

Behind the fences on Manus Island
Behind the fences on Manus Island

Firstly, let me go on record as saying that I couldn’t be happier that the abomination that is the Manus Island Detention Centre will soon cease to exist.

It has gone way beyond my ken to think that one government could conceive of such a place and another government go along with it and I said so, many years ago.

But forgetting about the asylum seekers (which they did) this treaty allowed political jockeying to strip both governments of all vestiges of humanity, to put political self-interest before the rights of the most unfortunate men, women and children.

Thank goodness at least one player, Papua New Guinea, has come to its senses, at last. But with the stone already thrown in the pond the ripples are bound to continue.

The politics.

What a tragedy, they’ve drowned before we could turn them into an election issu

The reasons this treaty was signed were at best cynical:

At the time, the then Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in his death throes and thought this punitive, but popular policy in Australia, would pull him out of the doldrums – it didn’t – and it suited subsequent Australian governments to leave it in place. No asylum seekers on the shores of Australia means one chronic political headache (regardless of the reaction to asylum seekers in Australia being out of all proportion to the scale of the problem) was solved. Now gimme them votes.

As for Papua New Guinea, I’m supposing that, in return, a substantial monetary consideration (aid) was negotiated (although, I have read the latest Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Australia and PNG – and the exact quid pro quo is not articulated). But more than this, knowing what a political hot potato ‘boat people’ are in Australia, for the PNG government to have done Australia such a huge favour gave PNG considerable political leverage with the most powerful nation in the Pacific.

It suited Prime Minister O’Neill, who has been trying to maintain PNGs sovereignty against intrusions by it’s nearest neighbour and former colonizer, with OkTedi springing immediately to mind.

So, with Manus in his arsenal of negotiating tools the pendulum would have seemed to always be in PNGs orbit. – just how the Prime Minister wanted it.

But, regardless of the reasons, it was, nevertheless, a signed treaty between two sovereign nations – a pact, however Faustian

Now, one party wants to resile – to break the agreement.  There are bound to be consequences.

Possible consequences

Australia’s Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton

It’s all very well for the Australian Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, to state that the court decision in Papua New Guinea is not binding on Australia, because while he may be right, it’s binding on Papua New Guinea, and when Papua New Guinea sneezes, Australia will catch the same cold.

And Australia is going to be kicked out, just like they were when the Supreme Court ruled the Enhanced Cooperation Program unconstitutional under the Somare government.

For Australia, the situation must not only be inconvenient but just a little irksome in that the MOU between the two countries states that

The participants may jointly decide to vary this MOU in writing.

About this decision there is no “jointly’ – only a unilateral decision by PNG.

It is an internal problem that has become a headache for an international partner – and an important partner at that..

As in so many cases recently in PNG, the problem involves the Executive at odds with the Judiciary.

It’s really not good enough for the PNG government to say that there’s little they can do because the Supreme Court has spoken – all of these little glitches should have been ironed out before the treaty was signed.

For PNG to come to the conclusion that the treaty is unconstitutional, almost 4 years after the signing of the initial agreement is criminal. Someone should have been dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s before the fact not engaging in crisis management like this.

I can’t imagine that this incident won’t damage the reputation of PNG internationally. I’m sure that PNG will be eyed with some suspicion and approached with some caution when it comes to any bilateral, multilateral or any other international treaties for some time to come.

I know, were it me negotiating, I’d want to know who was running the country and I’d certainly ask for Judicial assurance before I’d do business with PNGs executive – the incident has affected the credibility of the executive government.

By all means fight the internal battles – but for international purposes PNG should have a united front

…but you promised

Hon Ronny Knight, current MP for Manus
Hon Ronny Knight, current MP for Manus

What’s more, there are many people in Papua New Guinea who had pinned their hopes on the continued operation of the detention centre, especially Manusians – and they’re not going to be happy either.

Already Hon Ronny Knight, Member for Manus is panicking. He told the press:

If it has to be closed down it has to be closed down, but we still need our roads fixed.  It’s not our fault this happened – we’ve been promised certain things still yet to be fulfilled.

Mr Knight has tried to distance himself and his constituents from Papua New Guinea – and he can’t.

Papua New Guinea has reneged on the contract (and by association Mr Knight and his constituents). It will not be fulfilling its part of the bargain – how can he then expect Australia to fulfil theirs?  PNG is at fault as far as the breaking of a pact is concerned, how do they expect that they will emerge unscathed?

In history, wars have been fought over broken treaties, national sanctions have been imposed –  I doubt that Australia is considering anything like this and may even decide to bow out gracefully, but now, Papua New Guinea has lost its biggest bargaining chip. So many bets will be off – the landscape will change.

You’ve heard the saying “marry in haste: repent at leisure,” well I think this applies to this situation too – PNG (and Australia too) signed in haste and they’ll now be forced to repent in their own good time.

ADDENDUM: I have read the Supreme Court judgment, where all five judges (Salika, Sakora, Higgins, Kandakasi and Sawong) are in accord.
In this judgment the main protagonists weren’t forgotten nor ignored (at last). Indeed, Justice Higgins came back to a quote, more than once, that asked if what was happening was

reasonably justifiable in a democratic society having a proper respect for the rights and dignity of mankind?

I think he’s got it – what a shame he’s four years late.


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4 thoughts on “Manus Island Detention Centre – Who’s running PNG?

  1. I’m confident PNG’s always inventive politicians will arrive at some kind of solution via the ‘Melanesian Way’ to this situation which is rather ironic as wasnt it just a few days ago that a former detainee was arrested for attempting to get back into the detention center?, where he knew he would receive very good care. Also of course all of these detainees have the option of obtaining fully subsidised repatriation to their home countries.

    I wouldn’t be too gushing about the Court’s decision – as you yourself have pointed out – its general reputation is in tatters.

    BTW like the great majority of Australians I have little sympathy for these detainees and disdainful of political correctness regard them simply as queue jumping attempted illegal immigrants

    • There is no “queue”. I’m disdainful of your position – and while you may be in the majority in Australia that should not give you succour. The world condemns Australua for its actions towards asylum seekers.

      • It is also praising Australia for its solution to the queue jumping refugees but you choose to ignore this, Doctor

  2. This arrangement was, from the start, clearly in breach of the human rights clauses in PNG’s Constitution. What was worst to me was when Kevin Rudd said he was going to stops the boats by sending the asylum seeks to PNG. That was an insult we could do without.

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