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Numbers don't lie: PNG solution flawed

By the numbers, shifting the asylum seeker problem to Papua New Guinea simply fails to add up.

The nation already has a substantial headache with refugees – about 9000 people have fled across the border from Indonesian West Papua and remain, in the cold parlance of the United Nations, ''in need of durable solutions''.

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Rudd's asylum U-turn

Kevin Rudd announces all irregular maritime arrivals will be processed and resettled offshore in a sweeping agreement with PNG. Tony Wright and Judith Ireland provide analysis.

By agreeing to shoulder more of the burden of Australia's asylum arrivals, PNG has multiplied a series of sharp domestic challenges.

Australia has also traded places as the dependent country in the relationship, relying on Port Morseby's good will and lessening Canberra's sway when offering advice.

Law and order is clearly one of the most pressing demands confronting the nation of 7 million, a point Prime Minister Kevin Rudd acknowledged before his flying visit earlier in the week that set in train this latest announcement.

A woman was stripped, tortured, doused in petrol and burnt to death in February after villagers in the highlands branded her a witch.


The murder rate in PNG is 13-times that in Australia – and closer to strife-torn Sierra Leone, according to most recent World Health Organisation figures – and the government's response has been retrograde threats to impose the death penalty.

Corruption is also rife. The respected monitoring group Transparency International ranking PNG a lowly 150 out of 176 countries surveyed.

Cash is flooding the economy, with a resources boom in natural gas expected to leap by a massive 25 per cent in 2015, but with it the very real risk this one-time opportunity will be squandered.

Politically, PNG has stumbled and long-term investment is often secondary to short-term gain.

In what amounted to a parliamentary coup in December 2011, Peter O'Neill defied a high court ruling he had acted improperly by removing the former prime minister Sir Michael Somare while the latter was suffering a life-threatening illness.

A dangerous stand-off resulted where for a short time PNG had two prime ministers, two governors-general and two police chiefs.

Currently, national legislation does not provide an adequate framework to deal with asylum-seekers and refugees in PNG

An election last year cemented O'Neill in office, but he was spared any rebuke for his role in the nation's instability after the prime minister Julia Gillard decided to again embrace the ''Pacific solution''.

The expansion of asylum seeker processing in the country comes despite the significant caveats PNG has put on the refugees convention, but now insists these will not apply to people sent from Christmas Island.

Even so these reservations have drawn UN criticism, along with a section of the PNG migration act that allows the Foreign Minister "to determine a non-citizen to be a refugee" without any details on how such determination is made.

The UN concluded in its most recent periodic review, ''Currently, national legislation does not provide an adequate framework to deal with asylum-seekers and refugees in PNG.''

Kevin Rudd has decided otherwise.


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