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Source: The Australian

Australian PM to sign treaty with his Papua New Guinea counterpart


PORT MORESBY, PNG ---- Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is preparing to extend Australia's agreement with Papua New Guinea on processing asylum-seekers by launching talks on how to resettle some of the 1300 people in detention on Manus Island.

The Prime Minister signalled the plans last night as he arrived in Port Moresby for a state visit to sign an economic treaty alongside the talks on people-smuggling.

Amid a judicial inquiry into the Manus Island detention centre, PNG is yet to decide whether to resettle any of the asylum-seekers in its own country as suggested in its formal agreement with Kevin Rudd last August.

That will be on the agenda today when Mr Abbott meets his PNG counterpart, Peter O'Neill, and most of the nation's cabinet ministers.

“Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour, it's a very good friend,” Abbott said.

“And I'm very pleased and proud of the assistance that PNG has given to Australia in this whole issue of people-smuggling and its prevention. Now we're working very closely with PNG. We've got the Manus processing facility, as you know, but we'll be talking to PNG over the next couple of days.

“I'll certainly be talking to Prime Minister O'Neill about what we can do to swiftly get people out of the Manus camp and at least some resettled here in PNG, as was agreed with Prime Minister Rudd about nine months ago.”

Clause 13 of the agreement signed on August 5 states that PNG will undertake to enable transferees "who it determines are refugees to settle in PNG" but none has been processed in this way so far. Some believe that more funding from Australia will be needed to set up the facilities and services to help refugees settle in PNG if they are processed on Manus Island.

Abbott will today also sign an economic treaty with PNG. He is seeking to focus on trade and investment during the three-day visit against the backdrop of the judicial inquiry into last month's riot at the Manus Island detention centre. Media coverage of the Manus Island centre may overshadow some of Mr Abbott's meetings in Port Moresby, after the head of the PNG judicial inquiry into last month's riot, judge David Cannings, ruled that journalists would be allowed to inspect the centre today.

The economic treaty is seen as a way to widen the bilateral relationship beyond last year's agreement on asylum-seeker processing and long-term aid commitments that cost about $500m a year. Abbott will sign the deal with O'Neill in Port Moresby today after a visit to parliament house and ministerial talks.

As Exxon Mobil builds a $19 billion terminal near Port Moresby to ship liquefied natural gas to Asia, the PNG resources boom promises to lift growth and lure more Australian investment.

Business leaders joining Abbott over the next few days include Oil Search chief Peter Botten, Rio Tinto executive Peter Taylor, ANZ Bank executive Graham Hodges and Clough chief executive Kevin Gallagher.




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