Bishop puts no time on PNG starting refugee resettlement

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Coalition had concerns at the time about the detail of the agreement Labor put in place just before the 2013 election. AAP/Alan Porritt

The government wanted to ensure Papua New Guinea understood “absolutely” its responsibilities to resettle refugees from Manus Island, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said today, but avoided predicting when that would start.

Under a 2013 bilateral agreement, PNG undertook to resettle in that country those found to be refugees. So far, no one has been.

After talks with Tony Abbott earlier this month, PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill announced a new process that will further delay resettlement.

O'Neill said that due to lack of understanding and support for refugee settlement in PNG communities, he had instructed a new policy be prepared with increased focus on consultations and building public awareness and support.

“The new policy will be considered by cabinet after these comprehensive public awareness and consultations are completed,” he said.

His press release said that O'Neill had assured Abbott “that PNG is committed to the implementation of the [regional resettlement arrangement] and given its sensitivities, requires time to work through this issue”.

Bishop was asked at the National Press Club what the Australian government was doing to speed up the PNG process and how long refugees would have to wait before getting resettlement rights.

She said the Coalition had concerns at the time about the detail of the agreement then-prime minister Kevin Rudd put in place just before the election.

“We have worked very closely with PNG to ensure that they understand the commitments that they have as signatories to the refugee convention, to understand the terms of the agreement that they signed with the Rudd government. She and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison had had a number of meetings with their PNG counterparts, and there was another one soon.

"This is a challenge for them. It’s a challenge for any government,” she said.

“We are great supporters, great friends with PNG,” Bishop said. “We want to ensure that they understand absolutely the process, the commitment and the responsibilities and obligations that they have.”

There were 1060 asylum seekers detained on Manus at September 30. Some 44 interim determinations for refugee status had been made but the assessments are only recommendations, with the final decisions being up to the PNG immigration minister.