PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill revealed for the first time the cost of the projects and the extra aid money to be provided by Australia.
The key elements of the aid-for-asylum-seeker deal, which Mr O’Neill signed with his Australian counterpart in Brisbane two Fridays ago, came during a speech to a student audience at the University of PNG.
He said the rebuilding of Lae hospital would cost about $355m, the renovation of PNG’s universities $240m, the upgrade of the Ramu Highway between Lae and Madang $144m, and the new court building in Port Moresby $48m. The larger two projects will be funded jointly by Australia and PNG, while the highway and the court building will be funded solely by Australia.
The projects, which will take several years to complete, are in addition to the budgeted aid program, which will cost Australia $507m this financial year. Mr O’Neill — a graduate of the university — told his audience that ‘we have to start building those (university) facilities now and not later’.
He said he was ‘happy to see debate and discussion’ on the asylum-seeker deal with Australia and ‘constructive criticism’.
The deal will allow for a massive expansion of processing facilities on Manus Island — and elsewhere if necessary — to cater for the influx of asylum-seekers transferred from Christmas Island. Those subject to the PNG Solution and found to be refugees will not be resettled in Australia.
‘There are three basic reasons why we are taking up a major role in meeting the enormous challenges posed by people-smuggling and illegal border crossing,’ the Prime Minister said.
‘The first is that our closest neighbour, and our best friend, Australia, has a serious problem — and needs help in addressing it.
‘The agreement to expand Manus, and establish a resettlement program for genuine asylum-seekers, is an extension of the agreement entered into with the former government of Australia.’
The second reason for the deal, he said, was that ‘we are a member of the global community and our own regional community, and we must be prepared to do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to global and regional issues’.
‘We also need to be mindful of the need to be vigilant when it comes to the threat of terrorism in our region,’ he said. ‘That means we must maintain ourselves, and assist our neighbours in maintaining, strong and effective border security. We have been spared the devastating impact of terrorism — but we must never be complacent.’
The final reason, he said, was ‘we are a Christian nation’.
‘Our Christianity surely requires we exercise compassion — and exercising compassion surely means discouraging the evil practice of people-smuggling. Hundreds of asylum-seekers have drowned because the people-smugglers are only interested in their money.’