The Prime Minister made a brief visit to Papua New Guinea over the weekend during which he had discussions with his counterpart Peter O’Neill and visited the Kokoda memorial at Bomona cemetery to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the battle of the Kokoda trail.
At the post-meeting press conference Mr O’Neill emphasised the fact that the processing of refugees on Manus Island was continuing well and said that he had also discussed the preparations for APEC which PNG will host in 2018.
The PNG budget is currently under pressure because of low commodity prices but the PNG government declined to ask for further aid by way of budget support.
Malcolm Turnbull pointed out that Australia had $18 billion worth of investment in the country which is more than its investment in Indonesia. On Manus Island he said that Australia was working towards closure of the detention centre by the end of the year.
Responding to a question about what would happen to refugees who were not accepted for settlement by the United States government, he said that some of them could be resettled in PNG and he pointed to the 19 who have been resettled so far.
However he declined to say what would happen with the rest of asylum seekers.
At the moment the balance of opinion seems to be that they will be sent to Nauru.
The Immigration Department has confirmed that there are no discussions with third countries regarding resettlement.
Mr Turnbull refused to give a definitive answer on the future of refugees who were not accepted by the US.
Australia had earlier said that resettlement of refugees would take place under the auspices of the High Commissioner for Refugees but UNHCR has now said that PNG is unsuitable for resettlement and integration.
In response to this point, the Prime Minister simply said that the process of resettlement will be taken one step at a time.
Before he went to PNG the PM held discussions with Baron Waqa, President of Nauru who raised the issue of resettlement of refugees from Nauru to the United States.
He told the Prime Minister that his country would suffer a significant economic hit if the number of asylum seekers diminished considerably.
The Prime Minister said that there would be transition arrangements to ease the pain for Nauru.
Whether this included the shift of asylum seekers from Manus Island is not known.
On Sunday Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told the media that the Nauru facility would remain operational into the future.
He added that the refugees in PNG who were not accepted by the US could be resettled locally or go to Cambodia.
Former PNG Prime Minister Mekere Morauta criticised the Australian Prime Minister for the timing of his visit saying that it looked like an endorsement of the O’Neill government on the eve of an election.
Mr Morauta said that Malcolm Turnbull’s visit was “dangerous” especially with the prospect of a new government just around the corner.
Mr Turnbull dismissed the complaint saying that the timing of his visit had nothing to do with PNG’s domestic politics.
Following his visit to PNG the Prime Minister will visit India today and tomorrow.
The PM’s Visit to India
Last Thursday the Prime Minister addressed the Sydney Institute and, in a wide-ranging speech, he devoted considerable attention to his visit this week to India.
He made the point that India is going through a transition that is driven by a 7 percent growth rate.
Two way trade between Australia and India is now $20 billion with growth in services increasing by 400% over a decade driven by exports of education.
Mr Turnbull said that his visit to India would focus on energy, education and trade.
He pointed out that Australia is co-operating with India on scientific research, technology and engineering especially in relation to mining.
The Prime Minister will also push to have the free trade agreement with India completed by the end of the year.
The Indian government intends to train 400 million people by 2022 and Australia sees this as a huge potential market.
Malcolm Turnbull said that exports of education were worth $21.8 billion last year which was an increase of 17% over the previous record year in 2015.
In a press release on Friday, Education Minister Simon Birmingham said: “Australia is willing and well placed to help India with its education aspirations including its upskilling 400 million people by 2022.”
In what is a pretty usual play for exports, Australia is mounting a skills conference during the visit by the Prime Minister and Minister for Education.
The conference will focus on the ability of vocational training institutions in Australia to meet India’s needs.
If it’s successful, this mission will lead to a massive funding boost to the TAFE system which has been pushing for more resources so that it can increase the skill levels of Australian workers.
Senator Birmingham announced that he would also meet with Indian universities to examine how Australian universities can increase their involvement with the Indian tertiary education sector.
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