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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21765


Mr KERR (4:31 PM) —I thank the member for Ballarat for putting this matter on the Notice Paper, and I thank parliamentarians on both sides of this House for the manner in which they are addressing this serious issue affecting our neighbouring nations. There have been very positive reactions thus far to the thrust of the ICJ's mission report from the PNG government. Foreign Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu has confirmed, both publicly and privately, that there will be no forced repatriations, and Prime Minister Somare has indicated that the recommendations in relation to an appeal procedure for refugee determinations are going to be favourably viewed.

Having said that, the points raised by the member for Ballarat about the breakdown of the citizenship determination and granting process are serious. Again, there are statements from the PNG government that this will be addressed in the coming months, and I look forward to that occurring. But it is hard to expect the PNG government to meet the full cost and weight of all the measures recommended by the ICJ, which are designed to provide some kind of basic sustenance and support for the more than 12,000 people who, over the last 30 years or so, have crossed the border from West Irian into Papua New Guinea. A number of those, with the encouragement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, went to the Transmitter Camp at Iowara. Yet, despite the best efforts of the PNG government, insufficient land has been provided for them, so there simply is not a durable solution.

The natural reluctance of others to follow those who have relocated to Iowara into what really is an impossible situation for them has meant that there is now something in the order of 10,000 to 12,000 people living in impermanent camps near the border. Of course, some of those people still harbour hopes of returning to West Irian. Others would want to be incorporated into PNG if a long-term and durable solution were available. But a long-term and durable solution will not become available unless PNG gets external support. PNG does not have the resources to acquire land from traditional owners on that scale. Papua New Guinea is struggling to provide basic assistance and education programs for its own people in Western Province, which is the poorest province in Papua New Guinea, a poor country. In that poorest province are found the poorest of the poor—people who have lost their land in crossing over from West Irian to Papua New Guinea. They are having to use land which is the traditional land of the people in Western Province. Those people have supported them, in a neighbourly way, for a long period of time; but, as you can imagine, there is beginning to be some resentment of the fact that these people are now almost a permanent addition to that community and are putting additional pressure on the availability of land for agricultural purposes. Of course, as has been indicated in the debate, land in Papua New Guinea is heavily used and, whilst there may appear to be a huge amount of land for each person, because the land is used for subsistence agriculture and has a low level of fertility, the rotational system of cropping means that the additional population is going to create significant and difficult pressure.

Australia needs to help fix this. We cannot fix everything. Some of the issues flow from the way in which the act of self-determin-ation occurred. As a nation, Australia has accepted that West Irian is now part of Indonesia. But I do not think any fair-minded individual would see that as a process that did any great honour to this country or to the history. We can't undo history but we can give attention to situations where individuals can be helped. Not many of the border crossers want to come to this country as refugees but, for the handful that may be well suited and who want to, we should allow places for them under our program. We should make certain that those who wish to study can do so, and we should make sure that AusAID—and the Australian government, through AusAID and other private arrangements—makes funding consistently available to assist PNG put in place a robust and durable solution.—(Time expired)