Will Manus Island deal benefit business in Papua New Guinea?


Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is adamant that PNG businesses ‘will directly benefit’ from the asylum-seeker deal signed last week by himself and Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd. But some business leaders are sceptical.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill (l) with Australian PM, Kevin Rudd

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill (l) signs the agreement with Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd

The agreement with the Australian Government will deliver Papua New Guinea a comprehensive package of direct assistance from Australia worth hundreds of millions of kina.

In return, Papua New Guinea will accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, of asylum-seekers while officials decide if they are genuine refugees.

But some business leaders are concerned about the deal.

PNG Business Council President Ernie Gangloff told Radio Australia the country will have trouble processing that number and wants to meet the Prime Minister.

The PNG Chamber of Commerce and Industry says business is supportive of the deal.

‘It worked well under (former Australian Prime Minister) John Howard,’ said Chamber Secretary, Phil Franklin. He expects health and infrastructure on Manus Island to get a boost. But he warns the project should be approached in the same way as a mining project-with proper planning for what will happen to the facilities after the end of the project.

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Landowners’ doubts

Mary Handen, President of the Landowner Association at the Manus Island Detention Centre, told Radio Australia the detention centre is nowhere near ready to handle 3000 asylum seekers.

‘I hope this new agreement is changed because if it is the same, you know, everything that is coming through, there are foreigners that are going to come and do the businesses and indigenous Papua New Guineans and indigenous Manus people are going to miss out on provision of services, being active participants in that manner.

‘We hope it does not end in empty promises. We need roads, schools, hospitals and jobs,’ electrical contractor Peter Ndrasal, chief of Tawii clan, told the Brisbane Courier Mail.

Much depends on how many asylum-seekers will be sent to Manus Island, or elsewhere, and when.

Franklin says he’s optimistic that the government’s promises for local businesses will come to fruition. He says many local businesses have already been approached to quote for road transport, shipping and bussing, and he expects locals to provide fruit and vegetables for the centre, as they did under the Howard regime.

Construction delays

The Australian construction company that won the A$137 million (K275 million) contract to expand the Manus Island facility last month, Decmil Group, told the Australian Stock Exchange it would take it until 31 January 2014 to create 600 asylum seeker places.

But O’Neill is confident the agreement will give the PNG economy ‘a massive boost, with the first benefits to be seen in a short period of time’.

‘There will be significant ongoing spending in the management and operation of detention centres – such as staff, food, services and infrastructure.

‘My government will work closely with the Australian Government to ensure maximum opportunities for local businesses, contractors, and suppliers, to participate in the construction, and servicing, of the new Manus centre, and any additional centres that are built.’

List of benefits

O’Neill outlined other benefits, which he said would start flowing in a matter of weeks:

  • The funding of the redevelopment and upgrading of UPNG and UNITECH as recommended by the Garnaut/Namaliu Report.
  • The funding of a new and modern base hospital for Lae on a 50/50 funding basis with the national government. The funding will include the most modern equipment, and additional medical will include the most modern equipment, and additional medical and nursing staffing.
  • Funding of the major upgrading of the Lae-Madang highway.
  • Funding of the construction of the new Lower Courts Complex in Port Moresby.
  • Support for the government’s law and order program through the provision of 50 police, funded by Australia, to be in Port Moresby and Lae by the end of the year.
  • The Lombrum Naval base on Manus Island will be upgraded. Roads in the province will be significantly improved. There will be new health centres and schools provided, and the airport will be upgraded.


  1. Joesse Gardner says

    Listed is the benefits however, what is not listed is the negative social aspects of the “deal”.

    SBS have reported on the breakdown of social fabric with cases of rape and other forms of abuse occurring on Manus previously; and,
    When genuine refugees are re-settled, where are they being resettled to; at whose expense; and,
    when Papua New Guineans whose needs have been neglected, how will their frustration and anger be channelled.

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