PNG is closing the Manus Island detention centre

Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and Papua New Guinea PM Peter O’Neill during a 2013 meeting. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill has announced the Manus Island detention centre set up as part of Australia’s refugee strategy will close in the wake of a PNG Supreme Court ruling that it was illegal.

The PM said he respected the court’s decision, handed down yesterday, that keeping 850 people — around half of them already determined to be refugees — in the centre contravened the constitution.

O’Neill said his country will ask Australia to make immediate arrangements for the alternative settlement arrangements.

“For those that have been deemed to be legitimate refugees, we invite them to live in Papua New Guinea only if they want to be a part of our society and make a contribution to our community,” he said in a statement.

“It is clear that several of these refugees do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea and that is their decision.”

O’Neill’s announcement sets up a potential stalemate for the Australian government, with immigration minister Peter Dutton saying earlier today that even the 400-plus men found to be genuine refugees will not be resettled in Australia.

In a statement issued in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Dutton said Australian policy on asylum seekers was unchanged.

“No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia,” he said.

The minister has been holding discussions today with his counterpart in PNG, Rimbink Pato, over the fate of those held on the island.

Peter O’Neill said the focus of negotiations with the Australian government would be a time frame for the close of the Manus facility. He added that the Supreme Court decision would impact heavily on the island’s economy.

“Our government will work with Australia in order to transition these businesses and workers to new opportunities so that their communities do not suffer,” he said.

The Manus Island facility was originally set up by the Howard government, but closed for nearly a decade before reopening in 2012 under the previous Labor government as it sought to deal with a growing influx of asylum seekers.

Shares in Broadspectrum, the company contracted by the Australian government to run the Manus Island detention centre fell by 5.8% today to $1.05 off the back of a 10% fall yesterday on news of the court verdict.

Broadspectrum currently has a 12-month extension to its $1.2 billion contract to run Australia’s detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, with the next five-year deal currently up for tender.

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