PAPUA New Guinea wasn’t seeking economic gain when it agreed to open a processing centre for asylum seekers trying to get into Australia, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says.
Speaking at a press conference in Wellington, he said PNG’s economy was growing and “travelling along well” without the asylum-seeker deal.
“We’ve done it before, so why is it such a big issue today?” he asked reporters questioning him about the reasons behind the agreement with the Australian government.
He referred to the changing positions of Australia under prime ministers John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
“When Howard asked us to open up a centre we did, when Rudd came to power and asked us to shut it down we did, when Gillard asked us to open it up again we did, and now Rudd has asked us to extend it, so we are extending it.”
Mr O’Neill said the Manus Island centre had accepted its first 140 asylum seekers and they were being processed.
“Many are requesting that they want to be transported back to their countries of origin, so it is having its desired effect.”
Mr O’Neill held a joint press conference with Prime Minister John Key after the two leaders met in the Beehive.
They both said they were committed to strengthening ties between the two countries and expanding trade.