From online postings to offline activism, a new generation of protest-hardened Papua New Guineans is making its voice known to the powers that be.
Yesterday, as the Prime Minister was recording an interview on national television regarding the asylum seeker deal, only a stone's throw away at Jack Pidik Park in the nation's capital, Port Moresby, a gathering of around 50 hard-line activists was taking place.
Protest banner against asylum seeker deal. Taken yesterday at Jack Pidik Park, Port Moresby, on the author's mobile phone.
It wasn't so much a protest as a meeting about a bigger nationwide protest not just against the asylum seeker deal but also other issues such as the unpopular constitutional amendments on votes of no-confidence. If the protest meeting is any measure of the growing public outcry against the asylum seeker deal, one can only imagine the outrage of many Papua New Guineans when thousands of asylum seekers turn up at their doorstep.
As Papua New Guineans ponder the implications of the asylum seeker deal, it seems Prime Minister O'Neill hadn't much of a clue about what he signed up for. This has angered pundits, many of whom are unhappy with his blind acceptance of the deal.
With uncertainty over the financial arrangements for resettlement of asylum seekers, concerns are now being raised as to whether this is tied to the handover of Australia's $503 million aid budget to Papua New Guinea. The Government of Papua New Guinea does not have the capacity to resettle thousands of refugees in the country. The state owns only 2% of the land so resettlement on land is not viable, given local sensitivities. The country does not have a state-run social welfare system and health, education and infrastructure are crumbling.
Thrown into this mix is the fact that the economy of Papua New Guinea is at a trough. The slump in prices of its mineral exports has meant a 53% drop in mining taxes. This means the current budgeted deficit of K2.6 billion is expected to double to K6 billion. O'Neill is desperate to plug the budget black hole and Rudd has thrown him a lifeline by handing over all AusAID funds to PNG's notoriously corrupt public servants and politicians.
In any event, should the refugees be resettled in Papua New Guinea, jobs may be difficult to come by given the economic downturn.
If comments on social media are any indication, many Papua New Guineans do not want the asylum seekers resettled in their home province or region. An exception is the host province of Manus, where landowners have supported the deal in the hope of reaping financial rewards. Some pundits have suggested that O'Neill resettle them in his home electorate of Ialibu-Pangia.
It is unclear how Papua New Guineans will react to any preferential treatment given to asylum seekers, given the daily struggle of existence in PNG. But given the recent anti-Chinese sentiments expressed by those who feel disenfranchised by their government, it is only a matter of time before such sentiments are expressed against the asylum seekers.
Many educated Papua New Guineans are wary of both the short-term and long-term repercussions of Rudd's PNG Solution. They only have to look at the difficulties experienced by Fiji in dealing with the legacy of colonisation. Kevin Rudd's neo-colonial plan may help solve his election woes but the PNG Solution is being viewed as a PNG Problem in the land of the unexpected.