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Manus says it’s been 'failed' by detention centre economic benefits

Proposed police station on Manus (Stefan Armbruster, SBS)STEFAN ARMBRUSTER | SBS

THE governor of Manus Island says the Papua New Guinea province has been failed by the promise of economic benefits from Australia's asylum seeker detention centre.

Manusians say they have missed out on many of the subcontracts for building tens-of-millions of dollars in infrastructure for the facility.

Detention-centre spending has seen inflation boom in Manus, more than tripling some food prices and raising concerns about the dietary impacts.

Australia in 2013 put almost a billion dollars on the table for PNG aid and immigration infrastructure upgrades in exchange for hosting the detention centre.

“Both have failed us in that when they had their agreement, they mentioned there would be a package for Manus, but so far there is no package as I understand it,” said Charles Benjamin, governor of Manus Province.

“When it comes to employment, a lot of our guys and ladies are used as casuals rather than real employment; you don’t see much future in that type of job. Disparity in wages even though they do same thing - these are concerns.

“It’s very difficult to get a subcontract, what they would normally tell our people is Australians just get it.”

Tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure has been built or is underway, including the new Lorengau market and the road connecting the town to the airport. 

A new police station and housing for the local hospital are planned.

Alan Pomat (Stefan Armbruster, SBS)“I believed that I'd get enough work, but the Australians, the contractors from Australia are bringing their own equipment,” said Alan Pomat (left), owner of the local MHL construction business.

Mr Pomat invested heavily in equipment in anticipation of work, including a fleet of trucks.

“Instead of bringing their own machines, they need to tell me what they need. If I can’t provide or supply them, then they can source elsewhere. That’s how I feel.”

At the new Australian-funded Lorengau market, opened last month, there is also disquiet. 

People on Manus are happy to have the new building but since the detention centre has been on the island, food prices have jumped.

“Now prices are so high, I can’t believe it. This town is more like a mining town, all the prices have skyrocketed through the roof,” said Simon Austrai, Lorgengau town manager and market supervisor.

On the remote island, food is shipped in and is already expensive for the population of sixty-thousand people.

The detention centre and the influx of its outside workers has upped the demand of locally grown produce. 

While more than 1,000 local workers have benefited from short-term work related to the centre, and their first ever wage packets, the extra money has fuelled inflation. 

An Australia government-commissioned report in 2014 found that “notwithstanding efforts by RPC (regional processing centre) related operations to limit their demands to the capacity of local supply, there clearly has been marked increases in prices of some key food items, most notably; bananas (what used to cost 15 toea prior to RPC now costs K1), sweet potato (30t previously, now K1), and ibica/green vegetable (30t previously, now K1).”

“We can call it 'the coming in of the asylum detention centre',” said Mr Austrai.

“The people from the centre, when they see this kind of price, they don't question it, they just get it.”

Concerns about health and dietary impacts are also being raised.

“Lifestyle diseases have gone up. The normal diet, garden food, has gone up. With 10 kina (A$5) you can’t feed a family,” said local teacher Stella Kialou.

“The cheapest they can find is a packet of rice, a can of fish or two packets of noodles, that they can make a meal out of, and that becomes our staple food every day.”

Governor Benjamin says he is happy there has been some infrastructure development but wants greater emphasis on stimulating the local economy.

“There were a lot of high expectations, but a lot of us are disappointed that what we expected has not happened,” he said.


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Bessielah David

It is sad to see all that was promised in vain. I still prefer the beautiful market with its wooden tiled roof then compared to this newly opened tin shed. Such a shame.

Phil Fitzpatrick

When I did a social mapping study for Wilson a couple of years ago I told them this would happen.

And they've ripped down the beautiful old market with its wooden tiled roof and timber posts and put up a tin shed in it's place.

Michael Dom

And they didn't see this coming?


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