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Manus detention centre is unconstitutional: PNG Supreme Court

PleaGUARDIAN AUSTRALIA | Edited extracts

THE Papua New Guinea Supreme Court has ruled that the detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island is illegal, finding it to be in breach of the PNG Constitution.

The full bench of the court ruled the incarceration of asylum seekers and refugees was in breach of their personal liberty, the ABC has reported, and ordered both the PNG and Australian governments to immediately begin making arrangements to move people out of detention.

The challenge to the offshore detention regime, brought by Port Moresby lawyer Ben Lomai on behalf of more than 300 detainees, argued that the men’s detention was in breach of Section 46 of the PNG Constitution.

This section guarantees “liberty of the person, right to freedom of movement and freedom from inhuman treatment”, as well as the right to access PNG courts and have access to a lawyer.

Lomai argued asylum seekers had been denied these fundamental rights and that the state was required to release the men back to their first port of entry, Australia. He argued PNG was also liable to pay compensation to them.


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Jack Klomes

I guess someone somewhere high has breathed a sigh of relief, a very timely occurrence! Just when I can feel the hands of justice tightened around my throat with no where else to turn then fate has decided to land this golden opportunity right into my hands, a bargaining chip to buy silence from down under!

No doubt it would be interesting to watch how the effect of this ruling will influence the status quo of the current stand off between the Fraud Squad and the PM.

Peter Kranz

Can someone explain to me how this works? When questioned about conditions at the Manus Centre, Australian Ministers repeated "It's a PNG jurisdiction. You'll have to ask them. They are responsible for law and order."

And now when questioned about the Supreme Court ruling this morning, Minister Dutton says "It won't affect our policy at all. None of the asylum seekers will ever be settled in Australia. They can live in PNG or go elsewhere."

In other words it's not our problem, it's PNGs.

But who brought them to PNG in the first place? Who built the centre? Who did dodgy deals with the PNG Government to get their agreement? Who hired the contractors to run the place? Who set the policies and saw they were enforced?

Who approved the midnight escape of two expat guards implicated in the death of Barati, never to be seen again? Who delayed approval for the medivac of a dangerously sick man by three days, thus contributing to his death?

So two deaths down, and two resettled. And it's all PNG's responsibility from now on. You're doing great guys!

As Stanley Baldwin said in 1931 (he was talking about newspapers but it could equally apply to Australian politicians) - “They are engines of propaganda for their constantly changing policies, desires, personal vices...

"What are their methods? Their methods are direct falsehoods, misrepresentation, half-truths... (it)is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

Peter Kranz

Interesting to note that one of the members of the Supreme Court who made this ruling - Justice Higgins - is ex-Chief Justice of the ACT where he had a fine reputation.

Warren Dutton

On 1st March, 2015, I posted on Facebook: The "deal" between PM Rudd and PM O'Neil, is the most amoral ever between our two countries.

To assume that refugees can in effect be guaranteed PNG citizenship (whether they want it or not) is in any way in accordance with PNG Constitution and Laws of PNG is unconscionable. That any two leaders of any "democratic" countries could make such a deal on their desperate unconsidered whims should shame the citizens of both countries. Both Australia and PNG must work together to find acceptable Third Country Resettlement of all genuine refugees

I am fully supportive of the Government of PNG cooperating with the Government of Australia, and of Indonesia, to stop the flow of “unprocessed” refugees, through Indonesia and thence by boats to Australia. This is appropriate regional cooperation.
However, both Australia and Indonesia, cannot expect that the ordinary people of Papua New Guinea should bear the unbearable social cost of supporting refugees from anywhere else than West Papua. The financial costs associated with individual refugees, Australia can of course afford, but no amount of money can be properly applied to solve the problems that will be created within PNG societies.

Thankfully just over a year later, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea has so decided.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think the Supreme Court decision is exactly right.

The constitution effectively says that if you haven't committed a crime your liberty cannot be taken away from you. The asylum seekers haven't committed a crime but their liberty has been taken away. That is unjust.


Australia is a slow learner in matters PNG (and other foreign policy matters).

The Enhanced Cooperation Program (2005) ended with Australian police being chased out of the country. And now the Manus deal has collapsed.

And there was Bougainville.

The lesson in all this is not to deal with PNG. There is underlying dislike (but not for Australians) for the Australian Government. We are seen as an old colonial power, still plying its old ways.

Phil F has written about the silence (and general ignorance) in matters PNG in Australia. I feel the answer is "we are not permanently welcome there, and so much aid has gone down the tube". Apart from Kokoda, Australians are generally apathetic about PNG.

Australia would do better withdrawing from PNG altogether, and start preparing to engage to the Asian Century.

Chris Overland

While I think that the Supreme Court decision is plainly wrong (and, by inference, makes PNG prisons illegal too!), I do think that it is time to close the Manus Detention Centre anyway.

The Navy is now able to control our borders reasonably effectively and the people smuggling business model is now essentially broken.

Also, I have major concerns about the long term incarceration of women and children, although my impression is that most of the Manus detainees are young males.

Irrespective of my views, it is plain that the PNG government will want to be shot of the centre as soon as possible.

Another headache for Malcolm Turnbull et al to ponder in the run up to what is an unnecessary election.

Peter Kranz

You can read the full Supreme Court ruling here...

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