MICHAEL BACHELARD & RICHARD BAKER | The Age with AAP | Extract
MELBOURNE - Australia would be "brave to predict" the future of its offshore processing deal with Papua New Guinea after the country's prime minister announced his resignation, according to foreign minister Marise Payne.
PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill said on Sunday he would resign after seven years at the helm as it became clear the Opposition had enough numbers to topple him in parliament this week.
It is unclear who will replace Mr O'Neill, though he wants to hand over his job to former two-time PNG prime minister Sir Julius Chan, 79.
Mr O'Neill was Australia's key partner when it came to negotiating and then maintaining arrangements to keep 550 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island even after the country's High Court found the detention centre was unconstitutional.
Since then his government has negotiated a number of contracts with Australia which have been controversial.
Ms Payne said Australia would continue to have a good relationship with the key Pacific nation, but, asked about offshore processing she said: "We'll obviously deal with those issues as they arise".
"I think it's premature to speculate on those. As we've seen in recent weeks, Papua New Guinea politics is historically and clearly currently very dynamic. You'd be a very brave person to predict outcomes at the moment."
One Australian contractor working on Manus Island told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that their future was impossible to predict, and depended how profoundly power would shift in Papua New Guinea with Mr O'Neill's demise.
Ms Payne praised Mr O'Neill, saying he had played a pivotal role in strengthening Australia's partnership with PNG, which receives more than $500 million in aid from Australia each year.
She said she was confident the relationship would continue regardless of who leads Australia's "closest friend and closest neighbour" in the region.
"Obviously, these are matters for the Papua New Guinea parliament and political parties and we will work with the leadership as it is determined by them," she told ABC Radio National on Monday.
"And I'm sure that no matter who that is, that will be a continuing approach similar to the one that we've enjoyed in recent years."