PNG PM Peter O'Neill attacks Tony Abbott over 'untrue' aid claims

PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill has launched a scathing attack on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, accusing him of spreading ''nonsense'' and ''completely untrue'' claims over foreign aid linked to the asylum seeker deal.

In an escalation of comments made via the PNG High Commission in Canberra on Wednesday, Mr O'Neill accused the opposition of misrepresenting him for political reasons.
The criticism overshadowed the opposition's policy announcement expanding on its plans to turn back the asylum seeker boats.

Mr Abbott said on Thursday that the policy - called ''Operation Sovereign Borders'' - would see better co-ordination of the nation's border security agencies and a three-star military commander reporting directly to the immigration minister.

PNG PM. Peter O'neill. Photo.pngblog
Within 100 days of the election a Coalition government would develop protocols for Operation Relex II, the name of the strategy to turn back the boats ''where it is safe to do so''.
''The crisis on our borders has become a national emergency,'' Mr Abbott told reporters in Brisbane.
An Indonesian policeman carries an exhausted young boy following more rescues from the sunken asylum seeker boat off West Java. ''The current government is all announcement and no delivery.''
Mr Abbott said a Coalition government would ''salvage'' parts of Prime Minister Kevin
Rudd's plan to process and resettle asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, despite Mr O'Neill's criticisms
He said he would work with Mr O'Neill to implement the Coalition's revised policy.
''I have a good relationship with Peter O'Neill, I'm confident we can work effectively with the PNG government, as I'm confident we can work effectively with the Indonesian government,'' Mr Abbott said.

He denied the plan to adopt parts of the PNG solution was an admission stopping the boats was an impossible task. ''It is a simple reminder that if you are going to stop the boats you need a complex range of policy responses in your armory . . . not just a one-dimensional reliance on other countries to do Australia's job for it,'' he said. Immigration Minister Tony Burke, meanwhile, arrives at PNG's Manus Island detention centre on Thursday following explosive claims made by a whistleblower that staff turned a blind eye to sexual assaults.

The diplomatic row came after Mr Abbott went on the attack over foreign aid flowing to PNG, accusing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of subcontracting out the nation's aid program to
PNG as part of the asylum seeker processing deal and questioning whether this ''free gift'' would be spent accountably and prudently. Mr O'Neill said he was unimpressed by the political debate.
''I don't particularly appreciate being misrepresented by others for their own political interests,'' he told the ABC in an interview on Wednesday night.

''I am disappointed with some of the debates put forward by some of the leaders in the opposition in Australia, in particular statements that I am alleged to have made to them which are completely untrue.''
Mr Abbott's deputy and foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, said on Tuesday Mr O'Neill seemed to believe Mr Rudd had agreed to hand over ''absolute and total control'' over the $500 million aid budget to PNG.

During the same media conference Mr Abbott said it was wrong to hand over Australian taxpayers' money ''as a simple cash grant with no accountability''.
''We need to make sure that it's spent responsibly and we need to make sure that ultimately, it's spent with accountability. And it won't be if what Mr O'Neill is saying is correct,'' Mr Abbott said at the time.
But Mr O'Neill was unimpressed.
''We are not going to put up with this kind of nonsense,'' he said.
''We are helping resolving an Australian issue. Try and be respectful when we start talking about these issues.''

Mr O'Neill said he understood an election was imminent but called for debates to be focused on facts.
''Of course the timing may be a bit awkward for some people, but for us Kevin Rudd represents the Australian government and we need to deal with him,'' he said.
Earlier, when the PNG High Commission issued a general warning for more respect from Australian political leaders, Ms Bishop issued a statement arguing the opposition's issue was with Mr Rudd's lack of openness, not with the PNG government.

Senior opposition frontbencher Joe Hockey said the Coalition had been ''very respectful'' of relationships with PNG but would not permit ''blank cheques from Australian taxpayers to any other country''.
Mr O'Neill was reported to have boasted earlier this week that he had achieved a ''realignment'' of the country's aid program from Australia with the PNG government setting the priorities.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seized on the flare-up as evidence Mr Abbott would be unable to work with Australia's neighbours to tackle regional problems like people smuggling.
On Wednesday, Mr Rudd described Mr Abbott's claims about cash grants to PNG as a ''wild political assertion in order to obtain political office''. He said the Australian government would monitor the implementation of development assistance.

The increasingly hostile political debate follows Mr Rudd's announcement last Friday that every asylum seeker arriving in Australia by boat would be sent to PNG for processing with no prospect of settlement in Australia, even if found to be a genuine refugee.
The Australian government is racing to upgrade facilities on Manus Island to cope with the volume of boat arrivals. The deal with Mr O'Neill is to be reviewed after 12 months.
Mr Rudd said the government would not back down from its new hardline asylum seeker policy, despite claims it was already failing.

''We don't intend to flinch, this is the right policy, this is the right message,'' Mr Rudd told the Nine Network on Thursday.
On Wednesday, nine people including an 18-month-old baby, four children and a pregnant woman died and 189 people were rescued when an asylum seeker boat bound for Australia sank off the Indonesian fishing town of Cidaun in western Java.

Mr Rudd said he never expected the PNG announcement to immediately stop the boats and he had
expected people smugglers to try to test the government's resolve.
He said the government needed to take a hard stand against people smuggling with the crisis in Syria potentially resulting in 1.8 million asylum seekers.

''Australia's immigration policy, asylum seeker policy is not chipped in stone,'' he said.
Mr Rudd again defended his decision to drop the Howard government's Pacific solution after the 2007 election, but he acknowledged it should have been adjusted in 2009/10 when global circumstances changed.
Australia is also launching an international information blitz to convince asylum seekers that getting on people smuggler boats is a potentially deadly waste of time and money.

Customs are working with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to inform people who are considering coming to Australia by boat that policy has changed.
The Immigration Department is targeting the Australian-based communities known to be the primary source of information and influence among asylum seeker groups.
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service says it's telling asylum seeker groups in source and transit countries that ''If you go to Australia by boat without a visa, you won't be settled there''.

Source: SMH

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