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Talks intensify on PNG solution for Manus Island refugees

AUSTRALIAN taxpayers would fund "resettlement packages" to encourage refugees to live in PNG and forget their demands to come here under plans being considered by the Morrison Government.

Calls for a solution for the refugees on Manus Island will intensify as new PNG Prime Minister James Marape meets with Scott Morrison today to push for a new pathway for those who were processed in the country six years ago.

The Courier-Mail understands the Government is considering giving hundreds of refugees money or essential services to resettle in PNG. The embryonic plan has yet to be finalised but it would allow them to resettle throughout PNG, not just Manus Island.

There are 323 refugees on Manus Island and 105 asylum seekers.

Those on Manus Island have been living in the local community - in centres which are guarded - since the detention centre was closed in 2017.

Mr Marape has publicly said he wants an end date to the impasse.

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape and wife Rachel Marape arrive in Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape and wife Rachel Marape arrive in Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

It comes as debate on repealing Labor's Medevac Bill - an election pledge by Mr Morrison - will resume this week, with One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson leading the charge on calling on Anthony Albanese to dump the laws.

It will be among a number of Coalition bills that will put Labor under pressure this sitting fortnight. They include a new drought fund from diverted cash set aside for infrastructure and proposed national security laws.

Under Labor's Medevac laws passed last year, asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru who are not subject to an adverse ASIO assessment, and have not be sentenced to more than 12 months' jail, can be transferred to Australia with their families if two doctors declare they need medical treatment. An independent medical panel reviews those decision but the Government argues it allows dangerous people to get in to Australia.

The Government has declared Labor's laws open Australia up to danger and are being abused.

The Government has moved away from using megaphone politics to help secure the numbers it needs to repeal the Bill as it works behind the scenes to secure crucial votes of the crossbench.

Manus Island.
Manus Island.

However, Senator Hanson wrote to Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese over the weekend to demand he listen to the result of the May 18 election.

"Australians rejected Labor's attempts to win Government earlier this year, due to many policies that remain out of touch with the majority of voters,'' Senator Hanson said.

"One of those policies is border security and maintaining the safety of all Australian citizens from the harmful threat of terrorism.

"Labor has not learned their lesson on border security, under the command of Bill Shorten, helped pas the Medevac Bill.

"Since that time, detainees on Nauru and Manus Island have been successfully able to seek transfers for medical treatment in Australia, for often self-inflicted illness and evade Australia's tough stance on illegal boat arrivals.

"Many of these people have been deemed by authorities as non-refugees and offered return flights to their country of origin or offered resettlement in the US.

"Those who remain in detention have rejected these offers.

"Australia should not and will not become the dumping ground for unvetted, queue-jumping economic migrants."

Labor's home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally indicated Labor did not want to change the laws.

"Labor supports the Medevac laws as they currently stand because they allow sick people to get the medical care they need and ensure the Government, or Government-appointed doctors, control who comes to Australia," Ms Keneally said.

"In last sitting week, (Home Affairs Minister Peter) Dutton sent the bill to repeal Medevac to a committee which is due to report in October; the legislation won't come before the Senate before then.

"Peter Dutton and the Government have to explain why they're trying to repeal laws which ensure sick and vulnerable people get the medical care they require."

It is understood the Government believes it will have the numbers to pass the Bill but does not want to be seen to be publicly applying pressure to the crossbench.

Independent Jacqui Lambie could be the final hold out that could be persuaded to vote for the bill's repeal.

Meantime, Labor has signalled it does not support the Government's $5 billion drought fund that would need to be passed by Parliament.

"Farmers are doing it tough and the Government should provide new funding to help support them through this devastating drought, a spokeswoman for Mr Albanese said.

"Instead it is proposing legislation that would take money from the Building Australia Fund, which is for infrastructure, including in rural and regional areas, for its Drought Fund. Farmers deserve more - new funding to cope with this drought in addition to support for better rail and roads to boost the productivity of their communities."

Mr Morrison said Labor had a simple question to answer, "will you support our farmers or not?

"Labor are out of excuses on opposing our Drought Future Fund. They need to tell our farmers whose side they are on.

"Drought funding is not something we should be having to make deals on, it's should be a no-brainer, something that should just get done."

"So there'll be no deals, just a simple request to vote for the Bill that will provide for long term drought resilience works. It's quite absurd that Labor have opposed it for this long already."

Inside Manus Island.
Inside Manus Island.

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