Find the poorest beggar in the
street. Tell him he has the choice of licking your boots and earning enough for
a feed or being left penniless to starve to death. Not Hobson’s choice.

The Pacific solution to
asylum-seekers relies on bribing the world’s smallest democratic nation to take
those who Australia turns away.
Nauru, a penniless wreck of
a country, has little option but to do so. Without the receipt of the annual aid
bribe, its 10,000 or so people would starve.

Australia dresses up
its extortionist activities under the grand title of a Memorandum of
Understanding for management of the offshore processing centre and
Nauru’s long-term
development. The fourth of them was signed in September last year and lasts
until June next year.

Not that it is easy to find out
what’s in it. My search of the Department of Foreign Affairs and AusAID websites
found no details of it. It was apparently deemed not worthy of even a modest
little press statement.

So the best I can do is repeat what
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in announcing the signing of the third
MOU back in March 2004. As part of that arrangement Australia committed
an additional $22.5 million in development assistance to help, in Mr Downer’s
words, “Nauru stabilise the
country’s economy and strengthen law and order.”

I guess what that really means is
that beggars cannot be choosers but they can become Australia’s

Papua New Guinea, however, is
putting away its begging bowl with Prime Minister Michael Somare declaring on
Friday that he will not accept any requests from Australia to process
West Papuan asylum seekers in PNG territory. Back in 2001 when John Howard
devised his Pacific solution Manus Island was used along with
Nauru to house boat people.
Since then Somare has replaced Sir Mekere Morauta as head of the

“When they [West
Papuans] go to Australian soil, it’s
responsibility to deal with them,” Somare said. “We don’t set up places where we
process refugees who come to our country, the last arrangement we made was when
Australia asked us to
do so. No, I am not going to allow Papua New Guinea to be a
testing ground to overcome other people’s problem.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey