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No specific commitment' on aid to PNG

TREASURER Joe Hockey says he gave "no specific commitment" to his Papua New Guinea counterpart at a recent meeting on the level of Australian aid to be provided to the Pacific nation.

Mr Hockey had talks with PNG Treasury Minister Don Polye last week on the financial aspects of the deal, under which asylum-seekers intercepted en route to Australia are processed on Manus Island.

According to PNG newspaper, The National, Mr Hockey told Mr Polye there would be “no changes” to the arrangements agreed in July between former prime minister Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, as a result of a Coalition overhaul of AusAID.

Mr Hockey's spokesman would not provide details of the bilateral talks, but said “no specific commitment to PNG has been made on the quantum of Australian aid provided to PNG”.

PNG was promised a $420 million aid boost under Labor's PNG Solution, on top of Australia's annual $500 million aid budget for the country.

The Coalition attacked the deal at the time, accusing Mr Rudd of handing “total control” of the aid budget to PNG.

PNG is seeking changes to aid arrangements, including the redirection of funds away from smaller investments towards major infrastructure projects.

Mr Polye said he discussed private-public partnership infrastructure investment models with Mr Hockey.

“We agreed to discuss the issue further on how to integrate and use private funds in government-focused areas,” he said.

Mr Polye welcomed a Coalition overhaul of AusAID's operations, which will see the agency merged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and aid spending aligned with Australia's national interests.

“AusAID has become a huge bureaucracy and we have made it known for some time that aspects of their operations in PNG have been disappointing,” he told The National.

“This move by the Abbott government will address this, and we welcome the announcement. We are confident a substantial part of aid to PNG will be maintained.”

Under the Coalition's Operation Sovereign Borders, asylum-seekers will be sent to either Manus Island or Nauru within 48 hours.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison yesterday said Canberra had negotiated an additional 1230 places on Manus Island and 2000 on Nauru in anticipation of the strain this would put on existing facilities.

There are currently 798 people on Manus Island and 710 on Nauru, with an additional 24 and 34 respectively scheduled for transfer today.

The Australian

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