The prime minister says settlement in New Zealand would be used by people smugglers as a ‘marketing opportunity’
Malcolm Turnbull has again rejected an offer from New Zealand to take 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres saying: “Settlement in a country like New Zealand would be used by the people smugglers as a marketing opportunity.”
A spokeswoman for the New Zealand immigration minister, Michael Woodhouse,said on Thursday that an old offer to take 150 asylum seekers a year remained on the table, but he had not been approached by the Australian government.
Turnbull said the two governments were in discussions.
On Friday the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said the proposal would do nothing but encourage people smugglers to “get back into business” because people with New Zealand citizenship can settle in Australia.
“What we know of Julia Gillard’s deal with New Zealand was that it’s a back-door way to get into Australia, and would have been a green light to people smugglers,” he said in Sydney.
The Papua New Guinea government has declared the Manus Island centre would close after the PNG supreme court ruled it unconstitutional, but has hit an impasse with the Australian government over responsibility for hundreds of asylum seekers who cannot be legally detained.
Both Turnbull and Dutton have couched the debate in terms of national security.
“We can’t afford to let the empathy that we feel for the desperate circumstances many people find themselves in to cloud our judgment,” Turnbull told radio station 3AW on Friday morning.
“Our national security has to come first.”
Speaking to the ABC on Wednesday, Dutton said national security was an important issue “particularly in this day and age” and: “We’re going to make sure that our borders remain secure so that we can keep our community in Australia as safe as possible.”
Anna Burke, Labor MP and former speaker in federal parliament, said the asylum seekers were not a security risk.
“The uncertainty these people have been living in is for four years now,” she told the ABC. “These are people.
“This is unsustainable. The current situation the current government has placed these people in is appalling.
“This is not detention, this is not looking after a situation trying to stop this is deaths at sea. This is indefinite detention and it’s causing great harm to these individuals.”
Burke, who has joined Labor MPs Melissa Parke, Lisa Singh and Sue Lines in speaking out against offshore processing, denied she was speaking out against Labor’s position.
“You can talk about Labor policy all you like,” she said. “We haven’t been in government for three years. What are they doing?”
Turnbull said Labor was “driven by the left” in the Labor party, and the MPs who had broken ranks were driven by competing with the Greens party.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, described Labor as being on a “unity ticket” with the Coalition on ensuring the detainees were not brought to Australia, but said the situation was “a train wreck”.
“It was amazing when Mr Dutton said yesterday morning that he and Mr Turnbull had known that this problem had been coming for months,” he said in Melbourne.
“A Labor government is supportive of regional processing. We will not allow the people smugglers to get back in business.
“What we won’t do if we’re elected into government on July 2 is allow a situation of indefinite detention of people on Manus and Nauru.”
PNG leaders and diplomats have repeatedly claimed it was up to Australia to find alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers and refugees who did not return to their home country, go to a third country, or resettle in PNG.
Dutton has held firm that the memorandum of understanding between the two countries left the responsibility for the asylum seekers squarely with PNG.
The former Nauruan president, Sprent Dabwido, has lent his support to Dutton’s suggestion that Nauru could house the extra 400 to 500 men.
In the meantime, detainees on Manus Island reported internal doors were temporarily opened on Thursday night, and guards had stopped performing searches on them.
Free movement was allowed between compounds before it was later restricted on Friday afternoon. From then detainees were only allowed to move between compounds where people had the same refugee determination.
“We can say that we got freedom inside our prison tonight,” said Behrouz Bouchani, a Kurdish-Iranian detainee on Manus Island, after the gates were opened.
“Some of the people are singing and the young boys have a lot of positive energy, they are active,” he said.
“The torturing system completely collapsed today and officers and case managers are only watching. I saw some officers say congratulations to refugees and get them in a hug. All people are happy, this is a big moment to forget the past three years.”
Bouchani said people were discussing where they would now go, with many hoping for New Zealand.