Australia's deal to send refugees to New Zealand was part of a private commitment independent senator Jacqui Lambie says she secured from Prime Minister Scott Morrison in return for her vote to end the medevac legislation for asylum seekers on Nauru.
The three-year agreement will lead to 450 refugees who attempted to arrive by boat resettling in NZ. Priority will be given to about 100 people still on Nauru after being processed in Australia's offshore immigration centre there. NZ's offer had been repeatedly rebuffed by the Australian government since it was first made in 2013.
Senator Jacqui Lambie during debate on the medevac laws in the Senate in December 2019.CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN
Senator Lambie said she had negotiated with Mr Morrison to accept the offer to resettle refugees in offshore detention as part of her agreement in December 2019 to reverse the "medevac" legislation, which was originally passed without the government's support. The laws allowed refugees and asylum seekers in the offshore camps on PNG and Nauru to be brought to Australia for urgent medical care with the sign-off from two doctors, instead of having to go through a lengthy court process to have the transfer ordered.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews and NZ's Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi made the refugee resettlement announcement, which will see NZ accept 150 refugees each year for three years, on Thursday afternoon, more than two years after Senator Lambie says she made the deal with the Prime Minister.
"I was told that talking about the deal would kill the deal. If I talked, they would suffer. I just couldn't do it to them," Senator Lambie tweeted on Thursday.
She told news.com.au the Prime Minister has a document in his office confirming there was a deal, and that it was made clear to her that she would end up in jail if she spoke about it.
"It wasn't the prison threat keeping me quiet. It was the fact that the deal would be torn up if I said anything. I got close anyway, let me tell you. But in the end I just knew if I was one of them and knew what was at stake, I'd want Lambie to hold the line," she tweeted.
A spokesman for Mr Morrison said the government would not confirm or deny if any deals were done with senators, but said Senator Lambie was briefed on the national security implications of the deal and legislation. He said there are strong rules around who can reveal the content of national security briefings.