By Terence Mills
The agreement that Kevin Rudd signed with the PNG government in 2013 includes the provision:
“Commencing on the day of announcement, any unauthorized maritime arrival entering Australian waters will be liable for transfer to Papua New Guinea (in the first instance, Manus Island) for processing and resettlement in Papua New Guinea and in any other participating regional, including Pacific Island, states [my bold]. Papua New Guinea undertakes for an initial twelve-month period to accept unauthorised maritime arrivals for processing and, if successful in their application for refugee status, resettlement. This program will be for 12 months and will be subject to review on an annual basis through the Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum.”
The important provision in this agreement, and one which PNG have frequently referred to, is the resettlement provision that allows for resettlement in any other participating regional, including Pacific Island, states. This is where the meeting today between NZ Prime Minister Adern and Prime Minister Turnbull will be critical to breaking the Dutton confected impasse currently playing out on Manus Island. Former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key initially made an offer to take 150 of these refugees as a gesture of good will toward Australia and to allow the Abbott and now Turnbull governments to save face and start to dig themselves out of the hole that Dutton’s obstinacy has got them into.
It is likely that Adern will renew that offer today and Turnbull would be well advised to accept it as it may very well be the path to breaking this vindictive stand-off which seems to have become personal to Dutton. Turnbull should ignore Dutton’s perverse rationale that if any of these refugees go to New Zealand they could, after five years residency, become New Zealand citizens and armed with an NZ passport seek to visit Australia: it just makes no sense and smacks of desperate politics. Does he have the same irrational fears about those few refugees who have made it to the USA and who will undoubtedly achieve American citizenship in due course?
The problem that Turnbull faces continues to be the intransigence of the right-wing of his party who are already warning him not to accept the New Zealand offer when it comes. This opposition has little to do with refugees and resettlement strategies and more to do with the right-wing showing the Prime Minister who’s running this country: for Turnbull this is an opportunity to assert his authority and challenge the strangle-hold that the Right have him in. Will he seize the opportunity or buckle as he has in the past? We shall see.
If the meeting today can start the process and a path for properly and humanely resettling the men from Manus Island we then need to turn our attention to Nauru which has tended to be ignored in recent times, principally as a result of the limited access and media bans imposed by Nauruan authorities at the request of the Australian government.
Malcolm, the future of these unfortunate people is in your hands, please don’t flick-pass it back to Dutton and his cronies, they won’t respect you in the morning!