Following the repeal of the Medevac Laws, a number of asylum seekers are caught up in an exquisite political conundrum which nobody in the Morrison government, least of all Spud Dutton, want to discuss.
So, I’ll call on to the readers of AIMN to come up with a solution: after all, I didn’t vote for this mob.
Firstly, you will remember that in April 2016 the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal. The five-man bench of the court ruled that such detention breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution. The Supreme Court ordered the PNG and Australian Governments to immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG.
“Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers or transferees constitutional and human rights,” the judges ordered.
In response, minister Dutton ordered that a legal fiction be created: he deemed that by opening the gates of the detention centre, building new accommodation at Lorengau on Manus Island and allowing the detainees to walk free during daylight hours would demonstrate that these people – most of whom had been deemed to be genuine refugees – were not detained, they were merely subject to another legal dictum – introduced by the pop group, The Eagles in their classic Hotel California – and now part of settled Australian asylum seeker law :
‘You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!’
Fast forward to Melbourne today and we find that there are around 45 asylum seekers who had previously been detained in PNG but who had, under the Medevac Laws, been brought to Australia for urgent medical attention. The men are currently, following their medical treatment, detained on one floor of the $180-a-night Mantra on Bell in Preston, which is off-limits to other guests and patrolled by private security guards.
The difficulty facing Spud Dutton is that he cannot easily return these folk to detention in PNG as – unlike Australia – it is unconstitutional under PNG law to hold people against their will unless they have been charged and convicted of a crime and sentenced in a properly constituted court of law; always remembering that seeking asylum is not a crime. So PNG is unlikely to take them back, as to issue them with a tourist visa would be taking migration law into the realms of Monty Python.
So, in between cameo appearances on 2GB and Sky and television ads with uniformed AFP personnel, minister Dutton is pondering his next move having effectively painted himself into a corner with little room to maneuver.
When repealing the Medevac Laws senator Jacquie Lambie, whose vote was pivotal, evidently called on the government to find a durable resettlement solution to secure her vote. Not only for these 45 men surviving on room service at the Mantra on Bell in Preston but for those other poor souls still in PNG and on Nauru and those scattered around Australia including the unfortunate family of four still in punitive detention on Christmas Island.
So far the government have been unable to come up with a solution beyond saying that ‘it’s a matter of national security’ (code for not saying anything) and that they will not accept the very reasonable offer, made by successive New Zealand prime minister’s, to take 150 such people a year for resettlement.
As my inspiration and mentor, Oliver Hardy would say, ‘well that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Spud’!
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