When Prime Minister Turnbull meets with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday, he will receive a renewed offer of help from New Zealand in relation to Manus Island. For the last four years, New Zealand has offered to take 150 refugees from Manus Island. Messrs Turnbull and Dutton have seen fit, unilaterally and contrary to the signed agreement with PNG, to step in (on behalf of PNG presumably) and refuse New Zealand’s offer of help. At the same time, they continue to say that these refugees are the responsibility of PNG. It’s hard to see how they continue to have it both ways.
The original agreement signed by Prime Ministers Rudd and O’Neill on 19 July 2013 states:
‘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. 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.’
Prime Minister Ardern might like to ask Prime Minister Turnbull:
- Since when has New Zealand not been a participating regional state?
- Why does Australia view New Zealand as a non-participating regional state?
- Why can’t PNG continue to treat New Zealand as a participating regional state?
- With the last four annual reviews of this agreement by the Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, what further agreement has there been between Australia and Papua New Guinea ruling out resettlement in other participating regional states like New Zealand?
- As New Zealand is a full and active participant in the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime which was said to be part of the background of the 2013 agreement, how can Australia unilaterally rule out offers of regional assistance from New Zealand to Papua New Guinea?
Of course, Prime Minister Ardern will already be aware that the Australian Government knowingly authorised, (requested?) and paid for the illegal and unconstitutional detention of these refugees on Manus Island despite the agreement stipulating that everything done was to be consistent with the laws and Constitution of PNG. So she will be aware that we are not working in the realm of respectful international relations underpinned by the rule of law. She will be well aware that the ex-colonial power continues to wield authority with the cheque book, and that when it comes to Australian ‘border protection’, anything goes. None of this will appeal to Ms Ardern, and neither should it. Sunday’s meeting should be interesting.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO, is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia