Asylum seekers on Manus Island should be brought to Australia and processed. Those who are refugees should be permitted to stay in Australia.
Neither the Liberal Party nor the Labor Party agree. The race to the bottom and the race against time is now on as the country prepares to go into election mode on or about 12 May 2016. The Labor Party is adamant that the Rudd government’s MOU with PNG was posited on the firm understanding that the processing and resettlement of the asylum seekers would be done and dusted within 12 months.
So here is my proposal for consideration by the major political parties.
Before the Turnbull government goes into caretaker mode, it should move the asylum seekers to Christmas Island for processing. To move more than 850 single men to Nauru would be highly irresponsible behaviour, no matter how much money we were prepared to offer Nauru.
The government should guarantee that all refugee claims for this cohort would then be determined within 12 months, ie by 12 May 2017. The government should also guarantee that all those proved to be refugees will be resettled within 18 months, ie 12 November 2017. For many of these people, that will have meant a five year delay between initial detention and resettlement.
The Labor Party should then endorse the plan so that there is bipartisan commitment to the plan before the election commences. Both parties need to accept that they were in government when their ministers knew or ought to have known that the initial MOU was posited on illegal, unconstitutional activity by the Government of PNG. If resettlement places cannot be provided for any proven refugees in this cohort by 12 November 2017, there will be no option but to resettle them in Australia.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ
Professor of Law
Australian Catholic University