As you listen to the self-satisfied, self-congratulatory observations of our Australian representatives at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants and at the Obama summit, just ask yourself what Messrs Turnbull and Dutton have done to provide a humane solution for the proven refugees on Nauru (and Manus Island), given that after three years the Abbott and Turnbull governments have not resettled one proven refugee. You will recall that the MOU with Nauru was signed by the Rudd Government just prior to the 2013 election and that Richard Marles, the Labor shadow minister, told us during the recent election that the expectation was that the whole thing would be done and dusted within a year.
Three years of wanton inhumane treatment has been meted out to these people, and now those responsible have the hide to proclaim to other nations that our border protection system is ‘the best in the world’. The MOU with Nauru provides:
Outcomes for persons Transferred to Nauru
- The Republic of Nauru undertakes to enable Transferees who it determines are in need of international protection to settle in Nauru, subject to agreement between Participants on arrangements and numbers. This agreement between Participants on arrangements and numbers will be subject to review on a 12 monthly basis through the Australia-Nauru Ministerial Forum.
- The Commonwealth of Australia will assist the Republic of Nauru to settle in a third safe country all Transferees who the Republic of Nauru determines are in need of international protection, other than those who are permitted to settle in Nauru pursuant to Clause 12.
- The Commonwealth of Australia will assist the Republic of Nauru to remove Transferees who are found not to be in need of international protection to their countries of origin or to third countries in respect of which they have a right to enter and reside.
- Subject to Clause 12, the Commonwealth of Australia will make all efforts to ensure that all Transferees depart the Republic of Nauru within as short a time as is reasonably necessary for the implementation of this MOU, bearing in mind the objectives set out in the Preamble and Clause 1.
The hypocrisy of it all is breath-taking. The numbers we have to deal with are pitifully small compared with those confronting other societies to which Turnbull and Dutton are proclaiming their achievements. No other country maintains a caseload of proven refugees living in hopeless conditions simply so as to ‘send a message’ and to retain the artifice that the house of cards ‘stops the boats’. Returning from New York, Turnbull and Dutton should have the decency to agree that all proven refugees on Manus Island and Nauru who cannot be resettled elsewhere by the end of the year are to be resettled promptly in Australia (after the 3 year delay), and Bill Shorten and the Greens should agree without trying to make any political capital over the government’s necessary change of policy.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ
Professor of Law
Australian Catholic University