Concerns over ‘PNG solution’ expansion to Nauru

The federal government’s efforts to be seen to be doing ‘something’ about asylum seekers have widened to incorporate Nauru.



Asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat can now be processed on the tiny Pacific island and can be resettled there if found to be genuine refugees.


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Nauru’s President Baron Waqa signed a memorandum of understanding on Saturday.


And refugee activists are among those who oppose the plan, as Kerri Worthington reports.


Kevin Rudd made the announcement that unauthorised maritime arrivals could be transferred to Nauru about 24 hours before announcing the general election date.


Like the recent deal with Papua New Guinea, it will deny boat people the chance to be resettled in Australia.


And like the PNG deal, the details are not clear.


What is clear, according to many critics, is that the Rudd government’s latest asylum seeker policies are geared towards a domestic audience, not the people smugglers they’re purported to want to stop.


Former human rights lawyer Frank Brennan — a long-term confidant of Kevin Rudd — has told the ABC the policy needs to be seen in the context of an election announcement rather than a credible attempt to stop people smuggling.


“But it obviously is designed for the election. It’s obviously very expensive. There’ll be no children sent to Nauru under this scheme before an election so obviously it’s designed for consumption in western Sydney and not in the streets of Indonesia where people are waiting to get on boats.”


Mr Rudd says the new deal is consistent with Australia’s obligations under the refugee convention.


He also says he understands Nauru is a small country and it’s up to the government of Nauru to decide on the number of people who could be permanently resettled there.


But the resettlement aspect of the plan appears to have been thrown into doubt by the Nauru government.


A spokeswoman for the Nauru government has told Fairfax Media that none of the asylum seekers will get citizenship or be considered permanent residents.


Greens leader Christine Milne says it’s absurd to even think about settling asylum seekers on Nauru — a 21 square kilometre rock with no food production, insecure water supply and high unemployment.


“Within two days, the wheels had fallen off this cruel, cruel plan, with Nauru now saying they never had any expectation that people would be permanently resettled on Nauru. What they’re saying is that they would be effectively a permanent warehouse. People left in limbo in this cruel situation, and the Prime Minister Rudd thinks that that is okay.”


However, Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition says Kevin Rudd was careful not to say refugees would definitely be resettled on Nauru.


“My understanding is that Nauru has agreed to resettle people who request to stay. So if someone is processed and found to be a refugee — well actually they’ll only accept families and there are no families on Nauru at present and very unlikely to be there for the next few months but if there was to be a family found to be refugees then the Nauru government would consider resettling someone who requested to resettle. But it’s very different in that respect to the Manus Island (policy) but those details are being glossed over.”


Mr Rintoul says the government details will start to trickle out as they have with the PNG deal.


PNG politicians are now saying that deal was only signed on the expectation that very few people were going to be sent there.


But Ian Rintoul says it’s not in the government’s interests to allow too much scrutiny of either agreement because Kevin Rudd needs to get to the election before their unravelling becomes apparent.


“Kevin Rudd wants to give the appearance that he’s got a solution every bit as harsh as Tony Abbott. We’ve got policy for domestic consumption designed only for it to be believable to the election and that Kevin Rudd will deal with all the contradictions and the fact that the thing is untenable after the election.”


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