Kevin Rudd to send asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Papua New Guinea

By Jonathan Swan

July 19, 2013,

• • • Analysis: PNG solution flawed • Abbott welcomes plan • Australia's gulag in PNG: Milne • Manus Island centre to be upgraded
Any asylum seeker who arrives by boat without a visa will have no chance of being resettled in Australia as a refugee, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced. At a Brisbane press conference, flanked by Immigration Minister Tony Burke and Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, Mr Rudd declared he would "combat the scourge of people smuggling" through a new resettlement arrangement. In the strongest line a modern Labor prime minister has taken against people smugglers, Mr Rudd said: ''As of today asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.'' Under the new Regional Settlement Arrangement signed with PNG, unauthorised arrivals will be sent to that country for assessment and if found to be a refugee will be settled there.

''I understand this is a very hard-line decision,'' Mr Rudd said. But the Prime Minister said it was a necessary step. ''Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north,'' Mr Rudd said. ''Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them to drown on the high seas.'' With the changes, regional processing arrangements in PNG will be significantly expanded and people will be sent to Manus Island as soon as health checks are complete and appropriate accommodation is identified. PNG officials will assess their claims on Manus Island. Mr Rudd said there would be no cap on the number of people who can be transferred to PNG. In exchange for PNG receiving asylum seekers, the Australian government made a number of commitments, including to help with the redevelopment of the major referral hospital in Lei and reforms to the country's university sector. As well as implementing the resettlement program, Mr Rudd said the Australian Government stood ready to consider progressively increasing its humanitarian intake towards 27,000 as recommended by the Houston Panel. Mr Rudd did not say how much his changes to asylum seeker policy would cost. But he said it would be ''budget neutral'' and that Finance Minister Penny Wong would announce the costs in ''due course''. ''What we're seeking to do ... is to send a message to people smugglers around the world that the business model is basically undermined,'' Mr Rudd said. ''This is a clear change in strategic direction.'' Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus reiterated the Prime Minister's assurance that the arrangement was ''entirely in accordance with Australia's international and domestic law obligations''. ''Papua New Guinea is, of course, a signatory to the refugees convention,'' Mr Dreyfus said. However, refugee advocates have flagged they would be examining the legality of Mr Rudd's changes. Mr Rudd's hardline changes went against "the spirit of the refugee convention because Australia was now "outsourcing [its] obligations", said Jana Favero, spokeswoman for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Asylum seekers in Australia now already faced tougher conditions than under John Howard, she said, and Mr Rudd's announcement would make the situation worse by forcing boat arrivals to PNG. Such a move was discriminating "based on mode of arrival", which she believed was against the spirit and possibly the rules of the refugee convention. "In regards to legality of breach, the devil will be in the detail," she said. Abbott welcomes plan Opposition Leader Tony Abbott - whose pledge to stop the boats has been at the centre of his campaigning for years - tentatively welcomed Mr Rudd's plan. "I welcome it but it won't work under Mr Rudd," Mr Abbott said. In a pitch to voters, Mr Abbott said: "Who do you trust on this subject? Who do you trust to stop the boats? Do you trust the political party that started it up again? Do you trust the political party that

closed down Manus Island? Or do you trust the party that is the original and the best when it comes to stopping the boats."] 'Australia's gulag in PNG' Greens leader Christine Milne said it was "absolutely immoral" for a rich nation like Australia to "dump thousands of vulnerable people into an impoverished country". "Who would have thought a prime minister who said that under Julia Gillard the country would lurch to the right on asylum seekers would ... lurch so far to the right that he has leap-frogged Tony Abbott in terms of cruelty and just how far he's prepared to go with the treatment of people who are seeking asylum in our country?" she said. Senator Milne said the transfer of asylum seekers to PNG would put the problem "out of sight, out of mind". "It will be Australia's gulag in PNG," she said. Senator Milne said PNG had problems with corruption, violence and malaria and was not in a position to resettle thousands of refugees. "It's a day of shame for our nation and it says to the rest of the world Australia is a very rich country prepared to pass the buck to a very poor country." The pledge to make the announcement budget-neutral did not auger well for Australia's aid budget, Senator Milne said. Senator Milne said the announcement showed how "ruthless" Mr Rudd had become in a race to the election. "He has taken the Rudd out of Ruddock and gone even further," she said. Refugee advocate and lawyer David Manne said Australia had repudiated its obligation to protect refugees and would leave asylum seekers in "inhumane and degrading conditions". While PNG was a signatory to the refugee convention, it had opted out of commitments to provide refugees with freedom of movement, education, housing or employment, he said. ‘‘All the independent evidence points to PNG being, sadly, very unsafe and also a place where there is widespread and pervasive violence, including against women, and serious and ongoing daily human rights abuse throughout the country,’’ he told ABC TV. Mr Manne said deterrence did not work because it did not address the reason people fled and took desperate journeys. "This does nothing to address those concerns; in fact, what it does is feed into what we've seen time and time again - sweep people from our doorstep to elsewhere," he said. Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the success of the plan depended on the government's ability to transfer all arrivals. Mr Morrison said it could become a "lawyers' picnic" with people trying to seek injunctions to stop transfers. Manus Island refurb Speaking about the existing Manus Island facility on PNG, Mr Burke said that in the past couple of weeks he had removed children and families from the centre because ''the facilities as they are right now are not appropriate for some of those different groups''. The government's immediate priority was to bring the quality of Manus Island's detention facilities

''up to standard''. Mr Burke said that at the moment the government would not be transferring women and children immediately across to Manus Island. ''The intention is that as the temporary facility moves to a permanent facility, anybody who arrives from now on will be subject to the new rules.''

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