Immigration and Border Protection

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November 26, 2018

In early November I travelled to Nauru to see first-hand the conditions for asylum seekers and refugees living in the Pacific Island nation and the conditions in the Australian-funded regional processing centres.

The facilities on Nauru – as well as Manus Island – were set up as temporary offshore regional processing centres.

They were never intended to be places of permanent and indefinite detention.

This is exactly what has unfolded under the Liberal Government.

You can understand how this is a situation which is not in the best interests of vulnerable people – either physically or mentally.

Five years of detention is simply too long.

I want to make it clear – if Labor had won either the 2013 or the 2016 election – these people would not have been subject to this migration limbo.

They would have been resettled in third countries – something the Abbott, Turnbull, and Morrison Governments have singularly failed to do for far too long.

The Nauruans are an independent and proud people.

They have welcomed close to a thousand refugees into their community.

The asylum seeker and refugee cohort on Nauru equates to close-to ten per cent of the country’s population.

The majority of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are now living in the Nauruan community in Australian-funded settlements.

They are being supported by Australian Government funded services as well as Nauruan services.

Nauru’s Department of Multicultural Affairs runs settlement services and programs including employment assistance, community integration programs, and school enrolments.

Many refugees are employed and some have even started their own small businesses on Nauru – such as restaurants and hairdressing salons – or they are working in a range of other businesses including government offices and the local hospital.

During my time in the country, I met the President of Nauru, as well as his Cabinet, and other governmental officials – including from the Department of Multicultural Affairs.

I met refugees and asylum seekers at numerous locations across Nauru and visited all three Regional Processing Centres – which are open centres, where people come and go.

I inspected the accommodation and health services available at the Australian-funded clinic at RPC1.

There are many hardworking, committed medical professionals working to ensure asylum seekers and refugees are receiving the medical and mental health treatment they require.

The same goes for the medical professionals at the Republic of Nauru hospital which Australian aid has helped fund and develop.

However, when medical treatment is not available on Nauru and is recommended by appropriate medical practitioners and clinicians, Labor believes that medical transfers to alternative treatment locations should be made available.

The Liberal Government’s haphazard approach has made the job of doctors recommending medical transfers more difficult.

More must be done to improve the accommodation and road infrastructure at RPC2 and RPC3 and the Australian Government must, must work with their Nauruan counterparts to address these issues.

Secrecy about conditions on Nauru – something the Liberals so often opt-for – is not a solution.

I heard stories of refugees who wish to permanently settle in Nauru – and I believe Australia can work with Nauru to help make this possible.

The reality however remains that asylum seekers and refugees on both Nauru and in PNG have been left in limbo for too long.

They need permanent resettlement options.

The failings of offshore processing fall directly on the current Liberal Government which has been in power since 2013.

It is possible to have offshore regional processing as a policy and still oppose indefinite detention.

Successive Liberal Governments have failed to negotiate third country resettlement options – that includes the Abbott Government, the Turnbull Government, and now the Morrison Government.

Liberals Prime Ministers have all rejected New Zealand’s generous offer to resettle eligible refugees which has been on the table since 2013.

This is something Prime Minister Morrison even considered before the Wentworth by-election.

Labor offered bipartisan support to work out a solution – before the offer was quickly ripped away by the Prime Minister.

It is time Prime Minister Morrison accepted New Zealand’s generous offer to end indefinite detention on Nauru and in PNG.

Labor has said – in Government – we would accept New Zealand’s generous offer to resettle eligible refugees and negotiate conditions to prevent people smugglers exploiting vulnerable people.

I want to thank the Nauruan Government and people – including their governmental officials and the medical staff for the work they do.

I thank the Australian Government and Border Force officials for the work they do on Nauru in a very difficult situation.

Labor – if elected – is committed to resettling eligible refugees on Nauru and in PNG in third countries – whilst ensuring Australia’s border security is maintained so that more vulnerable people aren’t exploited to risk their lives at sea.