PM resists push for NZ refugee deal after Labor, crossbench offer 'compromise'

Labor is willing to support the 'lifetime ban' if the New Zealand deal goes ahead - on the condition it only applies to that cohort of refugees. The PM says he will not 'horsetrade' on borders.

The Prime Minister has said that he's not "here to horsetrade on children".

The Prime Minister has said that he's not "here to horsetrade on children". Source: AAP/Twitter @kidsoffnauru

Prime minister Scott Morrison has rejected a "compromise" offered by Labor and the crossbench over its controversial legislation for a lifetime ban to stop refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru ever entering Australia. 

The government maintains it will only accept New Zealand's offer to take up to 150 refugees if parliament approves its so-called ‘lifetime ban’ legislation, which would ban the refugees from ever entering Australia, even as visitors years later.

On Tuesday morning, Labor announced it was willing to compromise and approve the legislation with “amendments” 


Shadow immigration minister Shayne Neumann said the laws should only apply to the New Zealand cohort, rather than all refugees, and could be applied by restricting their access to the special 444 visa that gives Kiwis easy access to Australia.

“We call on the government to sit down with the New Zealand government," Mr Neumann said. 

But in a press conference later on Tuesday, prime minister Scott Morrison said he would not "horsetrade" on border protection. 

Mr Morrison said the NZ deal would create "perverse incentive" for more asylum seekers, including children, to get on boats to Australia.

He said it also gave those currently in detention a reason to wait for a "better offer" instead of applying to settle in the US - which has taken several hundred refugees through an Obama-era deal that was maintained by President Trump. 

"I understand the great level of community passion and anxiety on this, I do," Mr Morrison said. 

"But I also understand that I must take decisions that don't put more children at risk, which is the great folly of how the Labor party have always engaged on this issue." 

Meanwhile, the government is also under pressure to bring the 52 children still on Nauru to Australia temporarily for medical treatment, along with their families. 

With the all-but-confirmed election of independent Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth, crossbench MPs could have the numbers in parliament to force the transfer. 

“We need to bring all of the children and their families [to Australia],” Ms Phelps told the ABC's Q&A program. “Not just the very sick children. We don’t wait until there’s an 

The fresh push from the crossbench comes after the Australian Border Force revealed on Monday that 11 refugee children had been taken from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment.

Crossbench MP Andrew Wilkie said he was “not at all” satisfied with the transfer of 11 children.

Border Force originally said 16 were transferred but later clarified that 11 were moved on Monday to Australia for medical treatment.

They join more than 600 people in Australia on "temporary transfers" from offshore detention.

Border Force said 652 people, including 52 children and 107 families, remain on Nauru while 626 men are on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

The vast majority on both islands have been judged to be genuine refugees.

Border Force's surgeon-general and de-facto chief medical officer for offshore asylum seekers, Parbodh Gogna, said medical staff on Nauru had "seen an unprecedented jump" in people presenting for medical care in the last couple of months.

Patients were treated for mental and physical illnesses but the reason for the uptick was unclear, he said.

But Dr Gogna said he heard anecdotes that years of detention, a break down of resilience and unwellness of parents transferring to children were factors.

He said Nauru has multiple medical facilities but lacked highly specialised health care for children.

The Home Affairs department said it had spent $480,000 in legal fees in just three months responding to applications to have refugees medically transferred to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru.

The figure from July to September far outstrips spending for the entire previous financial year, with $275,000 spent on such legal fees in 2017-18.

The committee was told, for example, there were just five applications lodged between May and June this year.

Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo said permanent asylum in Australia wouldn't be granted to those transferred for medical treatment because it could incentivise "perverse behaviours", including causing serious harm to instigate a transfer.

"Treatment in Australia is absolutely available for those who require it," he told Senate estimates on Monday.

Three Liberal MPs - Russell Broadbent, Craig Laundy and Julia Banks - last week demanded Mr Morrison get children off Nauru.

With AAP.

4 min read
Published 22 October 2018 at 6:50pm
By James Elton-Pym