Prime Minister’s comments spark speculation about refugee swap with US – September 2016

Filed under: Politics, Australian Politics, Foreign Affairs, Social and Community, Immigration,

Australia will continue to play a leading role in global efforts to assist refugees, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has told a leaders’ summit in New York, convened by US President Barack Obama.

Mr Turnbull said that with more than 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, the summit was an important and timely forum for world leaders to commit to an effective response to this complex global problem.

He said: “Australia already has one of the most generous and compassionate resettlement programs in the world.

“In addition to our existing programs, Australia will:

  • provide an extra $130 million over the next three years to further increase support for refugees and communities in key countries of first asylum, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan. This support will help displaced people return home as quickly as possible. This is in addition to the recently announced $220 million Syrian humanitarian assistance package;
  • maintain our Humanitarian Program at the increased level of 18,750 places from 2018-19 onwards. This is in addition to the 12,000 places we have committed for refugees from Syria and Iraq;
  • dedicate a minimum number of places over the next three years to displaced people from specific protracted refugee situations – this multi-year commitment will better support UNHCR’s planning and management;
  • create new pathways for refugees to resettle in Australia through the establishment of 1,000 places under a Community Support Program, where communities and businesses can sponsor applications and support new arrivals, leading to better settlement outcomes; and
  • participate in a US-led multilateral program to resettle refugees from Central America.”

Mr Turnbull’s single line comment that Australia would assist the US by settling Central American refugees from Costa Rica prompted puzzlement and speculation about whether it was part of a refugee swap involving Australia’s offshore detainees.

“These commitments build on Australia’s recently announced $220 million commitment to help address the humanitarian and resilience needs in Syria and its neighbouring countries.

“They would not have been possible without Australia’s strong border management policies and high levels of public confidence in our well-managed migration system.

“Without this confidence, we would not have been able to increase our intake of refugees – the world’s third largest permanent resettlement program – by more than 35 per cent.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten ridiculed the Prime Minister’s New York announcement as lacking substance. “This is just a hoax. Malcolm Turnbull has flown to New York to re-announce Tony Abbott's policies. We said in 2014 that we supported this proposition, we still support it. But is this really the best that Malcolm Turnbull can do on the world stage? Reheat the leftovers of Tony Abbott's policy two years later in New York? Let's call it for what it is: this is just a hoax,” he said.

“Malcolm Turnbull has flown to New York to re-announce Tony Abbott's policies and they haven't dealt with the elephant in the room and we all know what that is, don't we? The fact is that we have nearly 2,000 people trapped in almost indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru. When will the Turnbull Government actually negotiate a regional resettlement arrangement with another nation so that we're not keeping people in indefinite detention?”

He said the Prime Minister needed to outline his plans to solve the offshore detention problem. “First of all, Mr Turnbull needs to perhaps spell out 'has he had any discussions with the United States about the Costa Rica solution? I notice that one of his ministers has already galloped out this morning and said that's not on. But of course, I don't know what to make of this because frequently one Government Minister in Mr Turnbull's Cabinet doesn't know what the other one is doing. But Mr Turnbull needs to spell out is he having negotiations with Canada? Is he having discussions with New Zealand? Is he having discussions with the United States? Is he talking to leaders in our region? Has he sent his minister to talk to the United Nations’ High Commissioner for refugees. This Government stands indicted because on one hand it talks about stopping the people smugglers and we support that, but on the other hand, all he can do is fly to New York, re-announce poor old Tony Abbott's policies and pretend that somehow he's solved the problem and meanwhile there's 1,800 people stuck in indefinite detention.”

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