Peter Dutton says he is willing to consider a New Zealand offer to resettle some refugees held in offshore detention, but only if they are banned from ever coming to Australia.
The home affairs minister has floated the prospect in a bid to pressure the opposition into supporting stalled legislation which would stop anybody who arrived by boat from ever reaching Australia’s shores.
“We would have a look at ways in which we would utilise the offer of 150 places,” Dutton told Sky News on Friday.
However, he raised the recent interception of a boat carrying 131 asylum seekers from Malaysia to New Zealand to highlight the ongoing threat of people-smuggling.
“With that one boat you would take up an entire one-year offer from New Zealand,” he said.
Labor said Dutton can already ban people from entering Australia based on character grounds, including through specific visa provisions blocking anybody involved in people smuggling.
“If the government was able to negotiate conditions for the US deal, they should be able to negotiate them for any deal with New Zealand,” the opposition immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, said.
But Dutton said: “Shayne Neumann somehow is suggesting that the 50,000 people that came on 800 boats are all people smugglers. It’s a complete nonsense.
“The fact is that we put a bill before the parliament which would have stopped people coming from New Zealand to Australia. Labor refused to support it in the Senate.”
The opposition has described the 2016 legislation as poorly drafted and laden with unintended consequences.
Meanwhile, the former head of Australia’s efforts to “stop the boats”, Roman Quaedvlieg, has described offshore detention as an “insoluble mess” dividing the Labor party.
Opposition MPs have been ducking questions about whether a Labor government would impose time limits on offshore detention.
The party will debate asylum seekers at its upcoming national conference, with a draft party platform seeking to “ensure detention is for no longer than 90 days”.
Quaedvlieg, the former Australian Border Force commissioner, said genuine efforts were being made inside the Turnbull government to find a solution to the “blistering” problem, and described Labor’s plans as ambiguous.
“Labor needs to be clear-eyed in its expression of border policy because any softness, any wavering in its solidarity, will undoubtedly be used as a people smuggler’s marketing ploy,” Mr Quaedvlieg wrote in Fairfax Media.
The new ABF chief, Michael Outram, also warned smugglers were watching the words and actions of political parties and agencies for indications of shifts in policy.
–Credit: New Zealand | The Guardian