Labour: NZ should cause 'international embarrassment' to Australia over Nauru

Labour leader Andrew Little says we should shame Australia over its use of offshore processing centres for refugees.
ANDY JACKSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Labour leader Andrew Little says we should shame Australia over its use of offshore processing centres for refugees.

New Zealand should cause "international embarrassment" to Australia over its failure to resettle refugees held on Nauru's detention centre, Labour leader Andrew Little says.

However, Labour and the Government are united in the belief any deal to bring refugees and asylum seekers to New Zealand should be with Australia, rather than Nauru directly.

A new Amnesty International report, Island of Despair, describes the Nauru processing centre as "a deliberate and systematic regime of neglect and cruelty", and says the offshore detention centres should be shut down.

Australia's controversial offshore detention centres like Nauru have led to protests.
PHOTO: REUTERS

Australia's controversial offshore detention centres like Nauru have led to protests.

In 2013, New Zealand offered to take up to 150 refugees from centres on Nauru and Manus Island, an offer which Australia initially rejected.

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In September, Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton said he was happy to go ahead with the deal if it was negotiated directly with Nauru, with the refugees not setting foot in Australia - a deal turned down by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

Prime Minister John Key said the offer to Australia still stood, but it was not "practical" to do a deal directly with Nauru.

Children playing near the Refugee Processing Centre on Nauru.
AMNESTY

Children playing near the Refugee Processing Centre on Nauru.

"In the end, it's for Australia to really decide if they want to do that and what their long-term ambitions are for Nauru and the other offshore processing centres.

We could do [a deal with Nauru], but UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] don't love us when we go and do these things anyway at the best of times...so our easiest option is to deal with UNHCR."

Woodhouse supported that stance, saying the issue of New Zealand dealing directly with Nauru was hypothetical and it was "a question of control" for Australia.

"We don't control what happens to them, we've made an offer to Australia and whether that's taken up is a matter for them."

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Labour leader Andrew Little agreed that the issue was one for the Australian government, rather than Nauru itself.

However, Little said New Zealand needed to use its diplomatic relationship with Australia to place pressure on the country to accept a deal for the refugees and asylum seekers on offshore centres.

"If the Australians aren't going to cooperate and allow New Zealand's offer to assist, which was the right thing to do, then John Key should cause international embarrassment to Australia, if indeed they haven't been embarrassed enough.

'BIT OF A STIFF ARM'

"This is a time to step up and say, in an age of worldwide humanitarian crises, one that is on our doorstep, one that involves our nearest neighbour physically and diplomatically, we need to be applying a bit of a stiff arm on it and saying, 'We can help, these are people here, we want to give them a future'."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw accused the Government of "a lack of spine" in its approach to Australia, and said a direct deal with Nauru was an option that it needed to consider.

"I think it would be appropriate for the New Zealand government to take a more humanitarian, human rights-based approach, and that may involve negotiating directly with Nauru."

The comments came after the release of a poll conducted by Amnesty International, showing that 79 per cent of Kiwis wanted Key to take a stronger stance in speaking out against evidence of abuse in the Australian offshore detention centres.

 - Stuff

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