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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 5000

Senator BROWN (2:29 PM) —My question is to Senator Ellison, representing the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. It comes against the background of the situation on Manus Island where Papua New Guinea has not agreed to extend the asylum seekers remaining beyond 20 October and we have Australian Protective Service agents who do not have, in the main, legal authority under Papua New Guinea law to look after these people. What is the minister doing about the looming crisis on Manus Island where 191 asylum seekers, mostly Iraqis, 120 of whom have had their claims as refugees accepted, are being guarded by Australian Protective Service agents? Is the government considering moving the detainees to Nauru or Christmas Island, and if so how is it going to effect that move?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —Senator Brown is referring to an agreement which was reached with Papua New Guinea in relation to Manus Island. That was finalised on 12 October last year. There have been provisions in relation to that for people to remain on Manus Island and, as I understand it, the initial period was extended from six months to 12 months. The current deadline is 21 October. I understand that there have been discussions between the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and the Prime Minister of Australia, although there has been a comment by the foreign affairs minister in relation to this matter on New Zealand radio, I understand. I do not believe that is a definitive decision of the Papua New Guinea government and that is a comment of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. If that is what Senator Brown is relying on then certainly I would say to him that the question of the renegotiation of that time limit is certainly under way between the two countries. That is not a matter which has been decided.

I am advised that a group of 40 rejected asylum seekers are being relocated to Nauru today. This relocation further reduces numbers in the centre and will allow for better management of the centre. I am advised that people moved to the airport and onto the aircraft without incident. On Nauru the International Organisation for Migration will provide ongoing care and management for these people, including the ongoing exploration of return and reintegration opportunities. The relocation has the support of both the Nauru and PNG authorities. As at this morning, the Manus caseload comprised 151 persons, and yesterday saw a further review in relation to 18 people who were determined to have refugee status and 11 who were refused. Sixty-one refugees have come from Manus to Australia, and 87 have been resettled to New Zealand. Refugees on Manus continue to be processed for resettlement and refugees who have close relatives in Australia are currently being processed for resettlement here. That outlines to Senator Brown the movement that is occurring on Manus Island and the fact that there are negotiations with the PNG authorities in relation to the extension of this deadline.

Senator BROWN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why extend the deadline against the wishes of Papua New Guinea so far if, at most, there are only a couple of dozen refugees who do not have their status ascertained? Why not bring the lot to Australia, particularly in view of the impending hostilities in Iraq? Could the minister outline under what circumstance any of the Iraqi detainees on Manus Island or elsewhere in Australian custody would be returned to Iraq, considering the Howard government's impending support for an invasion of the country?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I cannot comment on the background of the people who are remaining there but I can say that the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, is on record as saying that the presence of the processing facility on Manus Island has not created any difficulties amongst the people on the island or in PNG as a whole.

Senator Faulkner —That was not the question.

Senator ELLISON —Senator Brown said that it was against the wishes of the PNG authorities. I am saying that we are talking to the PNG authorities and we are negotiating in relation to the extension of that deadline. As for the remaining people there, the government believes that if that deadline can be extended then it is appropriate that they remain there.