Labor drops opposition to travel ban for New Zealand resettlement deal

Labor drops opposition to travel ban for New Zealand resettlement deal

Federal Labor has softened its opposition to a contentious immigration bill, increasing pressure on the Government to allow refugee children on Nauru to go to New Zealand.

Key points:

  • ALP has opposed bill banning resettled refugees from travelling to Australia since 2016
  • Labor says ban should only apply to cohort sent from Nauru to New Zealand
  • Opposition says Government should ask NZ to take more than 150 refugees

Australian Border Force officials last night revealed 11 children were transferred off Nauru on Monday for medical attention, leaving 52 minors on the island.

Incoming independent MP Kerryn Phelps said the Wentworth by-election result prompted the Government to remove the children from the remote Pacific nation.

The Coalition has indicated it could accept New Zealand’s offer to take up to 150 refugees, but only if legislation passes Parliament ensuring people sent to offshore detention can never travel to Australia.

The Federal Labor Opposition has opposed the bill since it was introduced in 2016.

But the ALP has announced it would support the travel ban if the Government pledged to accept the offer, which was first made in 2013, and removed all children and their families off Nauru.

“These children need help,” Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann said.

“We think it’s time for action, it’s time for the Prime Minister, who talked a big game before the Wentworth by-election, to do the right thing by these kids and their families.”

The ALP said the travel ban should only apply to the cohort sent to New Zealand, and not everyone who had arrived by boat since July 2013.

In a letter to Immigration Minister David Coleman, Mr Neumann said any new laws should limit travel to Australia — but not completely ban it.

Medical conditions deteriorating in Nauru

According to the latest figures, there are 652 people on Nauru, with 541 classed as refugees and 23 as failed asylum seekers. The status of another 88 is yet to be determined.

Border Force’s chief medical officer Dr Parbodh Gogna last night said doctors had seen an “unprecedented jump” in refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru needing treatment over the past couple of months.

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“A significant ramp up at that point, everything from mental health and obviously there was physical illness as well,” Dr Gogna said.

Doctors on Nauru suggested people’s resilience had broken down after five years on Nauru, he told Senators.

The Senate Estimates Committee was last night told the United States has taken 276 people from Nauru as part of a resettlement deal and rejected 148.

Labor said the Government should allow families currently in Australia for medical treatment to apply for US resettlement.

The Opposition said the Coalition should also ask New Zealand to take more than 150 refugees.

“We call on the Prime Minister today to get on the phone, speak to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and enter into appropriate negotiations and conditions to resettle these children and their families,” Mr Neumann said.

“We would appreciate if New Zealand would do such a thing,” he said.

Greens, crossbench push for change

On Monday, the Greens floated a similar compromise to allow families to resettle across the Tasman, despite also rejecting the travel ban legislation for two years.

The party said it would consider a travel restriction but only if all children are first brought to Australia for medical treatment, and the rule only applied to the New Zealand cohort.

“We need to put the politics aside and look after these children, who are being traumatised and brutalised right now,” leader Richard Di Natale told the ABC.

The party’s Lower House MP Adam Bandt yesterday introduced a private members’ bill requiring every child and their family be brought from Nauru to Australia for medical assessment.

Dr Phelps last night said: “We do need to bring an end to offshore detention. It’s cruel and unusual punishment.”

“We need to bring all of the children and their families, not just the very sick children — we don’t wait till there’s an emergency — but all of the children and their families to Australia for urgent medical, psychological and community treatment.”