Anzac relations strained over Manus crisis

The relationship between New Zealand and Australia looks set to face another test, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meeting her counterpart Malcolm Turnbull to again push for a resolution to the crisis on Manus Island.

Ardern has said the plight of refugees on the Papua New Guinea island, and on Nauru, is the only topic on the table when the two meet at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in the Philippines.

Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers at Manus Island have barricaded themselves inside the closed detention centre, with some describing the situation as a humanitarian crisis.

The Manus centre is one of a number of offshore detention sites set up the Australian government as a means of deterring “boat people” from heading to the country.

In April 2016, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled the detention centre was unconstitutional and illegal, leading the country and Australia to prepare for its closure.

However, after the centre closed and electricity was switched off at the end of October, hundreds of men stayed put, reportedly fearing the conditions at transit centres set up for the refugees.

With Australia refusing to take any of the refugees, and a deal between the United States and Australia moving ahead slowly, Ardern reiterated an offer to resettle 150 refugees from Manus and Nauru when she visited Sydney shortly after becoming Prime Minister.

Turnbull declined, although said he could reconsider the offer once the arrangement with the US was sorted.

"We made the offer because we saw a great need. No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done."

Speaking to media in Vietnam on Saturday night (NZT), Ardern said she had asked to have another conversation with Turnbull - “a more substantive one” - about conditions on Manus Island.

"We made the offer because we saw a great need. No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done….

"I see the human face of this, I see the need and the role New Zealand needs to play. I think it's clear that we don't think what's happening there as acceptable, that's why the offer's there," she said.

When asked again about the issue at EAS on Sunday night (NZT), Ardern said there was not yet a time set down to talk, but Manus would be the only subject of discussion.

"I will be raising with Prime Minister Turnbull, as I have consistently done, that we have grave concerns over the situation on Manus Island but also for the refugees on Nauru, and that our hope is to lend a hand as far as we are able in helping resolve this situation."

Ardern said she would not offer a deal where refugees who resettled in New Zealand would be barred from going to Australia.

“That would not be our intent to do that - we treat citizens as citizens and residents as residents.”

No plan for direct PNG talks

She said she did not intend to pursue direct talks with Papua New Guinea until she had a firm answer one way or the other from Turnbull.

“That offer has never been directly rejected, so whilst it’s still on the table with Australia that’s how I’ll pursue it.”

As Australia had undertaken preliminary screening of the refugees and held their files, that was likely to be the swiftest way to make an arrangement.

Asked about criticism of her approach from National foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee, Ardern said she was happy with how it had been handled.

"I stand by the way we’ve managed this situation: every step of the way has been a dialogue with Australia about the best way to find resolution."

According to an Australian journalist, Ardern and Turnbull “chatted informally” early Monday morning (NZT) following her remarks, although it was unclear whether Manus had been mentioned.

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

PARTNERS