Australia asked NZ to keep refugee offer open - report

Jacinda Ardern and Malcolm Turnbull.
Jacinda Ardern and Malcolm Turnbull. Photo credit: Getty

While publicly rejecting New Zealand's offer to rehome refugees, behind closed doors Australia asked New Zealand to keep the offer on the table, Australian media has reported.

Sky News says briefing notes from Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton show our neighbours didn't want to reject it outright in case it was needed as a "back-up" for the larger US deal.

Mr Dutton called New Zealand's offer to rehome refugees held in detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru a "bad option" in November, because people smugglers could take the opportunity to market New Zealand as an alternative pathway to Australia.

"I don't rule it out, I never have," Mr Dutton said at the time. "But at this point in time, it is the wrong decision to send people to New Zealand because in the end you'll start the boats, people will fill up the vacancies we've created in Nauru, you'll get the deaths at sea again. I'm just not going to preside over that arrangement."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told his Kiwi counterpart Jacinda Ardern the offer wouldn't be taken up "at this time" when she visited that same month.

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) documents obtained by Sky News say: "Australia… has requested that we keep the offer on the table." Australian officials confirmed to Sky News this was the case.

After receiving the request from Australia, MFAT officials reportedly raised concerns whether the refugees kept in the camps would pass strict security and health tests. Heavily redacted documents also revealed New Zealand's preference for "family units", mostly from Nauru, rather than the "single men" found in detention on Manus Island.

"The refugees on Manus Island currently present a higher level of risk to New Zealand's national security than other refugee groups due to the nature of the individuals," one document from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet cited by Sky News read.

New Zealand first offered to take 150 refugees in 2013.


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