Manus Island: Australian opposition flips, urges govt to accept NZ's offer

  • 04/11/2017
Bill Shorten.
Bill Shorten. Photo credit: AAP

Australian opposition Leader Bill Shorten has reversed Labor's previous stance on New Zealand's offer to resettle 150 refugees from Manus Island, and urged the Turnbull government to consider the idea.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is due to meet his New Zealand counterpart  Jacinda Ardern in Sydney on Sunday.

She's expressed concerns about the Manus Island stand-off in which 600 refugees have barricaded themselves in the mothballed detention centre which closed on Tuesday.

Food and drinking water has run out and the group is too scared to move to alternative accommodation in the main township out of fear they'll be attacked by locals.

But the Immigration Department insists those barricading themselves in the old detention centre have access to food, drinking water and health services at the alternative accommodation facilities.

"We appeal to PNG-determined refugees and failed asylum seekers to move to these locations and to access the services and supports that the PNG government has provided," a spokesman said in a statement.

New Zealand, which takes a total of 750 refugees a year, made an initial resettlement offer under John Key's Government in 2013 to the then Labor Gillard government.

The offer was rejected by both Labor and coalition governments on the grounds that it would give refugees a backdoor into Australia and become a marketing opportunity for people smugglers.

Ms Ardern said the offer still stands.

"I acknowledge that, while New Zealand has not had to contend with these issues on our shores, it's hard to ignore the human face of this situation and nor should it be ignored."

Despite Labor previously rejecting the idea, Mr Shorten said there are strong similarities between this plan and the deal with the United States to resettle up to 1250 people.

"[The Prime Minister] should have the conversation and see if we can make this proposal work," Mr Shorten said.

"If it's not a viable option, then Turnbull should explain why. Doing nothing is not an option."

Immigration minister Peter Dutton said Mr Shorten's "policy on the run" was reminiscent of the Gillard and Rudd Labor governments, which he says presided over an increase in the people smuggling trade.

"Mr Shorten has not sought any briefings on the government's work to clean-up Labor's Manus legacy." he said in a statement.

"Bill Shorten should be showing leadership, not issuing media statements designed to appease the Left of his party.

"His cheap political stunts and mealy mouthed words will be music to the ears of people smugglers."

The Lombrum centre was forced to close after PNG's Supreme Court ruled last year that Australia's detention of refugees and asylum seekers there was illegal and unconstitutional.

United Nations condemnation

The United Nations human rights office has called on Australia to restore food, water and health services to the asylum seekers.

"We call on the Australian government... who interned the men in the first place to immediately provide protection, food, water and other basic services," UN rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing on Friday.

Australia has an obligation to do so under international human rights law and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, he said.

There was no immediate comment from Australia or its representatives in Geneva. Its government has said the camp had been ruled illegal by PNG authorities and it had committed to supply other sites for 12 months.

Reuters / Newshub.