Turnbull opens door to potential refugee deal with New Zealand

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts as he speaks during an official function for the Liberal Party during the Australian general election in Sydney, Australia, July 3, 2016.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts as he speaks during an official function for the Liberal Party during the Australian general election in Sydney, Australia, July 3, 2016. Reuters/David Gray

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has thanked New Zealand for its offer to take 150 refugees held on Manus Island, then hinted at the possibility of accepting the proposal. Turnbull previously refused the offer when NZ prime minister Jacinda Ardern made her first visit to Australia.

"We thank them for the offer, they've kept it outstanding," Turnbull said on Friday, SBS reports. The Aussie leader said he was open to future talks with Ardern once an existing deal with the United States was completed.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has also opened the door to a possible refugee resettlement deal between New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. He recognised that Australia could not block such decision from the two sovereign states.

In an interview with Sky News on Thursday, Dutton said it is an issue between the two countries; sovereign states can enter into bilateral arrangements. But he added that Australia may not be pleased about the potential deal, and that it would run the risk of souring the countries' diplomatic relationships with his country.

According to Dutton, they would have to look into other equities within the respective relationships and would also have to consider their relationship with Australia. The immigration minister’s remarks indicate that Australia has no lawful means of stopping PNG and New Zealand from signing a bilateral deal. But Dutton is expected to frown at such deal amid fears it would lead boats to restart. He said that people smugglers are watching eagerly at the moment.

Dutton said that his statement was not meant to be a threat to New Zealand or PNG, but argued that "any sovereign nation, in any arrangement, would have to think about other equities in the relationship.” He particularly cited that Operation Sovereign Borders also benefits New Zealand by intercepting and turning around boats.

"If any boats arrive tomorrow, those people aren't going to Auckland, they're going to the processing centre on Nauru," Dutton said on Sky News. Operation Sovereign Borders is paid for and executed by Australia.

'Waste of money'

Dutton reacted about newly elected New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern’s undertaking to spend NZ$3 million (AU$2.7 million) for refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. In his judgement, it is “a waste of money.”

He called on the 370 remaining men to move into the alternative accommodation. For Dutton, the situation is similar to tenants refusing to leave the house, and maintained that they need to move out of the regional processing centre for security reasons.

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