Turnbull suggests Australia is not responsible for asylum seekers held offshore

‘Those centres are managed by the respective governments, PNG and Nauru – that’s a fact,’ PM tells Four Corners

Malcolm Turnbull has suggested his government does not bear responsibility for the 2,000 asylum seekers held in Australian-funded detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru but was seeking to resettle them as quickly as possible.

The prime minister said he had been “horrified” when two asylum seekers on Nauru self-immolated in May. “You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that,” he said in an interview on the ABC’s Four Corners program.

But he said he “disputed” whether the “terrible abandonment of hope” that would lead someone to take such a step was the responsibility of his government.

Asked whether the camps were the Australian government’s responsibility, he said: “You have to remember that those places are … those centres are managed by the respective governments, PNG and Nauru. That’s a fact.”

The reporter, Sarah Ferguson, pressed him further: “But are you not responsible for the people in those centres or on those islands as the Australian prime minister who runs the regime that holds them there?”

“Well, we don’t hold them there,” he said. “We don’t hold them there. That is not correct. We do not hold them there.”

Asked a similar question, the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said: “I feel a responsibility that we make sure that we solve the problem. We do owe them a duty of care.”

Turnbull said he thought finding ways to resettle the refugees from the detention centres would be easier after the election.

“We are seeking to do it as quickly as we can, but I have to say to you that it will be easier to do after the election because, of course, people are being encouraged …there is a view that the Labor party will take a weaker view on border protection and all of the evidence suggests that they will and there are plenty of people who are saying to those on Manus and Nauru, ‘Just wait. If there’s a Labor government, you’ll be able to come and settle in Australia.’”

Shorten repeated that, if elected, he would send his immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, to the UN and repeated that he would consider New Zealand as a resettlement country.

A 23-year-old Iranian, Omid Masoumali, set himself alight on Nauru in early May. He died from his injuries two days later. A Somalian refugee, Hodan Yasin, also set herself on fire, sustaining serious injuries.


Lenore Taylor Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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