Australia 'has lost moral compass' over immigration detention: New Zealand opposition

Australia 'has lost moral compass' over immigration detention: New Zealand opposition


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Former prime minister Julia Gillard with New Zealand Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer in 2012. Photo: Penny Bradfield

Former prime minister Julia Gillard with New Zealand Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer in 2012. Photo: Penny Bradfield

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A senior New Zealand politician has accused Australia of losing its moral compass over treatment of asylum seekers and refugees held in immigration detention on Nauru, and suggested his country should step in to help find a resolution.

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International outrage about Australia's treatment of people held in immigration detention on Nauru and Manus Island is growing, as senior British and New Zealand politicians question the Turnbull government's approach amid revelations of abuse, sexual violence and self-harm.

New Zealand Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer accused Australia of losing its moral compass over offshore detention, suggesting his country should step in to resettle asylum seekers and refugees.

The comments came as the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats party Tim Farron called on the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to speak to Australia's high commissioner about immigration policies.

Mr Shearer, a former Labour leader and United Nations humanitarian worker, said Australia's offshore detention regime was abysmal and unsustainable, and said Australian voters were prepared to "push under the carpet" knowledge of conditions on Nauru and Manus Island, in contrast to public condemnation of mistreatment inside the Northern Territory's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre that prompted a royal commission last month.

The comments came as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten prepares to push for a Senate inquiry into offshore detention in the new Parliament.

Mr Shearer has written to Australia's high commissioner in Wellington calling for a change in approach by the Turnbull government after more than 2000 incident reports from Nauru were published last week, arguing 150 refugees should be quickly resettled in New Zealand on the condition Australia's offshore detention camps were closed.

The leaked reports detailed sexual violence, child abuse, mistreatment and self-harm on Nauru, dating from 2012 until last year.

"They highlighted the fact that this policy is unsustainable," Mr Shearer said. "I mean it's almost like Australia has lost its moral compass in terms of where it's going.

"I really do think New Zealand, however it can, should make the offer to say 'look, what is it we can do to short-circuit this and bring these kids' detention to an end'."

"I do think Australia's reputation is being diminished as a result."

New Zealand offered to assist Australia in resettling asylum seekers in 2013 and 2015, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ruled out co-operation amid concerns it could give encouragement and "marketing opportunities" to people smugglers.

Mr Shearer linked the possible assistance to New Zealand's role in resettling asylum seekers caught up in the 2001 Tampa refugee crisis, who he said were doing "fabulously well" in New Zealand today.

"If we were to intervene and get involved in this, it would have to be on the basis that these camps are going to close down and we are helping to do that," he said.

"Their seeming indefinite detention is the most damaging for their medical and psychological health. Added to that is the fact it's illegal under Australian law for any doctor or health worker to speak publicly on the health or treatment of these people.

"Ultimately, the decision on what to do will be Australia's to make but there's no doubt the policy is unsustainable, and New Zealand needs to help bring a resolution in any way it can."

Last year, New Zealand suspended some assistance payments to Nauru over concerns about civil rights and the rule of law in the island nation.

Mr Farron told The Guardian detention of asylum seekers, including children, should be a last resort.

"I have written to Boris Johnson urging him to meet urgently with the Australian high commissioner to express deep concern about the situation in Nauru, and stress that their responsibilities under the 1951 convention apply the same in Nauru as they would to refugees in Australia," he said.

As federal Parliament prepares to resume on August 30, Labor believes terms of reference for the inquiry can include contributing factors to detention abuse, reporting mechanisms, internal investigations and the role of centre operators.

The opposition looks likely to have support from the nine Greens senators plus another four crossbenchers to establish the inquiry.

Mr Shorten slammed the government's response to the leak as arrogant.

"We need to get to the bottom of what is really going on," he said on Sunday.

The story Australia 'has lost moral compass' over immigration detention: New Zealand opposition first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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