Bryce Edwards: Political Roundup – Why the refugee deal with Australia isn’t so kind

Bryce Edwards: Political Roundup – Why the refugee deal with Australia isn’t so kind

After nearly a decade, Australia has finally agreed to take up John Key’s 2013 offer that New Zealand takes 150 refugees each year from Australia’s controversial detention centres in the Pacific. But before New Zealand pats itself too hard on the back, here are nine reasons New Zealand’s refugee deal with Australia isn’t as good as it seems:

1) Taking only 150 refugees is miserly
Of the original 4174 detained in Australian refugee camps in the Pacific, New Zealand is agreeing to take only 150 a year. And because the deal is only for three years, it adds up to a mere 450 in total. That’s not enough. There are currently over 1000 refugees stuck in limbo due to the detention centre system. According to the Australian Asylum Seeker Resource Centre “that still leaves over 500 people without any future safety”. It’s not clear why New Zealand wasn’t willing to take more, and why we will stop taking them in three years, when the need will still exist.

2) It obscures the fact that New Zealand takes too few refugees
New Zealand is still woeful in the numbers of refugees it accepts. Proportionally, Australia takes in twice as many refugees as us – their intake is currently 13,750 – and New Zealand sits well down in the rankings internationally. In fact, this has actually gone backwards over recent years. This is partly due to Covid, although refugee advocates complain that the Government is using this as an excuse for not taking more. Despite having a quota commitment of 1,500 refugees a year, last year we only took 463. In fact, since 2019, we have only taken a third of our commitment – about 1500 instead of 4500. To make things worse, the Government has decided that these unfilled spaces won’t be rolled over to future years.

3) The 150 from Australia will take up places of the 1,500 quota for other refugees
The New Zealand Government has decided not to take the 150 refugees in addition to the 1,500 quota – something that the Green Party has been advocating. The Government could easily have extended New Zealand’s measly quota to 1,650 a year, but it has insisted on keeping a tight lid on refugee numbers. If the Government does what it says and soon gets back to filling the 1,500 quota, it will now have less capacity for accepting refugees from crisis spots like Ukraine and Afghanistan.

4) This will take pressure off the New Zealand Government to take in Ukrainian refugees
Activist Branko Marcetic is campaigning for the Government to establish a special category of refugee intake from Ukraine, that is over and above the current quota.  The danger is that the Government will simply bask in the glory of taking in these refugees, and take the pressure off itself to do the right thing about Ukraine, which currently has 6.5 million internally displaced people, and 3.5 million who have fled the country as refugees. New Zealand needs to step up on this crisis.

5) As part of the deal the New Zealand Government has agreed that it won’t take future refugees who attempt to enter Australia by boat
The Australian Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews announced: “This arrangement does not apply to anyone who attempts an illegal maritime journey to Australia in the future.” Explicitly or implicitly, New Zealand has signed up to this, when it should be standing up for the rights of asylum seekers, regardless of how they escape their countries.

6) Refugees in the Pacific detention centres have lost their right to medical evacuation
Behind the scenes in Australia’s deal with New Zealand, Scott Morrison’s Government negotiated with the Senate that the quid pro quo for sending the refugees here would be the abolition of the “Medevac” law which allowed offshore detention centre refugees the right to be evacuated to Australia for medical treatment. The loss of this isn’t New Zealand’s fault, but explains how the Australian Government was able to accept the U-turn.

7) Refugees held in detention by Australia in Papua New Guinea are not part of the deal
It’s not clear why the Australian Government has excluded refugees currently in PNG. Now the New Zealand Government will have to separately try to find a deal for these refugees. The Australian Refugee Action Coalition has today criticised the exclusion of PNG refugees pointing out that they “have suffered even worse torture than those on Nauru.”

8) The deal has blunted New Zealand’s criticisms of Australia’s policy of offshore detention of refugees
In order to appease Australia, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has continually refused to meet or talk with the detained refugees, even when she has visited Nauru. But as Green MP Golriz Ghahraman says today, New Zealand needs to do more to pressure Australia to shut its offshore detention centres permanently. This would have a much bigger positive impact than relieving Australia of its problem. Note that in announcing the news yesterday Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi was at pains to avoid any criticisms of Australia’s cruel detention centre policy, choosing to brush it under the table, and instead focus on boasting of this country’s “proud history” of humanitarian commitment.

9) This also helps Australia legitimise its hard-line stance against asylum seekers and get the Coalition Government re-elected
With only weeks to go until an election in Australia, the motivation for this in Canberra is clearly electoral politics, and we shouldn’t be naïve about that. This deal helps the Coalition Government legitimise its position on offshore detention centres, when there has been rising criticism about the Government’s approach, which could have cost it some of its more urban liberal voters.


Further reading on refugee politics

RNZ: Australian govt amending its refugee policy solely for political reasons – Amnesty
Michael Neilson (Herald): New Zealand and Australia reach deal over refugee resettlement offer
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Australia’s acceptance of New Zealand’s refugee offer ‘100 percent political’, advocate says amid claims of secret deal
Daniel Hurst and Sarah Martin (Guardian): Jacqui Lambie claims Scott Morrison threatened her with jail time if she revealed secret deal on refugees
Katina Curtis and Angus Livingston (Sydney Morning Herald): Jacqui Lambie says she made secret deal with PM to get refugees to NZ
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Popular or not – the PM should ‘own’ taking on 450 refugees
Zane Small (Newshub): Australia officially accepts New Zealand’s long-standing offer to take 150 refugees
1News: Refugee writer slams Australia for 9-year delay on refugee deal
Josh Butler, Daniel Hurst, Ollie Neas (Guardian): Australia agrees 450 refugees can be resettled in New Zealand, nine years after deal first offered
RNZ: Cabinet signed off Australia refugee deal one month ago – minister
No Right Turn: Finally
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why are we allowing Australia off the hook for their own racist refugee policy?
RNZ: Australia finally accepts New Zealand’s offer to take refugees
Thomas Manch (Stuff): New Zealand will receive 150 refugees held offshore by Australia, nine years after offer was made
Bernadette Basagre (Stuff): New Zealand fails to meet refugee quota for third year in a row, short by 1000
Jay Marlowe (The Conversation): Why has New Zealand welcomed Ukrainians fleeing war and not others trying to do the same?
Branko Marcetic (Democracy Project): Let’s take our fair share of Ukrainian refugees


Other items of interest and importance today

Michael Neilson (Herald): Cabinet to consider next steps on Māori self-determination, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Maiki Sherman (1News): ACT Party wants referendum on co-governance with Māori
1News: New ACT Party policy branded ‘divisive’ and ‘bigoted’ by Māori Party
Grant Miller (ODT): Three Waters: Mana whenua halts work with DCC
Audrey Young (Herald): NZ’s next Government: Here’s how the political parties could match up (paywalled)
Michael Neilson (Herald): The Māori Party and the balance of power: Would it go National, Labour or on the cross benches? (paywalled)
Matthew Hooton (Herald): Labour Party rebrands Jacinda Ardern, National better stay sharp (paywalled)
David Farrar: Is it usual to be behind, halfway through your second term?
Stuff: Editorial – Are the poor merely ‘bottom feeders?’
Josie Pagani (Stuff): If you exit at the election, how do you want to be remembered?
Jane Clifton (Listener/Herald): Government can’t win in face of inflation doom spiral(paywalled)
Peter Dunne (Newsroom): Hit by double whammy of global inflation and war in Ukraine
Esther Taunton (Stuff): Households spending extra $3000 a year on essentials, research shows
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): IMF warns debt-loaded housing market could topple the economy, if rates rise
RNZ: NZ economy in strong position though Omicron, Ukraine add uncertainty – IMF
Gareth Vaughan (Interest): Lessons from the UK: Watch for loopholes as the govt moves to strengthen oversight of who company beneficial owners really are
Kate MacNamara (Herald): Business makes last ditch effort to persuade Government to drop sweeping industrial relations reforms
John Bishop (Stuff): The big media merger question is: Will state broadcasting ever be truly independent?
Georgina Campbell (Herald): Independent Police Conduct Authority launches investigation into protests at Parliament
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Parliament protest: Speaker Trevor Mallard’s actions won’t be covered in IPCA review
Henry Cooke (Stuff): Christopher Luxon says wider inquiry of occupation protest needed
RNZ: NZME exploring content deal with Google News
Mark Jennings (Newsroom): Newsroom celebrates five years
Gavin Ellis: Refreshing ingredients in new breakfast menu
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Cost of dental visits in the limelight
Maddison Gourlay (Stuff): Charity filling financial gaps for people in dire need of dental work
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): The China question complicating NZ’s Russia response
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Unsubscribing from freedom