Australia says no change in border policy despite Papua New Guinea's court ruling

Members of the environmental group Greenpeace holding a sign that reads "#LET THEM STAY" in front of the Sydney Opera House on Feb 14.
Members of the environmental group Greenpeace holding a sign that reads "#LET THEM STAY" in front of the Sydney Opera House on Feb 14.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Wednesday (April 27) insisted its controversial border protection policy remains valid despite a Papua New Guinea court ruling that the detention of asylum seekers in the country was unconstitutional and illegal.

Canberra has been criticised internationally for sending asylum seekers who attempt to enter the country by boat to remote processing centres on Manus island or the tiny Pacific outpost of Nauru.

It says its actions deter others wanting to make the risky journey, often from Indonesia.

Papua New Guinea's former opposition leader Belden Namah challenged the Manus arrangement in court, claiming it violated the rights of asylum-seekers.

In a 34-page finding on Tuesday, the Supreme Court found that detaining them on the island was "contrary to their constitutional right of personal liberty".

Despite this, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton remained adamant that none of the 850 men held there would come to Australia and the government's policy would not change.

"We want to see people off Manus and off Nauru, but they won't be coming to Australia," he told national radio.

"The government's been very clear and consistent in that message... we'll work with PNG and provide what support is needed to them to help people return to their country of origin or to a third country," he added.

Canberra currently has an arrangement with Cambodia, along with PNG, to resettle those found to be refugees.

Australian media have reported that it is also trying to negotiate deals with Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The court ruled that the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments must "take all steps necessary to cease and prevent" the continued detention of asylum seekers and transferees on Manus, with refugee advocates demanding the detention centre be closed.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has said the ruling could open the door to asylum seekers making damages claims for alleged false imprisonment.

Although the Manus centre is funded by Australia, Mr Dutton said Canberra did not have to bow to the court of a regional neighbour and it was Port Moresby's responsibility to decide what to do next in relation to the detention centre.

The Australian newspaper said PNG may consider passing new laws to overcome the ruling, or send detainees to a regional processing centre elsewhere in the country.

It could also adopt a similar policy to Nauru, where the government last October said the Regional Processing Centre had been converted into an "open centre", giving its inhabitants freedom of movement.