Turnbull claims Australian border policies 'best in world' despite widespread criticism


Prime minister lauds generosity of Australia’s humanitarian program despite concerns about slow resettlement and indefinite offshore detention

Malcolm Turnbull has claimed Australia’s border protection policy is the best in the world, ahead of refugee talks at the United Nations which will include fresh scrutiny of Australia’s offshore detention system. The prime minister said in New York on Saturday that Australia’s border policies, which include indefinite offshore detention and controversial boat turnbacks at sea, were the “right responses”. Turnbull said that “strong borders” and one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world “go together” because the public accepted migration when the government appeared in control of its borders.


On Saturday the new Pacific representative of the United Nation human rights office, Chitralekha Massey, told Guardian Australia that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Nauru “is unsustainable, it’s a violation and it’s unnecessary”.

Australia’s detention facilities have drawn heavy domestic and international criticism following the Guardian’s publication of the Nauru files, more than 2,000 leaked incident reports that laid bare the devastating abuse and trauma inflicted on children held there.

On Tuesday the 73rd committee on the rights of the child will be held in Geneva. The United Nations committee has asked Nauru to attend the hearings, in part to provide an update on the frameworks in place to protect child asylum seekers on the island.

“Our policy on border protection is the best in the world,” Turnbull claimed.

“Public opinion will not accept a generous humanitarian program, a substantial migration program, unless the government is seen to be in command of its borders,” he cautioned.

The prime minister cited worldwide evidence of uncontrolled migration flows which cause destabilisation but insisted he wasn’t about to dictate to others.

“We don’t tell anybody else how to run their country,” he said.

On Sunday Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong, said the opposition provided bipartisan support for many aspects of the border protection policy.

She added: “I think support for offshore processing doesn’t mean support for indefinite punitive detention and the government really does need to start looking at third-country resettlement.”

Wong also criticised the speed with which Australia was accepting refugees from Syria, saying it was “very slow to process people for those places” compared to other nations.

Leading Australian humanitarian organisations have said Australia’s promise to settle 12,000 refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq appears “hollow” because there had been just 3,500 arrivals since then prime minister Tony Abbott promised the new intake a year ago.

Turnbull’s comments follow a speech by his predecessor Tony Abbott in which he said Europe should pay heed to Australia’s success in controlling its borders and warned the refugee crisis “can’t be managed, but must be resolved”.

Abbott reportedly told a gathering of centre-right members of the ­European Parliament in Prague that countries should be able to determine who comes to their countries, and the circumstances in which they come, echoing former prime minister John Howard.

“After all, a country or a continent that can’t control who enters its territory will eventually lose control of its future,” he said. “Too many are coming, not with gratitude in their hearts, but with the conviction that Europe should make way for them.”

Speaking from New York on Sunday, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, told ABC’s Insiders Australia’s response to refugees was different to Europe’s “because we’re not landlocked and we don’t have porous borders”.

He described water surrounding the island nation of Australia as part of its “natural defence”.

Dutton provided an upbeat assessment of conditions in offshore detention, saying they were “very different” to refugee camps elsewhere, including people fleeing Syria in camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

Asked about resettlement options for refugees, Dutton replied: “We’re in discussions with a number of third countries but we have to provide an arrangement that is not going to provide a pull factor.”

He said Australia was prepared to maintain offshore detention in Nauru for decades but he hoped the centre would be empty.

Turnbull, who will remain in New York with the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and Dutton, has accepted an invitation to attend a summit on refugees called by US president Barack Obama, which will take place on the sidelines of the 71st session of the UN general assembly on Tuesday.

Obama wants the gathering to commit to increasing funding for humanitarian organisations and global appeals by at least 30%, boost resettlement options and increase opportunities for refugees through education.

He hopes the meeting will address the level of displacement the world has not seen since the days of the second world war.

Advocates want the government to boost Australia’s humanitarian intake beyond the slated 18,750 by 2018-19 and speed up the pace of resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Additional reporting by Australian Associated Press

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