The federal government hasn’t ruled out New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees from offshore detention centres, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says.
But Mr Dutton said the offer was not currently in the government’s “best interests”.
“People smugglers are marketing New Zealand at this point,” he said in Townsville on Thursday.
“The Labor Party refuses to accept that.”
Since 2013, New Zealand’s government has publicly offered to settle at least 150 refugees being held on Nauru or Manus Island. That offer has been rebuffed by successive Australian prime ministers.
The issue was raised again at the third leaders’ debate of the election campaign on Wednesday night. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he would seek a regional resettlement deal with New Zealand for remaining refugees, if elected on May 18.
“We agree that we want to discourage people coming here by boat,” he said.
“We want to discourage people being exploited by people smugglers and indeed risking their lives as we’ve seen with cost,” he says.
The government has already indicated it might accept New Zealand’s offer – on the condition the refugees are banned from ever entering Australia. In response, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said re-entry to Australia for former refugees is a matter for the Australian government, not New Zealand’s.
Labor supports the lifetime ban, but Mr Dutton said New Zealand would become a backdoor for entry to Australia.
“As a New Zealand citizen, you have the ability to come to Australia and get a visa on arrival,” he said.
“If they [Labor] are elected into government and they bring people en masse from Nauru and Manus, I promise you the boats will restart.”
Mr Dutton confirmed the Coalition’s border protection policies would not change if it is re-elected on May 18.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would use the US refugee deal, where refugees are subject to extreme vetting, as a framework for a potential arrangement with New Zealand.
“The same system the government uses is the one we would use in our discussions with New Zealand,” he said in Redcliffe, north of Brisbane, on Thursday.
“We are committed to the view that anyone who comes by boat via people smugglers will not be processed and settled in Australia, full stop.”
But he said he was opposed to keeping people in semi-indefinite detention.