Hundreds of asylum seeker children quietly brought to Australia for medical treatment will never be returned to Nauru, according to senior government sources.
Five years after Kevin Rudd pledged that “no asylum seeker who comes by boat will ever be resettled in Australia”, the Coalition’s preferred option is to simply bring the children to Australia with no clear path to citizenship.
Despite the tough rhetoric of the Coalition, senior cabinet ministers confirmed to The New Daily that 200 children and their parents would remain in Australia indefinitely, unless they could be resettled with family in the United States.
“We can’t forcibly remove them,” a Coalition source said.
It is understood there are now 200 children living in Australia to secure medical treatment after languishing for years in Nauru, with just under 50 remaining on the island.
Bowing to public pressure, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also publicly announced on Monday a goal of “zero” kids on Nauru.
“We are working at getting people off as soon as possible,” Mr Dutton said in Townsville.
“I want people off Nauru tomorrow, but I need to do it in a way that doesn’t see people drowning at sea.
“We are down to 50 [kids]. Our intention is to get down to zero.”
But the Morrison government will not publicly admit the 200 children have secured de facto rights to live in Australia, fearful it could “restart the boats”.
Mr Dutton also left the door open to a deal on New Zealand despite walking away from talks with Labor recently.
“I’ve never ruled out a deal with New Zealand but we need to do it at the right time.”
However, the Liberals remain opposed to a New Zealand resettlement deal unless Parliament agrees to tough laws prohibiting the asylum seekers from ever returning to Australia – even as tourists – arguing it would operate as a backdoor to Australian citizenship.
Mr Dutton has also claimed that “tragically” some asylum seeker families have recently declined offers to resettle in the US because they believe the option of New Zealand will soon be on the table.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott warned that any move to bring the remaining 50 children to Australia could weaken Australia’s border protection policy.
He described Nauru as “a very pleasant island” with better healthcare than some regional towns in Australia.
“If we give them what they want, we will get more of them – that’s to say, the boats will start up again,” Mr Abbott told 2GB radio on Monday.
“Of course ‘kids off Nauru’ is a great slogan, but it’s a dreadful guide for policy because if we aren’t allowed to have kids on Nauru, just bring some kids with you and you automatically get to Australia.”
In Townsville, LNP MP George Christensen said Australian children were living in tougher conditions.
“I got to tell you there’s Australian children, indigenous and non- indigenous that are probably in a worse position. There’s children in Nauru … playing games and looking as happy as Larry.”
Some Liberals have even raised questions over how many of the asylum seekers arrived as single asylum seekers, but have subsequently partnered and given birth to children.
“Well, I hate to say it but if it’s such a hell hole, why procreate?”