The Prime Minister has revealed the government has “quietly” halved the number of asylum seeker children Nauru as he called for “respect” for the island.
Amid calls to urgently remove all children to respond to a mental health crisis, Scott Morrison confirmed that children are being brought to Australia where possible to do so.
“We’ve been getting about this quietly. We haven’t been showboating about it, we haven’t been doing any of those things,” he said in Canberra.
“We have just been getting on and dealing with these issues in the appropriate way in accordance with our policies.”
There are now 200 children in Australia for medical treatment.
But despite publicly insisting the children can return to Nauru when their treatment is complete, senior ministers have confirmed they will remain in Australia indefinitely.
Mr Morrison also warned politicians needed to take care not to insult the Pacific island by denigrating the conditions the children were living in.
There are no children in Nauru living in detention, they live in the community like Nauruan children do.
“Nauruan children live on Nauru, children live on Nauru and I think it’s important that when we consider this debate – as I said yesterday – that we show respect to our Pacific neighbours,” he said.
“That is the home of Nauruans, their children live there, their families live there. They go to school there, they run businesses there, they work there. Their life is there and I think we should be tempered in our discussion about the nation of Nauru and I think we should treat them with respect.
On Monday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also publicly announced 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.’’
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,’’ he said.
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,” he told 2GB radio on Monday.
Some Liberals have even raised questions over how many of the asylum seekers arrived as single asylum seekers but have subsequently partnered and given both to children.
“Well, I hate to say it but if it’s such a hell hole, why procreate?”