Yesterdays announcement by John Key that New Zealand would break the stalemate facing 276 asylum seekers waiting return to Nauru is wonderful news. However it is not the first time this small country has shown compassion and maturity in the face of Australia’s belligerent commitment to inhumane policies.
Under the legislative changes of 2001 which introduced the Pacific Solution, asylum seekers were sent to Nauru and Manus Island for processing of their claims. The policy was the same as that used today. People were told they would not be granted protection in Australia. At the same time some asylum seekers who had managed to get to the mainland had their claims recognised and were granted temporary visas which prevented family reunion.
As a direct consequence of this policy women and children began to make the dangerous journey by boat to join their husbands in Australia. A handful of women and children found themselves on Nauru with no hope of reaching their husbands who had been granted temporary visas in Australia.
In all cases the government inexplicably accepted the claims of refugee status for the husbands and rejected the claims for their wives and children.
The wait for these families for a durable solution took years. The stalemate created by an inhumane and illogical approach from the government was solved when New Zealand accepted these families and offered them the chance to begin a new life.
What did Australia lose? Putting aside credibility as a regional player and mature country Australia lost multiple opportunities.
These people had been recognised as refugees by Australia. They had visas and they had begun to work, study or recover in our communities. Their relief, good will and commitment was rejected by Australia in the pursuit of a policy. Instead New Zealand gained citizens who would contribute to their economy and growth. Children who would grow up safely and go on as proud citizens who wanted the best for their small adoptive nation.
I come from a migrant family. My mother was a refugee, I have worked with and made many friends who are refugees and I can attest to the wealth a country inherits when it invests in providing a safe place for people to grow and live out their dreams.
It’s criminal that Australia is prepared to give that away so readily. But our loss is New Zealand’s gain and I am thankful we have a compassionate neighbour who is prepared to burden share not burden shift.
Senior Lecturer ANU College of Law