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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (image via YouTube).

'I, like you, believe Australia has a moral obligation to ensure refugees have access to essential services and can live in safety. It is incumbent on the Turnbull Government, working with PNG authorities, to ensure this is provided.'

~ Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Reply to Open Letter from former Australians of the Year, 24 November 2017

RESPONSE TO OPEN LETTER FROM FORMER AUSTRALIANS OF THE YEAR  IN RESPECT TO ASYLUM SEEKERS AND MANUS ISLAND 

Dear Former Australians of the Year 

I appreciate the thoughtful and considered letter that you have written to Mr Turnbull and myself on the situation affecting asylum seekers on Manus Island. 

I, together with many Australians, share your concerns over the need to resolve the future of asylum seekers on Manus, as well as those residing on Nauru. 

There is no doubt that these people have been there too long, in conditions that are not adequate, and this has impacted on their health and well-being. No one of good conscience can be satisfied with the current situation. 

The processing facilities on Manus and Nauru were set up as transit centres to ensure Australia was not a destination for people smugglers, and to stop the deaths at sea. This strategy worked. 

But under the Turnbull Government, the transit centres have become places of indefinite detention. This was never the purpose of the centres, and is the result of a failure to negotiate timely and suitable third country resettlement options. 

Labor strongly supports the refugee resettlement arrangements that have been agreed with the United States, and wants all eligible refugees off Manus and Nauru and resettled in third countries as soon as possible. It’s for this reason that Mr Turnbull’s stubborn refusal to consider New Zealand’s offer to resettle eligible refugees is so perplexing. 

'There is no doubt that these people have been there too long, in conditions that are not adequate, and this has impacted on their health and well-being.'

I have repeatedly called on Mr Turnbull to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle eligible refugees. Such an agreement – with appropriate conditions – should be negotiated immediately, along with other viable third country resettlement options. 

The longer it takes to secure third-country resettlement arrangements like New Zealand, the longer asylum seekers will languish on Manus and Nauru. 

I, like you, believe Australia has a moral obligation to ensure refugees have access to essential services and can live in safety. It is incumbent on the Turnbull Government, working with PNG authorities, to ensure this is provided. 

The former regional processing centre on Manus Island closed as a result of a decision by the Supreme Court of PNG — Australia cannot reverse this decision. 

The conditions experienced by the men still residing in the former regional processing centre are unacceptable – which is why it’s important that they relocate to the alternative accommodation options to access security, health and welfare services. 

This is the only viable short-term option while third-country resettlement options are secured. 

I believe we all share the same goal — to end the long-term detention of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru. 

I am ready to help the Government secure this outcome. 

More broadly, I believe Australia can, and should, do more to respond to the unprecedented levels of irregular global migration that has resulted from conflict and environmental factors in other parts of the world, and from which the resulting flows of people movement has direct impacts on countries within our region. 

That is why Labor, prior to the last election, made a number of commitments in response, including increasing Australia’s annual humanitarian intake to 27,000 by 2025, providing additional funding to the UNHCR to support its vital work, and working more closely with our neighbours to develop regional solutions to this problem. I believe such measures remain crucial to a comprehensive long-term approach to addressing the irregular movement of people within our broader region. 

Yours sincerely 

Bill Shorten MP 

Leader of the Opposition 

24 November 2017

See Bill Shorten's reply HERE.

Read the open letter to Bill Shorten from Australians of the Year HERE.

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