Gerry Brownlee on Manus asylum seekers

10:04 am on 21 November 2017

National foreign spokesperson Gerry Brownlee has backed the Australian approach to asylum seekers who arrive by boat, saying criticism by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a step too far.

Watch Gerry Brownlee on Morning Report:

Ms Ardern has come under fire from the Opposition for pressuring Australia over its treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island. She has reiterated former Prime Minister John Key's offer for New Zealand to take 150 refugees from Australian offshore detention centres on Manus and Nauru.

She has also pledged $3 million to Papua New Guinea and aid agencies to help care for the refugees holed up in the decommissioned camp on the island.

Australian media has recently reported four boatloads of asylum seekers bound for New Zealand had been turned around, but Ms Ardern told Morning Report yesterday she had received no intelligence briefings on such boats.

National Party's Judith Collins said on Twitter it was staggering Ms Ardern, as "the Minister in charge of our nation's security", had either not had or not read briefings.

Mr Brownlee said Ms Ardern was amping up the response compared to the previous offer from National Party leaders.

"The real point is that we're selecting refugees to come to New Zealand on the basis of their being would be a good fit for our country, but it still leaves Australia with a massive problem.

"And I think criticising them for dealing with people - that have gone through six countries in some cases trying to get to Australia to seek asylum or refugee status - is pretty harsh.

He said he did not doubt Australia would eventually accept New Zealand's offer.

"I think that's a possibility but you've got to let them go through that process."

"Saying that it's an unacceptable situation and Australia needs to live up to its international responsibilities etcetera, I think that's a step too far."

"I think it tends to deny the problem that Australia's got, so it's not just the 400 people who are protesting on Manus Island."

"They're protesting because they don't want to leave the facility which Australia is trying to close down and many of those, you'll find, are not eligible to be considered refugees or asylum seekers so they've got other motives for creating the attention they have."

However, he refused to go into how he might know many of those on Manus Island were not eligible.

He supported Australia's stance on asylum seekers.

"I think you have, to because this is a country that takes five times the number of refugees that we do per capita, and is dealing with a serious problem, they've got big, big sea borders," he said.

"Since those facilities opened there's been no boat people coming or attempting to come to Australia since 2013.

Mr Brownlee said it was strange there were two parties in a coalition who had both campaigned on tightening up immigration to New Zealand but now were "getting very excited about taking any number of these refugees".

"They're all PR in the end, they're all permanent residents in the end."

He said UN officials' statement to the New York Times that they had never seen a wealthy democracy go to such extremes to punish asylum seekers and push them away was "quite an outrageous statement".

He said the new Foreign Minister Winston Peters' statement that Mr Brownlee, his predecessor, had left the relationship with Australia suboptimal and that it needed to be improved was "just one of the sort of things that Winston Peters says".

"I don't think there's anything, or was anything, wrong with the Australian-New Zealand relationship. Australia, remember, were dealing and are dealing with a big big budget deficit that is out for many years in front of them and so they were putting up tertiary fees for Australians.

"And also they're massively hiking their foreign fee payers, New Zealanders are sort of in between that in a different category.

He said he would not make the claim that the relationship was getting worse now, but it was creating a tension point.

He also said Mr Peters' legal bid to find out who leaked information to the media about his superannuation overpayment would affect the government's ability to do its job.

"I think it's odd he's suing the head of a government department and it will, I think, have odd repercussions because if you take away the 'no surprises' expectation of ministers which a case like this will do, that puts any government in a difficult position."

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