Australian PM fears disrespecting Nauru over refugees

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: REUTERS

CANBERRA, 30 OCTOBER 2018 (THE AUSTRALIAN) – All asylum-seeker children Australia put on Nauru are living freely in the community just like the locals, the prime minister insists.

Scott Morrison says Australians should be careful not to disrespect the island nation by calling for the children to be removed, but Labor says their health should be the primary consideration.

“That is the home of Nauruans – their children live there, their families live there, they go to school there,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

“We should be tempered in our discussion about the nation of Nauru and I think we should treat them with respect.”

Morrison says the number of children Australia has put there has halved in the past nine weeks, with fewer than 50 remaining on the Pacific island.

“We’ve been getting about this quietly, we haven’t been showboating about it”.

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says five years is too long for children to be in detention.

“The issue of Nauru currently is about the health of children,” he told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

“Where the treating doctors and medical experts say they should be brought off the island to get proper treatment, we should just do that.”

The government has lost its majority in the House of Representatives and is under immense pressure from crossbench MPs to get asylum seekers off Nauru.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton insists all asylum-seeker children will eventually be removed.

“We’re down to 50 – our intention is to reduce it to zero – but to do it in a way that doesn’t restart boats,” he said.

Shorten wants to work with the government to send the asylum seekers to New Zealand, refuting accusations from Dutton that Labor is a threat to border security.

“Labor supports strong borders, we’ll turn back boats where it’s safe to do so,” Shorten said.

“We don’t want the lethal trade of the people smuggler gangs back.”

Dutton says there’s “no doubt” in his mind the boats will restart under a Bill Shorten led Labor government.

There are about 650 asylum seekers left on Nauru, including the 50 children.

Another 626 men remain on Manus Island.

Those on Nauru receive care from 65 medical professionals, including 33 mental health workers.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said the tiny Pacific nation was no “hell hole”.

“If you like living in the tropics it’s a very, very pleasant island,” Abbott said.

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