My attempt to obtain a copy of the
memorandum of understanding between Australia and
Nauru on processing asylum
seekers has failed. The information section of the Department of Foreign Affairs
referred me to AusAID. The information section of AusAID told me the memorandum
had not been made public.

What we do know is that there is an
agreement between the two countries under which Nauru agrees to take an
unspecified number of asylum seekers sent there by Australia. In return
Australia presumably
pays the expenses of looking after the asylum seekers and a further wad of money
to the Nauruans for being good little boys and girls.

Paternalism is alive and well in the
South Pacific.

The two countries signed the current
agreement – the fourth on the subject – in September last year. When the third
agreement was reached in March 2004 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer at least
issued a press statement giving sketchy details of what $22.5 million in
“development assistance” would be spent on. For the fourth agreement there was
neither statement nor detail.

When asked why there was no
statement last year the AusAID media officer could only offer the suggestion
that perhaps the climate was not right for one. The officer did ring back with
the information that the agreement signed in September 2005 would expire in June

The AusAID website no longer even
bothers to give a total figure for the Nauruan slush money. In this year’s
budget it was lumped in with payments to other small South Pacific countries.
The only clue is in a pie chart showing Nauru receiving 3% of a
direct South Pacific aid total of $434.4 million so presumably this year’s
payment is less than last year’s at maybe $13 million or so.

The only information I can find
about the nature of the agreement whereby Nauru houses our asylum
seekers is the statement by Mr Downer back in December 2001.

He said then Nauru had agreed to accept a
maximum of 1200 persons to be accommodated at the two processing facilities in
the country at any one time. This was an increase of around 400 on the number
of people being processed in Nauru at that time.

“Australia will,” Mr
Downer said, “continue to meet all costs associated with the transfer,
processing and accommodation of the asylum seekers, in addition to meeting the
operating costs of the processing centres. The MOU also guarantees that
Australia will ensure
no persons will remain in Nauru after appropriate
processing procedures are completed.”

If those conditions continue to
apply then it is little wonder that the Nauruans are a little agitated about the
continuing presence on their island of two men found to qualify as refugees but
for whom no permanent home has yet been found.

Michael Gordon writing in The Age
says the acting Nauruan president and health minister, Kieren Keke, was
concerned about the two refugees who had been the subject of much communication
between health professionals and the two governments.

Dr Keke said adverse security
assessments by ASIO had made it difficult to find a country that would agree to
resettle the two men, Muhammad Faisal and Mohammad Sagar. Both have always
insisted there is no justification for the finding.

“If that security ruling was
reassessed favourably, that would certainly open up avenues for them to be taken
to Australia or possibly
a third country. From our point of view, we’re wanting to see the most humane
outcome for these two. They’ve been here for long enough,” Dr Keke told Michael

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey