10 Nov 2015

NZ accused of going easy on Australia's immigration policy at UN

1:39 pm on 10 November 2015

The New Zealand government has been accused of going easy on Australia when it appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Mr Key today defended the government's submission to the UNHRC which contained no criticism of Australia's stance on asylum-seekers.

This country had other ways of taking up matters with the Australians, he said.

"Our simple point isn't about what happens in those detention centres because if someone has concern about that we expect them to come to us and we will raise that through our consular and foreign affairs officials.

"All I'm saying to you is we don't need to go to Geneva to do that, we make those points absolutely directly to the Australians."

Detainees on Manus Island

Australia is under fire for the way it runs its detention centres, including this one on Manus Island Photo: AAP

Australia is in the midst of a four-yearly human rights review by the UN and is also bidding for a seat on the council. Labour and the Greens say New Zealand should oppose the bid.

They and the Maori Party, a government ally, have criticised Australia's treatment of detainees in its detention centres, particularly on Christmas Island where New Zealanders are being held and which has been the scene of rioting following the death of an Iranian asylum seeker.

Last night, Australia faced questions about its asylum seeker and detention policies, as well as its treatment of Aborigines as part of its human rights review.

The hearing in Geneva allowed other nations to question Australia on its human rights performance. Britain, Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States were among dozens of countries criticising Australia's asylum policies.

New Zealand's submission to the council did not question Australia's treatment of asylum seekers or other detainees at Australian detention centres.

Instead it commended Australia for amending its Sex Discrimination Act to provide protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

"However, we note that further work is needed in the areas of indigenous and minority rights. New Zealand recommends that Australia continue to address inequalities affecting human rights in the areas of health, education, employment and income that disproportionately affect indigenous peoples and other minority groups.

"While we commend Australia's signature of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, New Zealand recommends that Australia ratify OPCAT and implement a National Preventative Mechanism.

"Finally, New Zealand recommends that Australia introduces measures to address issues related to the treatment of persons with disabilities, including considering the implementation of recommendations from both the Australian Law Reform Commission's report on Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws, and the Senate inquiry into high levels of violence and abuse of persons with disabilities in institutional and residential settings.

"We wish the delegation a successful review."

Maori Party 'appalled'

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said she was appalled the Government did not question Australia's record on detention centres.

She said the Maori Party had sent the Government a series of questions to ask Australia but had been told they were not needed.

Ms Fox said she was astonished and could not understand why questions were not raised.

"It smacks of this matey relationship the Government wants to have with Australia. But they need to open their eyes. Australia has not afforded us the same courtesy," she said.

Australia cites offer to resettle refugees

Members of Australia's delegation defended the country's policies on asylum seekers.

"Irregular migration flows pose particular challenges to a managed and equitable system of migration," said John Reid of the attorney-general department, who led the delegation.

"Strong border protection measures" had helped maintain the government's significant humanitarian resettlement and assistance programmes, he said, citing its offer to resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

"No asylum seeker who engages our (international) protection obligation is ever returned to a situation of danger," said Andrew Goledzinowski, ambassador for people-smuggling issues in the foreign ministry. No one had died trying to reach Australian shores over the past 18 months.

Meanwhile, the government relations advisor at Amnesty International Australia, Tamara Lions, said a number of countries had questioned Australia's record on detention centres.

Ms Lions said by raising the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture New Zealand had also effectively raised the issue because that protocol covered the monitoring of detention centres.

She said worries about Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and other detainees would affect Australia's bid to get a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.