Australian Government paid PNG’s legal bills to halt human rights inquiry into Manus

It has been revealed during a Senate Estimates hearing that the Australian Government has made payments towards the Papua New Guinean Government’s legal costs for proceedings relating to the asylum seeker detention centre on Manus Island.

Responding to questions from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Martin Bowles, admitted that the Australian Government has contributed to PNG’s legal bills.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said this was another example of the extraordinary lengths the Australian Government was willing to go to in order to deny asylum seekers their basic rights.

“The fact our Government pays another country's legal bills while at the same time refusing to fund legal assistance for asylum seekers here in Australia shows just how determined this Government is to deny asylum seekers a fair go,” said Mr Webb

The revelations contradict the consistent line from the Australian Government during the Cannings Inquiry that the inquiry was a matter for the PNG Government. The inquiry was initiated by the PNG National Court in order to assess whether conditions on Manus breached PNG’s human rights laws, but it has been put on hold due to the PNG Government’s decision to launch a legal challenge to the inquiry – a decision it reportedly made after consultation with the Australian Government.

“At the time, Scott Morrison was at pains to distance Australia’s involvement with the appeal to halt the human rights inquiry, yet now it would seem that Australia may have been bankrolling it,” said Mr Webb.

Mr Bowles took on notice questions relating to the amounts paid but said the costs were not insignificant.

In March Mr Webb inspected Australia’s detention centre on Manus Island as part of the PNG National Court’s inquiry. He said it was impossible for the Government to wash its hands of responsibility for the appalling conditions on Manus.

“Scott Morrison and the Australian Government pays lip service to PNG sovereignty when it suits them, hiding behind it trying to deflect responsibility, but they’re not fooling anyone – it’s clear that Australia is pulling the strings when it comes to the illegal and cruel asylum seeker policies on Manus,” said Mr Webb.

Editor's Note: The day after the above post was published, The Sydney Morning Herald published this response from the Immigration Minister.