05 August 2016
by Tom McIlroy

Government defies PNG Supreme Court over Manus Island detention resettlement deadline

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

The Australian government has denied any role in a Papua New Guinea court order for resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers held in detention on Manus Island, saying it is not a party to the case.

PNG's Supreme Court is expected to consider Australia's legal responsibility in resettlement of about 900 men being held in the controversial detention centre, but the Department of Immigration and Border Protection denied Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia had summoned an Australian representative to the court on Thursday.

Lawyers are warning the Australian Government could be falsely imprisoning asylum seekers on Manus Island leaving them open to legal action.

The court ordered a resettlement plan in a hearing on Tuesday, a move detainee advocates feared would further delay any release or compensation.

The latest case follows a decision in April that found the detention centre was unconstitutional, prompting the PNG government to begin moves to close it.

"Australia is not a party to these legal proceedings," a department spokeswoman said.

"As this matter is before the court, it is not appropriate to comment, however, contrary to media reporting, the PNG Supreme Court has not ordered that Australia appear before the court; or ordered that the Australian government submit a resettlement plan to the court."

The case is expected back in court on Monday.

A lawyer representing some of Manus refugees, Greg Toop, said the PNG government was arguing it had sole responsibility for their resettlement.

"No one appeared directly on behalf of the Australian government on Thursday in the court proceedings," he said.

"The matter will go back to court next week, at the direction of the Chief Justice, to work out the preliminary issues prior to referring the matter to a full bench of five Supreme Court judges to rule on the issue of responsibility for resettlement purposes.

"We would certainly be arguing it is a joint-venture between two sovereign countries and that there is joint liability there."

Mr Toop said lawyers would seek orders for release, resettlement and compensation for the men, who remain in limbo and able to leave the centre.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's office did not respond to requests for comment about the case this week.

Manus Island MP Ron Knight told ABC radio the best course of action was for the men to be returned to Australia, an option the Turnbull government won't consider.

"The problem now is who is responsible for them," Mr Knight said.

"Ultimately they are there because Australia put them there [and] Australia has to come up with some sort of plan to assist Papua New Guinea to deal with the problem. You just can't pass the buck.

"If I was an Australian and I was in the Australian government and handling this thing I would wash my hands of it . . . but there is a thing called fairness and we cannot leave people locked up for such a long time here, we cannot leave them in limbo like this."

A Pakistani refugee drowned at a waterfall on Manus Island on Wednesday.

Australian officials were in contact with PNG police after the man's body was located, a spokesman said.