The prospect of gay refugees being resettled in Papua New Guinea, where homosexuality is illegal, is not Australia's problem, a top immigration bureaucrat has said.
At a Senate estimates hearing on Monday night, the head of immigration and border security, Michael Pezzullo, said the fate of gay and bisexual men held in Australian offshore processing is a matter for Papua New Guinea.
Earlier this year, immigration minister Peter Dutton said none of the 854 asylum-seekers detained on Manus Island would be resettled in Australia, following the announcement the detention centre would close.
However, this leaves gay and bisexual refugees in a state of fear over two undesirable options: returning to their country of origin, or being resettled in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
Pezzullo said the Australian government had "acquitted its non-refoulement obligations over two-and-a-half years ago" when agreements with the PNG government were drawn up by the Rudd and Gillard governments.
"In other words," asked Labor senator Louise Pratt, "the Australian government has no responsibility to those gay men who are currently detained on Manus, in terms of whether their human rights in relation to their sexuality will be upheld in PNG or not?"
"The Australian government – a number of governments, actually, that straddle several parliamentary terms – discharged all of its legal undertakings at the time of the transfer, yes," Pezzullo said.
Pezzullo said it may be the case that the government of PNG is not able to resettle gay refugees due to the "contradiction with domestic law", in which case it would be up to the PNG government to find a third-party resettlement option.
PRATT: In the meantime, no homosexual conduct is allowed.
PEZZULLO: Well, I don't know whether it's allowed or not.
PRATT: Well, it's illegal.
PEZZULLO: I'm not an expert on those laws in the domestic jurisdiction of PNG. I understand the question you're asking. What I'm saying is, those persons, the single adult men on Manus, are in the legal jurisdiction of the government of PNG.
Pezzullo later said he understands from reporting that the law in PNG can be characterised in the way described by Pratt.
However, he stressed it is a matter for PNG to resolve and said he could not provide technical advice on how to assist with third-party options.
Pratt suggested another option could be homosexual law reform in PNG. Pezzullo said his department had "enough on our plate":
PRATT: Or homosexual law reform in PNG perhaps.
PEZZULLO: That's not something my department has any role in, Senator.
SEN. IAN MACDONALD: Nor does the Australian government. Anyhow.
PEZZULLO: Well, we have enough on our plate. I don't mean to belittle the point, but the pursuit of law reform around same-sex attraction in foreign jurisdictions is not on my do to list.
PRATT: It's alright, I think I've exhausted that. Clearly the government has no further responsibility.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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