Australia’s chief law officer has refused to discuss anti-gay laws in Asia-Pacific nations bound to accept asylum seekers less than a fortnight after the federal government claimed it would do more to combat LGBTI human rights abuses overseas.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (pictured left) confirmed the government intends to send all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat without a visa – including LGBTI people fleeing persecution and people living with HIV – to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for processing and permanent resettlement despite laws criminalising homosexual sex, high rates of HIV infection and limited medical and social infrastructure on the impoverished island-nation.
Dreyfus made the comments to the Star Observer while attending a function last week at Sydney’s HIV/AIDS Legal Centre. When questioned by the Star Observer on whether LGBTI asylum seekers would be sent to PNG, Dreyfus was unequivocal.
“You’ve outlined an aspect of PNG law which is of general application but as I say we are not ruling out any group,” Dreyfus said.
“At the same time our Minister for Immigration, Tony Burke, has made it very clear that those transfers won’t occur until there is appropriate accommodation and appropriate circumstances for everyone who is sent.”
Pressed on whether that meant the Australian government would be placing pressure on PNG to reform legal codes, Dreyfus said he would not be drawn “giving a running commentary” on the laws of neighbouring countries, including PNG, Indonesia or Malaysia.
“We don’t think that’s necessary in order for Australia to comply with our international legal obligations and the obligations we have under the Migration Act.”
PNG’s penal code criminalises male same-sex sexual activity, punishing ‘sodomy’ with 14 years imprisonment and other same-sex sexual acts with three years jail.
At a meeting held three weeks ago with a number of LGBTI groups and advocates, Foreign Minister Bob Carr promised the federal government would do more to voice its opposition to anti-gay policies held by overseas governments.
“We … will continue to raise concerns with other nations as appropriate,” Carr said on July 19.
“I have asked my department to undertake a review of LGBTI issues throughout the Pacific region … Where appropriate, I will look to take these issues up directly with my international counterparts.”
PNG receives about $500 million of aid from the Australian Government each year, making it the second largest recipient of Australian aid after Indonesia.
Photo: Serkan Ozturk