US or nothing: Australia 'not negotiating' with other countries for refugee resettlement

Australia is not pursuing negotiations with any other countries for the resettlement of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has revealed.

Fronting a Senate inquiry on Monday night, department secretary Mike Pezzullo said no other agreements were being negotiated - despite previous hints that talks with third countries were underway.

"Not at present, no. There is no government direction to sanction such negotiations at the moment," he said.

Mr Pezzullo later drew a distinction between "conversations", "discussions" and "negotiations" the department might have had with other countries in the past two years, and elected to answer the question on notice.

"There's any number of gradations in the world of international diplomacy," he said.

Since announcing a resettlement deal with the US in November, the Turnbull government has maintained it is exploring resettlement options with a number of other countries, but has refused to detail those discussions.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on November 14: "There are other countries that we're in sensitive conversations with at the moment. All of that will continue."

A few days later he told Sky News: "Obviously we've had discussions with a number of other countries, but I don't want to pre???empt any announcement or any discussion."

And at a Senate estimates hearing in October, Mr Pezzullo said the department was "working actively with a number of potential third country resettlement locations", which at that time would have included the US.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Mr Dutton told Fairfax Media: "There is no inconsistency. We don't have any comment in relation to third country arrangements."

If no other resettlement countries are found, refugees have a number of options: access the US deal, resettle in Cambodia, live in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, or return home.

Permanent resettlement is available in PNG, while Nauru offers a 20-year visa for refugees under an agreementwith Australia.

There are just over 900 refugeeson Nauru, in the facility and in the community, and about 600 on Manus Island. The US has indicated it is prepared to accept about 1250 refugees, providing they pass vetting procedures.

Mr Pezzullo said he did not believe it was possible the Trump administration could end up taking no refugees and still honour the Obama-era agreement.

The "aim or goal" of the deal was 1250 people, "so honouring the agreement would take you into that ballpark", he said.

Even so, that would still leave about 250 refugees who would need to accept resettlement in Cambodia, PNG or Nauru. The Australian government will not allow resettlement in Australia, and has rejected a resettlement offer from New Zealand.

Six refugees have taken up the Cambodian offer since it became available in 2014, but only two of those people remain in the country.

Labor's immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said the revelation showed refugees could be "left to languish" in regional processing centres for many years.

"It's not good enough for Peter Dutton to put all his eggs in one basket," he said.

This story US or nothing: Australia 'not negotiating' with other countries for refugee resettlement first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.