Why CJ rejected Manus bid

National

The applicant  (Boochani) is  an  asylum  seeker  accommodated  at  the  Manus  regional  processing  centre (MRPC)   which   closed   on   October  31, 2017.
In  his substantive application, he claims declaratory and injunctive relief to enforce certain fundamental  rights guaranteed  under the  Constitution  which  he claims  have  been breached or threatened to be breached by the respondents.
On 26 April 2016, the Supreme Court found the detention of asylum seekers held at the MRPC unconstitutional and illegal and ordered the closure of MRPC by the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
It is now agreed between the parties in the present proceedings that on Tuesday Oct 31, the governments of PNG and Australia closed the MRPC in compliance with the Supreme  Court  decision.
The  applicant  is among  other  asylum  seekers who  have  refused to  move  out  of the  closed  MRPC and to  move  into three  new transit  centres  situated  some  distance  away  from  MRPC   to accommodate the asylum seekers pending decisions on their future settlement.
The applicant claims that since the closure of the  MRPC,  “the  respondents  have  inflicted  extreme  forms  of  punishment  on the asylum seekers  to force them to vacate the Centre and  move to the  ELTC or Hillside  Haus or  East  Haus Camp, which  clearly violate  sections  of the Constitution including Section 36 (1).
The  second  respondent  say  the  transferees  were  given  adequate  notice  of  the impending  closure  of  the  MRPC  and  that  the  PNG  government  assisted  by  the government   of   Australia   took   steps   to   construct   the   new  transit   centres   to accommodate the asylum seekers.
The transit centres offer accommodation facilities of good standard that are far better than those provided to other  asylum seekers living in PNG.
The  facilities  offer  air-conditioned  rooms,  dormitory  style  beds, communal bathrooms  and spaces, laundry facilities and secure fencing.
The asylum seekers  have  complete  freedom  to  move   to  and  from  the  transit  centres.
Bus service is also provided. Also provided  are  food,  water,  electricity,  sanitation  and sewerage, healthcare and living allowance at K280 per fortnight. Photographs of the facility and rooms are in evidence.
It is settled  principle  that  the  applicant  must  persuade  the  Court  that  there  are serious questions to be tried on the substantive  claim, the  balance of convenience favours the grant of interim relief and damages would  not be an adequate remedy.
If damages were an adequate remedy then even is the applicant  has serious issues to be tried, the  interim relief may be refused.
I am mindful that I am not dealing with the merits of the applicant’s substantive claim under which he is claiming the interim relief.
Both the governments of PNG and Australia, by agreement, closed the MRPC on 31st October 2017 at 5pm in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court.
In  closing  the  MRPC,  the   governments   of   PNG   and  Australia  discontinued supplies  of    food  and  drinking  water,  electricity,  food, sewerage  facilities, medical services, security and other services; and required the asylum seekers to vacate the MRPC and move into the three new centres. The asylum seekers were told that if they chose not to leave the MRPC and  move into the three centres, they would do so at their own peril and would have to fend for themselves .
The new transit centres are situated some distance away from MRPC. They are the East Lorengau Transit Centre  that  has facilities to hold up to 400  asylum seekers   who   have   been   determined  to   be  genuine   “refugees”, the   West Lorengau   Transit   Centre   that   can   hold   over   200   asylum   seekers determined to be genuine “refugees”, and the Hillside Haus Transit Centre that can hold up to 200 asylum seekers determined to be “non-refugees”.
The continued presence of the asylum seekers is on the invitation of the PNG Government under exemption of entry requirements under the Migration Act granted by the Minister for Immigration in 2013, and on conditions that allow for the PNG Government to take responsibility over their presence and movement within PNG, and for the PNG Government to determine their refugee status and take responsibility to settle the asylum seekers.
Whilst they remain in PNG, the asylum seekers are subject to PNG laws and under PNG Government control.
What  is not clear and I am  unable to make any definitive and conclusive finding on the   question   whether   the   PNG   Government   takes   sole   responsibility,  legally speaking, to cater for the future welfare  of the asylum seekers  after the closure  of the  MRPC.
In the absence of any conclusive  determination   by  this  Court of  PNG’s  international obligations for asylum seekers living in PNG, I am in no better position to make any definitive  findings  in that  regard.
The  same  is said  of  Australia’s  obligations  under international  law  to  the  extent  that  Australia  may  have  some  responsibility  over asylum  seekers  who  were  destined for  Australia  but redirected  to  PNG  to  process their refugee status on PNG soil.
It seems clear from the thrust of my preliminary finding that the Australia’s legal responsibility over the future welfare of the asylum seekers ended with the closure of MRPC which it operated. And it falls squarely on the government of PNG to take full responsibility over the future welfare of the asylum seekers.
The PNG Government is duty-bound to take all necessary steps under its obligations under the Migration Act and its obligations under international law  to  cater  for  the  future  welfare  and  destiny    of  asylum  seekers.   Australia’s involvement in terms of any assistance it may provide to the PNG Government under any  mutual arrangements remain largely if not purely a  moral responsibility, given that the asylum seekers were Australia-bound when they were redirected to PNG for PNG assistance to   process their  refugee status.
The  PNG Government, a sovereign nation,  in its own  right and with  its eyes wide  open, accepted  full  responsibility in the  first  place  to accept  these  asylum seekers  to  enter  PNG   and  it  is duty-bound under  domestic  and international  law to complete   the task  in settling their future appropriately  in accordance  with  law.
When this point is understood and accepted by  everyone  concerned  and  especially  the  asylum  seekers,  then  it  really  may  not matter which transit accommodation facility situated in PNG or on Manus Island  the asylum  seekers  are accommodated.
There  is little to no advantage to be gained by any asylum   seeker insisting on remaining   at MRPC because Australia’s involvement in maintaining the  MRPC has ceased.
The  impression  I have  formed from seeing pictures of new the facilities is that they appear to be of good quality.
With regard  the application for interim relief, I am satisfied that the government  of PNG  with  the  assistance  of the  Australian  government  have  provided  alternative accommodation  at  three  sites  outside  the  MRPC  compound  that  allow  for  free movement  and access by the asylum seekers, that the services  provided are of good standard  and that the allowances  paid to the asylum seekers  are sufficient for their daily sustenance.
There is no real good reason why they should not voluntarily move to those  new  facilities.
The  security  and  safety  concerns,  the  intimidation  and harassment  complained  of,  cuts to  services  in water  and food  and the  like in the closed  MRPC occurred  in the  process  of  closing the  MRPC.
These  are the  sorts  of things that are normally expected in a situations like the current situation where the MRPC  has  been  closed  under  compulsion  of  a  Supreme  Court  order  and  asylum seekers are required to vacate the MRPC and move into new facilities that are built purposely to afford the free exercise  of their Constitutional rights.  If  the asylum seekers suffered any injury from those actions taken by the officers employed by the governments of PNG or even  Australia, the asylum seekers’  remedy lies in damages.
I am  persuaded that  some  of the  Constitutional  rights under the provisions  of the Constitution  may  have  been  breached  in  terms  of  withdrawal  of  basis  services including food  and drinking water  and  medical  services, threat  and intimidation to their  person  and that  those  are  likely  to  continue  as  long  as the  asylum  seekers remain in the closed MRPC.
On the one hand, it is fair to say that the asylum seekers have brought those upon themselves  in refusing to vacate  the  premises  and  move into the  new transit centres.
It is in the applicant’s own interest that he leaves the closed  MRPC  facility  and  move  into  ELTC  or  HHC  because  he  has  been  granted “refugee status”.
On the other  hand, those  breaches  or  imminent  breaches  have occurred  out  of the  government’s  heavy  handed tactics  to  pressure  and force  the asylum seekers out of the closed MRPC.
I am satisfied that the applicant’s remedy for the breach of his Constitutional rights lies in damages. In all the circumstances,  the balance of convenience favours respondents more so than the applicant.
For the foregoing reasons, the application for interim relief is refused.

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