Dutton says Australia won’t ‘surrender our sovereignty’ by signing UN migration deal | Australia news

Australia will not sign a United Nations migration agreement it helped negotiate “in its current form”, Peter Dutton has declared, insisting it is a matter of sovereignty.

Human rights activists have condemned the decision not to become a signatory of global guidelines for dealing with migration as an attempt to avoid further inspection of Australia’s policies.

Confirming the contents of an article which appeared in the Australian earlier this week, the home affairs minister told Sydney radio 2GB that Australia would not sign the UN global compact for migration, which aims to address migration issues in a “safe, orderly and regular” way, if it stayed in its present incarnation.

Australia has taken umbrage at parts of the final draft, which insist “migration detention” should only be used “as a measure of last resort and work towards alternatives”.

The final draft also includes a commitment to “review and revise relevant legislation, policies and practices related to immigration detention to ensure that migrants are not detained arbitrarily, that decisions to detain are based on law, are proportionate, have a legitimate purpose, and are taken on an individual basis, in full compliance with due process and procedural safeguards, and that immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law”.

Dutton told Alan Jones that while Australia was happy to negotiate “in good faith”, “we’re not going to sign any document that’s not in our national interest and it’s not in our national interest to sign our border protection policy over to the UN”.

“We’re not going to sign a deal that sacrifices anything in terms of our border protection policies,” he said.

“We’ve fought hard for them,” he said, adding Australia would not sign at all if it was deemed by the government to be “not in our national interests”.

“We’re not going to surrender our sovereignty – I’m not going to allow unelected bodies dictate to us, to the Australian people.”

The director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, criticised the decision as an attempt to avoid oversight.

“Our government has detained 120 children in an island prison for five years. Twelve people have died. Children as young as 10 are trying to kill themselves,” he said.

“It’s no wonder our government is trying to shirk scrutiny.”

Amnesty International’s head of refugee and migrant rights, Charmain Mohamed, said a second, related global compact on refugees had been an ambitious endeavour that should have created wholesale change in the way refugees were treated by governments all over the world.

“Sadly, world leaders were not up to the challenge of delivering the bold and brave solutions that are so urgently needed.”

Mohamed said the final text entrenched the current approach where states felt they could pick and choose which measures to adopt and which to reject, and that the responsibility for caring for the world’s displaced population, currently at record levels, would remain largely with developing countries least equipped to support them.

And governments were already defying the intent of the compact, Mohamed said.

“As diplomats were negotiating the compact at the UN, European governments were attacking NGOs’ capacity to rescue refugees stranded at sea and hatching new plans to deter and detain refugees, while Australia continued to justify its cruel and torturous detention practices on Manus and Nauru.

“What is needed more than ever is a human-rights based, compassionate response to refugees’ needs, based on global responsibility sharing not responsibility shirking.”

The United States left negotiations on the global compact on migrants late last year, while last week, Hungary became the second UN member state to withdraw, with its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who was elected on an anti-immigration platform, pulling his nation from the deal.

Labor has stayed relatively quiet on the issue, with immigration becoming the latest flashpoint in the super Saturday byelection campaigns, an issue which will continue to dominate the political agenda, as the nation heads to a general election in less than a year.

Earlier this month, Dutton contradicted Scott Morrison’s claim that lower immigration levels would cost the budget, after it was revealed just under 162,420 people had permanently migrated to Australia in the last financial year, a drop from the 183,608 people who followed the same path the year before.

Morrison had warned that following Tony Abbott’s proposal to cut migration numbers by 80,000 people would cost the Australian economy between $4bn and $5bn over four years, but Dutton argued there was an economic argument to make for cutting migration numbers.

“It’s [the impact of lower migration numbers] a positive one, because if we’re bringing more productive people in, then there’s more economic benefit for our country and there’s also greater societal benefit as well.”

On Tuesday, Dutton’s office announced 600 people smugglers had been arrested since Operation Sovereign Borders was initiated under the Abbott government in 2013, with 33 boats turned back and 70 people-smuggling operations interrupted.

Dutton released the information in an attempt to bolster his argument that Labor, under pressure from a push from its left factions, was seeking to dump the government’s policy and “restart the boats”.

In response, Bill Shorten said “the people smugglers will not get back into business regardless of who is the government of Australia”, while accusing Dutton of attempting to provoke people-smuggling operations into action.

“I think the government is trying to goad the people smugglers and goad the boats,” Shorten said.

“You almost get a sense they miss them. That’s the only issue they can talk about in the byelections.”