The much-touted refugee "swap" deal between Australia and the United States may prove far less successful than hoped, after a leaked call transcript revealed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admitting to Donald Trump the U.S. could honour the deal without resettling a single refugee from Manus or Nauru.
The Washington Post published full transcripts of President Trump's phone call with Turnbull from February this year, a call which the newspaper reported at the time led Trump to berate the PM over the refugee swap deal, placing Turnbull under enormous domestic pressure. The plan, agreed to under the Obama administration, saw the U.S. agree to take up to 1,250 genuine refugees from Australian-run processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru, in exchange for a number of refugees from Central America. The federal government had touted this plan as a way to get people out of those centres without compromising the long-standing policy and promise that nobody who had attempted to reach Australia by boat would ever settle in the country.
However, according to the leaked transcript published by the Washington Post, Turnbull assured an irate Trump that the U.S. would not have to take a large number of refugees from Australia – in fact, they could take none, and still hold up their end of the deal.
"It [the deal] does not require you to take any," Turnbull said.
"The obligation is for the United States to look and examine and take up to and only if they so choose."
"You can decide to take them or to not take them after vetting. You can decide to take 1,000 or 100. It is entirely up to you. The obligation is to only go through the process."
Turnbull twice referred to those on Manus and Nauru as "economic refugees". This is despite the Department of Immigration and Border Protection reporting in its June update that 729 of the 1025 refugee status determinations on Manus Island were positive, and 1,052 of the 1,210 on Nauru were positive, meaning they were found to be genuine refugees.
The PM also repeatedly assured Trump that the U.S. had full control over how many people they decided to take. Turnbull said Trump was "not obliged to take anybody [you] do not want." In contrast, Turnbull promised that Australia would "take anyone you want us to take".
Trump, who initially claimed the deal was for 2,000 refugees and said he had also "heard like 5,000 as well", told Turnbull that their call was "the most unpleasant" he had had with a world leader, and seemed angry about the deal inked by his predecessor.
"I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people," Trump said.
"Maybe you should let them out of prison. I am doing this because Obama made a bad deal.
"I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal that I would have never made. It is an embarrassment to the United States of America."
When Trump and Turnbull finally met for the first time in New York in May, the pair laughed off earlier reports of their phone call.
"We had a good telephone call," Trump said, according to the official transcript, with Turnbull calling it a "great call".
"You guys exaggerated that call. That was a big exaggeration," Trump added.
"We had a very, very good call. It was a little bit of fake news – that's the expression."