Dutton plays down timing of Nauru decision

The federal government has played down the timing of a decision by the Nauru government that allows asylum seekers to roam the island nation at will.

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The decision was announced before the High Court of Australia hears a legal challenge on Wednesday.

The Nauru government also announced it will process the outstanding refugee claims of all 600 asylum seekers within the next week.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton denies the developments are linked to the legal challenge, insisting the Nauru government had been processing claims and was in the final stages of finalising decision.

“It’s not just an announcement 48 hours … before a court case,” Mr Dutton told ABC TV on Tuesday.

The Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre is challenging the legality of Australia’s role in the detention centre.

Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young believes the timing is “very coincidental”.

“This (decision of Nauru) doesn’t remove the point that Australia has responsibility for these people,” she told ABC radio.

Asked if he could guarantee the safety of refugees and asylum seekers in the Nauru community after recent rape claims, Mr Dutton said governments could not provide those undertakings generally.

“The Australian government or the Queensland or New South Wales, Victorian government, can’t provide you with that guarantee for people coming out into the Australian society,” he said.

The United Nation’s refugee agency has praised the new open-centre arrangement as well as plans to clear the backlog of refugee claims.

The moves were in line with its global strategy to end the detention of asylum seekers and refugees and which calls on states to pursue workable alternatives, it said in a statement.