Dear Mr Turnbull,

In relation to refugees, there are two things I want you to do:

(1) Make a public promise immediately that by a certain date in the not too distant future the people detained in PNG and Nauru will no longer be in those places (unless they freely choose to stay), but in some country where they can make a living and live safely with their human rights respected—in Australia, if no other place can be found by that date.

Setting an end-date will give them certainty and reduce the damage to their mental health. Meanwhile there ought to be a substantial improvement in their treatment, an end to the cruelties and humiliation. A set date will give the government a limited time to find third-country settlements. Maybe New Zealand will take a few, perhaps some other countries may (it might be worth trying to negotiate with European countries for a swap), but when the time runs out the rest will be brought to Australia.

(2) “Denounce” the 1951 Convention (, art.45) and announce your intention to enter into a new agreement on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants with Indonesia and other countries in our region.

Other regions also need agreements on this subject: in working out an agreement for our region, your government could provide an international lead.

The crucial point in any agreement must be, to secure the right to work, which according to the UN Declaration is a human right, art. 23(1), Denial of this right keeps displaced people moving, 


My advice is in line with recent statements by Mr Dutton. He does not believe that there are any other countries likely to provide settlement for the Manus-Nauru detainees, and he thinks Australia should withdraw from the 1951 Convention:
“We continue to talk to third countries, but let me tell you, there are very few prospects, if any, on the horizon”,
“I think there is a need for like-minded countries to look at whether a convention designed decades ago is relevant today”,


I recognise that changing your position on this issue would be politically difficult. However, a Prime Minister has a powerful leadership position. Our political system is not government by committee. It is prime-ministerial government, a democratic monarchy, with government entrusted to you while the public supports you. It’s up to you to decide how much cabinet discussion is necessary, and you decide what the outcome is. “Cabinet solidarity” means that ministers must support the position you decide to take, or else they must resign from the cabinet. “Party-room democracy” means that members of your party must support you or replace you—if they replace you you can go to the back bench or, if you think the public supports you, you can go to Yarralumla and request a dissolution; before a vote on something that you define as a matter of confidence in your leadership, you should warn them that if they don’t suppport you you will consider your position. Members of your party can cross the floor in Parliament, but if they defeat you, you can call an election. To call an election you do not need the agreement of your party.

So a prime minister has enough power to do what the electorate will support despite opposition from within the governing party. This is relevant not only to the treatment of the detainees, but also to emissions targets, robodebt and other controversial issues. You seem to think that the weakness of the position of Opposition Leader continues in your position as Prime Minister (see This is a fundamental mistake. An opposition leader has no means of resisting replacement, but a prime minister can resist. A party in government doesn’t change its leader unless it really has to. At the present time your side of politics has no one better able to win an election.

If you use your clout as Prime Minister, you can change your government’s treatment of the people detained on Manus and Nauru. The public will support the change, especially voters currently intending to vote Labor,, Those who won’t support such a change would (for other reasons) never vote in a way that would elect a Labor government.

In a separate message (accessible through this link: I make more suggestions on the politics of the matter.



Yours faithfully,

John Kilcullen