Permanent structures can't be erected until the landowners give their consent.
But the government insists that negotiations are going well, and they expect agreement will be reached soon.
Matthew Batsiua, Co-chair of the Nauru Government's working group on regional processing, tells Bruce Hill the asylum seekers aren't very happy at having to live under canvas.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Matthew Batsiua, Co-chair of the Nauru Government's working group on regional processing
BATSIUA: It's been one of the sources of complaints because of the facilities are still at a temporary stage. It has been at the forefront of our planning and I can say that same as last week that Minister Bowen announced they had awarded a construction contract for construction to commence. From our side we've been negotiating with landowners to landowners consent for the lease for the centre. And I'm pleased to say that we're getting that finalised. I expect next week we should be close to getting a signed lease, and hopefully if that all goes to plan then in two weeks' time or within a month we could see the commencement of actual physical construction here in Nauru, but construction has already commenced in a sense, we hold materials and all that stuff has already commenced and things have been purchased, and it's just a matter of the actual physical buildings being erected.
HILL: So do you have to wait until you get the consent of the landowners before you go ahead with any of this?
BATSIUA: Well I think that will be logical because you may encounter problems. Say for example negotiations break down at the last hour and you already have buildings here in Nauru ready to be erected, then that may become a bit messy. So our preference has been before any actual construction commences, the negotiations with landowners has to be concluded. But look there is no fear that it will not be concluded successfully. We've had constructive meetings with landowners, and the landowners involved have certainly brought to the table a measure of goodwill and they've negotiated in good faith. And I'm very confident that we will be having a signed lease sooner rather than later.
HILL: Well until that happens what are the asylum seekers actually living in? Are they living in tents of permanent structures, what's life like for them physically?
BATSIUA: The structures that they're being accommodated in now are tents. So these have been the same arrangements from when the army came to setup the initial phase, and that hasn't progressed in terms of the living accommodation. There's been some progress in terms of the support facilities; dining and ablutions and stuff like that. But the actual living accommodation is still tents.
HILL: I can't imagine they're very happy living under canvas?
BATSIUA: No look it is less than ideal. When we spoke to them on the weekend, there was a team of Nauru government officials that went up, including ministers, to talk to them about the processing and field questions. And some of the questions were surrounding the issues of living in tents. It is less than ideal, we do acknowledge and appreciate that point. But as I said we have plans to escalate and improve the permanent, move into the permanent facility phase fairly soon.
HILL: Now I understand that their claims for asylum are actually starting to be processed. Now this is actually being done under Nauruan rather than Australian law, is that right?
BATSIUA: That's correct. It is being processed under Nauruan law. We've had to legislate new laws to provide the framework for that processing, and by doing that we've had to look at models and base our new law on acceptable international standards. We are very confident that we've now got a processing framework in place that will guarantee their rights and that will protect the claims of genuine asylum seekers as seeking refuge. We've got a merits review tribunal for example in place as an oversight body. We've got judicial process that they can appeal to the judicial, to the courts in Nauru if they disagree with the decision for example. We are tendering the assistance that they will require for their claims application, and we will bringing in extra teams to come and sit with them and assist them, file their claims and put together their claims for asylum. And all this will follow up at a first phase, and the first phase as you have mentioned commenced on the weekend. They are the transferees and we're looking to undertake about ten a day, and it will go through the whole number of people here now, that should take roughly about a month.
HILL: Have the Australian government given you any idea of how long they expect this centre to be operating on Nauru, or is it open-ended?
BATSIUA: Look we've never discussed a timeframe. I think there's been some commentary around the place about a timeframe, but we've never bought into a timeframe. We've also focussed on providing a process that is fair, and we believe that the length of time will be determined by the process rather than determined by a set timeframe. And look we are confident we have credible procedures in place, protected by sound laws that have been developed. We're using best practices, so we are confident that the process that we've put in place is a fair one, and the length of time will be determined by the length of time it takes to complete that process.