An $8,000 Gag Visa
By Nick OlleJanuary 8, 2014
The new price for a shot at reporting on Nauru.
The Nauruan parliament has endorsed a 3,900 per cent increase in the visa application fee for journalists – making it prohibitively expensive for the media to report from the Pacific island republic where Australia now detains hundreds of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
Under the new fee structure, which is expected to come into force this week, it will cost media professionals $8,000 to apply for a single-entry visa valid for up to three months. The money would not be refunded even if the application were rejected.
Presently, journalists can apply for a subclass of business visa for media workers. The Nauru government website says the fee is $200.
Nauru’s Principal Immigration Officer Ernest Stephen told The Global Mail that $200 is the application fee for a single-entry visa for up to three months and that journalists could pay $400 to apply for a one-year multiple-entry visa.
Mr Stephen said the new $8,000 fee had been approved by the Nauruan parliament but would not be implemented until it had been gazetted, which he expected to happen “in the next couple of days”.
Single-entry three-month tourist visas cost $100.
Having initiated contact with the Nauruan government two months ago, The Global Mail’s Mike Bowers received the following email on January 7, from Nauru’s Government Information Office Director Joanna Olsson:
“Sorry for the late response but yes we are granting media visas. The fee is $8,000 per visa, single entry valid for 3 months. The visa fee is not refundable if the application is not successful.”
Olsson was unaware that the new visa fee had yet to take effect. In her January 7 email and in a subsequent telephone conversation she said the new fee had been implemented “a couple [of] months ago”.
Both Olsson and Stephen declined to comment on questions about whether the Australian and Nauruan governments had discussed increasing the media visa application fee to $8,000. Asked about the rationale behind the fee hike, Olsson said, “It would be for revenue purposes. What else would it be for?”
According to Mr Stephen, Nauru’s top visa officer, only “three or four” media visas were granted in 2013. He added that most applications were granted and that two of them were for a US media outlet reporting on diabetes in Nauru. There was a notable increase in the issuing of media visas for a couple of months after Australia’s Labor government reintroduced offshore processing for asylum seekers in September 2012.
The Abbott government was elected in September last year after a high-profile campaign to “stop the boats” and promising a “military-led” response.
In the most recent media briefing from “Operation Sovereign Borders”, in late December, General Angus Campbell confirmed that 804 asylum seekers, including families and children, were being detained on Nauru.
The UNHCR undertook an assessment of the Nauru Regional Processing Centre in October 2013 and concluded in a scathing report that the facility did not provide safe or humane conditions for asylum seekers. Immigration spokeswoman for The Greens, Sarah Hanson-Young, visited Nauru in December and described the conditions for children detained there as “heart-wrenching”.
The Global Mail put the following question to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison:
“Has the Australian government communicated with the Nauruan government about the application fee for journalist visas in that country? (If so, what was the nature of that communication and when did it take place?)”
In an emailed response, a spokesperson for the minister wrote: “This is a matter for the Government of Nauru.”