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Nauru to charge Australians $8000 to report on asylum seekers

Australian journalists reporting on asylum seekers detained on Nauru could be charged an extraordinary fee of $8000 for a three month visa, raising concerns about media freedoms.

Nauru's cabinet has endorsed the price rise - from $200 to $8000 for the media visas - but it has not yet passed into law, says Nauru's Principal Immigration Officer Ernest Stephen.

The expensive new fee, which would prevent many journalists from reporting on the condition of asylum seekers being detained in Nauru under Australian government orders, was first reported by The Global Mail, whose photographer Mike Bowers was asked to pay $8000 for a short visit.

After making contact with the Nauruan government two months ago, Mr Bowers reportedly 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 $8000 per visa, single entry valid for 3 months. The visa fee is not refundable if the application is not successful."


Ms Olsson appeared to be unaware that the new visa fee had yet to take effect. In her January 7 email she reportedly said the new fee had been implemented "a couple [of] months ago".

This was news to her colleague Mr Stephen, who told Fairfax Media on Thursday that the $8000 fee was not yet "official" and that he had been told in a meeting on Thursday that he should "put it on hold".

"It's something that Parliament needs to pass," he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten suggested the $8000 fee might have been designed to discourage journalists from visiting Nauru.

But those familiar with Australia's dealings with the Nauruan government over the past decade say the price rise was more likely to be a "business opportunity" than an attempt to suppress information.

"The Nauruans are no fools when it comes to charging vast amounts of money [to process detainees]," a source said.

"When they see a business opportunity and they realise they have the government of the day over a barrel, they go for it".

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the Nauruan decision had nothing to do with the Australian government's attempts to curtail information about asylum seekers.

"The decision was made without reference to the Australian government by the Nauruan government," Mr Morrison said on Thursday.

"As previously stated this is a matter for the Nauruan government."

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