The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, says conditions at the Nauru detention camp for asylum seekers are better than in Australian mining camps.
Bishop visited the immigration processing centre as part of a three-day tour of the Pacific that included the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
She said living standards for the more than 700 asylum seekers now on Nauru were good.
“They were certainly better than mining camps in Australia and the standard of medical care and services I thought was very high,” Bishop told the ABC.
“We met with a number of the doctors, we talked to them in detail about the services that they’re providing.
“They themselves described the services as comparable to those that would be received in a significant regional centre in Australia.”
Her visit followed a damning report by the UN refugee agency in November which said asylum seekers held at Australia’s offshore centres were being subjected to arbitrary, mandatory and indefinite detention in unsafe and inhumane conditions.
The deputy opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, who accompanied Bishop on the Pacific tour, said Nauru was hot and dry, and not easy to live in, even for Nauruans.
“I did see the recreational facilities that have been built in one of the camps, but like I say I can’t say what was happening in the other two because I wasn’t able to visit those camps,” Plibersek told the ABC.
But the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who spent four days there, said conditions were bleak and inappropriate for children.
Hanson-Young said it was “heart-wrenching” that, so close to Christmas, children in the centres had no toys or a school to attend and were confused about why they were being detained.
All detainees she encountered referred to the facilities as prisons, reflecting the “horrendous reality” of the offshore detention policy supported by the federal government and Labor, she said.
“The reality is we are destroying the lives of these children,” she said.