A kind of win on Nauru
The kids should be getting off right now, along with everybody else
If it does happen, and soon, getting the last kids in detention off Nauru [$] will be a welcome achievement of the Morrison government, and one that would have been unthinkable had Peter Dutton won his leadership challenge in August, running on a hard borders platform. As the minister generally credited with stopping the boats in the first place, Scott Morrison is perhaps the one person with the conservative cred to prevail over Dutton on this intractable issue. Certainly, Malcolm Turnbull was never able to do so, and it is significant that former attorney-general George Brandis – moderate arch-rival to Dutton – was quick to crow about it this morning. On Sky News, backbencher Craig Kelly all but confirmed that there was a political logic to the decision, saying the issue would be dealt with by the next election. Come next year we can expect to hear a lot from the government about how Labor put the children in detention, and the government got them out, and there’s substance to that argument.
It is particularly hard to pat the government on the back, given how long it has taken to get even this far. ABC political editor Andrew Probyn writes today that the record of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government in getting people out of indefinite detention compares terribly with that of the Howard government. Indeed, why wait until Christmas – why not this week? And as the CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre today tweeted: “if @ScottMorrisonMP is committed to getting all #KidsOffNauru by Xmas then he must withdraw the legal challenge in the Federal Court his lawyers are running tomorrow that’s arguing that the courts should have no legal power to transfer sick kids to Oz.” As former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs said on RN Breakfast this morning, the real credit for getting kids off Nauru should go to those human rights campaigners and their lawyers who have fought on behalf of the detained asylum seekers for years, and to the voters of Wentworth who delivered independent Kerryn Phelps perhaps the biggest and best-timed swing in by-election history.
Regardless of who gets the credit – the Greens, anyone? – today’s #kidsoffnauru win is a heavily qualified victory, being both temporary and partial. Temporary, because bringing the less than 40 remaining children in detention on Nauru, and their families, to Australia for urgently needed medical attention does not resolve their long-term future. They will not be allowed to settle here, as Dutton has confirmed [$] this afternoon, and so remain in limbo. And it is partial, because even if those kids and their families are allowed to stay, what becomes of the remaining detainees on Nauru, and Manus Island for that matter, who are not able to resettle in the United States or New Zealand (assuming that the government and Labor can come to an agreement on that front)?
It was significant today that The Australian’s Margin Call column wrote [$] that the contract to manage the offshore processing centre on Nauru at the exorbitant cost of $29 million per month had been extended for another six months. According to “Marge”, the highly secretive contract with construction and services company Canstruct International was set to end yesterday, but has been extended to April 30 next year. Brisbane-based Canstruct, who took over from Ferrovial (who took over from Transfield), is controlled by the Murphy family. Given that the number of detainees is falling, we can only hope the cost of this contract is going down.
Perhaps worst of all, bringing the kids here now is a tacit acknowledgement from the government that conditions on Nauru are terrible, yet there is no sign of ending the indefinite-detention policy for the people remaining there. Triggs this morning described as “disgraceful” Tony Abbott’s comments this week that Nauru was a “very pleasant island”. In case anyone is imagining Nauru as a tropical paradise, one only has to read former immigration official Shaun Hanns’ essay in The Monthly, which notes that the sewerage system is so bad that, unless you’re born there and so are immune to the E.coli, you can’t even swim in the sea.
Still of concern are signs that Australia is in danger of losing control of the detention regime in Nauru, where the government relies on the income it provides, as former ICAC counsel Geoffrey Watson warned on the ABC’s 7.30 last month. Lawyer George Newhouse, the founder of the National Justice Project that has been fighting to bring the kids here, told me: “It is true that the government of Nauru interferes in offshore removals. There is speculation that they do it for the money. I make no comment about that. But we have had four or five cases that I know of, where the government of Nauru has intervened and stopped people from being removed. And that goes against the government’s spin, that they’re actually not prisoners. The government says ‘these people aren’t prisoners, they’re refugees, they’re free to do whatever they want’ but the fact is that they are not free at all. The government of Nauru proves the lie by their actions.”
Newhouse claims that the mental and physical state of the men on Manus Island is horrific and vows to continue the fight, even once the kids are here, until all the asylum seekers are off both Manus and Nauru. So it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.
since this morning
Scott Morrison has conceded [$] that Malcolm Turnbull was briefed on, and approved to discuss, trade and the Israeli embassy with Indonesia’s president at the Bali oceans conference this week, after earlier comments on 2GB that his predecessor had gone beyond
RMIT ABC Fact Check has rated as “not the full story” a claim by industrial relations minister Kelly O’Dwyer that wages have grown steadily and outstripped inflation over the past decade.
in case you missed it
According to Fairfax Media, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has rebuffed overtures from the Greens for a new pact between the two parties on climate and energy policy ahead of next year’s election.
The Guardian reports that a Shorten Labor government would, if elected, create a national environment protection authority and a new environment act.
More than a dozen members of the NSW Young Nationals have resigned [$] after revelations on the ABC’s Background Briefing program that their own party was being infiltrated by neo-Nazi groups and white supremacists.
The Australian reports that former treasurer Peter Costello has lashed [$] both the Coalition and Labor for excessive spending and taxation over the past decade, and has lamented the lack of fiscal repair, in a new book edited by Tom Frame, Back from the Brink, 1997–2001.
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
If it does happen, and soon, getting the last kids in detention off Nauru [$] will be a welcome achievement of the Morrison government, and one that would have been unthinkable had Peter Dutton won his leadership challenge in August, running on a hard borders platform. As the minister generally credited with stopping the boats in the first place, Scott Morrison is perhaps the one person with the conservative cred to prevail over Dutton on this intractable issue. Certainly, Malcolm Turnbull was never able to do so, and it is significant that former attorney-general George Brandis – moderate arch-rival to Dutton – was quick to crow about it this morning. On Sky News, backbencher Craig Kelly all but...