The Politics    Friday, October 26, 2018

Nauru days are numbered

By Paddy Manning

Nauru days are numbered


Five years is enough – the government has no excuses left

Patience with Australia’s cruel policy of detaining asylum seekers indefinitely on Manus Island and Nauru appears to have run out, not least within the parliamentary Liberal Party. Moderates have at last found their voice in the wake of Malcolm Turnbull’s ouster. The most touching part of Julia Banks’s speech to parliament late yesterday afternoon came at the end, when the outgoing Victorian Liberal backbencher relayed the story of a little girl on Nauru who asked the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, “Why am I in prison?” When asked her name, the girl gave her number. “That little girl has a name,” said Banks yesterday. “That little girl has a life, and she’s living in child years. Let us as a country not have to apologise to that little girl and the other children on Nauru in years to come.”

Banks is no softie – she was the same MP who earlier this year reckoned she could live on Newstart – and arguably her speech was too little, too late. Perhaps it was in preparation for a potential independent tilt at her Melbourne seat of Chisholm in next year’s election. Still, at least Banks was acknowledging the rank hypocrisy of the Australian government apologising to victims of institutional child sexual abuse while leaving kids to suffer abuse on Nauru. “During the national apology speeches,” said Banks, “I thought to myself, ‘In 10, 20 or 30 years’ time, I don’t want any Australian to have to watch a national apology by the Australian government of the day to the children and families currently on Nauru.’ I know I’m not the only member of parliament who felt this way.”

Earlier this week, in a column for the News Corp tabloids, Peta Credlin acknowledged that ongoing limbo on Manus or Nauru was “not tenable,” but then called out “weak” Liberals who had gone public with criticisms in the lead-up to the Wentworth by-election, and were a risk to Australia’s borders. She singled out Banks and Turnbull loyalist Craig Laundy, calling them “unprincipled lightweights”. And she attacked the asylum seekers themselves:

it’s the Iranians who are the problem because the US won’t accept them and Iran won’t have them back. And like earlier boat people, it’s likely they’ll revisit the country they were fleeing – once they’ve got permanent residency somewhere else. So, they hardly meet the “well-grounded fear-of-persecution” test of a genuine refugee.

Which is misleading as almost all the current detainees have been afforded refugee status.

Minister Peter Dutton told parliament that 13 of the children still on Nauru were with adults who were the subject of “adverse security assessments” from the US authorities, and Fairfax Media’s David Crowe reported, “One rumour is they have fallen foul of Trump’s Iran ban rather than posing a security threat. This is why there is some hope that all could be off the island by Christmas.”

As Waleed Aly wrote in Fairfax Media last night, the failure of the government and the Opposition to agree on legislation to back the New Zealand resettlement option reveals the parliament “engaged in an exercise of political vanity; an attempt to do away with a crisis that was always inevitable, while preserving the politics that created it”. Even as it has moved quietly to evacuate 11 kids from Nauru, the government is challenging the Federal Court’s authority to hear cases that allow sick children to be brought to Australia for emergency medical care. And it remains opposed to scrutiny: the Greens’ Nick McKim today announced he had been refused a visa to visit Nauru, tweeting: “The reason? The Australian Government told them not to let me in. Kids are at risk of dying and Morrison doesn’t want anyone to see.”

In a moment of candour when he was challenging for the Liberal leadership, Peter Dutton said at a press conference: “I think, in the immigration portfolio, you are defined by Nauru and Manus … I would love to get everybody off there tomorrow. If I could have brought them to Australia in a charter flight overnight I would have.”

Well, he can. On the ABC’s 7.30 last night, and in a forthcoming essay for The Monthly, former Department of Home Affairs official Shaun Hanns, who resigned his job last week so that he could speak up about the situation on Manus and Nauru, argued powerfully in favour of bringing the remaining asylum seekers here and leaving the rest of the border protection policy framework in place, especially boat turn-backs: “If we don’t stop this, more people will die,” he told Laura Tingle. “I don’t want that on my conscience, and I am just completely unwilling to have that on my conscience, and we need to get a solution to these people now. Any delay will cost, and it won’t just cost financially. It will be a price paid in blood, people will die, and so it just needs to stop now.”

Time’s up.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

since this morning

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unveiled [$] a $7 billion package of measures to drought-proof Australia, including a cash payment and voucher scheme to give an economic boost to regional towns struggling in harsh conditions, according to The Australian.

The Age reports that the Liberal Party is set to receive $8.5 million from its main donor the Cormack Foundation after achieving a major breakthrough in hostilities.

Also in Fairfax Media, it is reported that former education minister Simon Birmingham vetoed $4.2 million in recommended university research grants for 11 projects in the humanities and the arts. It was the first time a minister had used such powers in more than a decade. Labor described it as “politicisation”.

The Greens will introduce a Senate motion calling on the Coalition to “establish a national anti-corruption commission”, hoping it will pass with support of the crossbench in both houses of parliament.

in case you missed it

In an extended interview, backbench MP Craig Laundy, a Malcolm Turnbull loyalist, tells The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy that he “saw the worst of politics. I had a ringside seat.”

Fairfax Media reports that the Nationals’ federal treasurer and candidate for the Victorian seat of Shepparton, Peter Schwarz, is accused of gouging much of the $850,000 he was paid by Australia’s largest drought-proofing project. He has denied the accusations today.

On energy, the AFR [$] reports that federal energy minister Angus Taylor’s roundtable meeting with big energy companies is under a cloud because of real fears this could amount to an illegal cartel; that Labor states Victoria and Queensland would not commit to anything at today’s COAG energy minister’s meeting; and that Labor would not reverse any government contracts to underwrite a new coal-fired power plant should the Coalition rush to enter into one before the next election.

Meanwhile, in Victoria, Labor and the Coalition are offering rival power plans as the state election looms, reports The Age.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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