Six years and counting
There is no hope in sight for hundreds of people on Manus Island and Nauru
On July 19, 2013, then prime minister Kevin Rudd reintroduced offshore detention for asylum seekers arriving by boat. Today, to Australia’s shame and international embarrassment, around 800 people are still on Manus Island and Nauru, and there is no sign of a solution from the federal government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to reject New Zealand’s resettlement offer, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last night made clear is still on the table. Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, says [$] that he wants to see offshore processing on Manus end “as soon as possible”, and will use a visit next week to push Morrison for a timetable. Australian Greens senator Nick McKim, who was today deported [$] from PNG after trying to visit a refugee camp, told me from the airport that a spate of self-harm after the re-election of the Morrison government has abated, as people slump into utter despair. On his sixth trip to Manus, McKim says: “It beggars belief but it’s actually, in my experience, worse now than it has ever been.”
On the sixth anniversary of the offshore detention regime, there is some hope that the government’s intended repeal of the successful medivac laws will struggle to win the support of the Senate crossbench. Assuming that the government has the support of One Nation and Cory Bernardi, it still needs to win another vote either from the Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick or Stirling Griff, which is looking unlikely, or from independent senator Jacqui Lambie. McKim confirms that he has discussed the issue with his Tasmanian colleague, Lambie, but will not comment on her thinking, saying simply, “I’ll just leave it at that for now.” McKim hopes that the crossbenchers will participate in the Senate inquiry, he says, “because I have no doubt that the evidence before that inquiry will show that the medivac legislation has saved lives.”
The answer to the fate of the remaining asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru is the New Zealand resettlement offer, says McKim. “This could be done with the stroke of a pen. Scott Morrison claims that he cries at night when he thinks about the refugees on Manus and Nauru. He claims he prays for them. Well, that’s all for nothing unless he takes the very simple action that lies within his power. He could solve this problem today if he wanted to.”
More shocking is that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers has become a template for US President Donald Trump, who has set up controversial immigration camps on the US border with Mexico. McKim says it all goes back to the infamous phone call between Trump and then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, when Australia’s border protection policy was explained to a disbelieving president, who realised that Australia was tougher than the US. “[Trump] was very, very interested in the way that Australia has responded to people seeking asylum,” says McKim, “and there is no doubt that there are very strong echoes of the gulags that Australia has established on Manus Island and Nauru, and Donald Trump’s concentration camps.”
McKim, who tried unsuccessfully to visit the East Lorengau camp with journalist refugee Behrouz Boochani, tweeted a video yesterday, explaining that his passport was taken, he was threatened by heavily armed police officers and then deported. “I just want to be really clear,” says McKim today. “I’ve done nothing wrong on Manus Island. I’ve been here five times previously and, as always, I’m respectful in all interactions with officials and police, and it was no different this time … I’m simply trying to expose the dark truth about conditions for refugees on Manus Island.”
“They just cannot see a positive future or a pathway that can get them to the freedom and safety that they so desperately need … having suffered six years of exile, six years of being deliberately harmed. They’ve been shot at by the Papua New Guinean navy. There’ve been murders, assaults, sexual assaults, they’ve had all the essentials of life cut off from them in late 2017, laid siege to for 23 days by Papua New Guinean authorities to try and starve them out … It’s actually … worse now than it has ever been on Manus Island.”
A series of #SixYearsTooLong rallies will be held around the country tomorrow to mark the anniversary, including in Sydney where former member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps will speak. Refugee advocates yesterday said in a statement: “Billions of dollars have been spent to maintain these arrangements, Australia has put unreasonable pressure on the governments of PNG and Nauru to cooperate, and nearly 2000 people, including around 300 children, have suffered abuse and psychological harm. This is a very sad chapter in Australia’s history, and one which must be brought to an end now.”
“When asked if (McCormack believed) in climate change (he) stated that the climate has always been changing and made reference to various flood and drought events over the past 120 years … When asked what (McCormack) would make of data from meteorological agencies that 18 of the 19 hottest years on record have been in the last 18 years (he) suggested that earlier measurements of temperature by agencies such as the Bureau of Meteorology were not as accurately measured.”
“The 13-point plan [begins with] a call to prioritise new water infrastructure. It also calls for: a legislated right to farm; streamlining state and federal job creation projects; lifting the payroll tax threshold to $1m for regional businesses; tax incentives for debt payment; a rural advisory panel set up by the end of August; decentralisation options; more attractive working visa options in the bush; communication black spot-free by 2025; a call for Destination NSW to back a dedicated Visit the Bush tourism campaign; and minimum standards for health and education in country towns.”
“It is an old-growth river red gum that is up to 800 years old. It has a girth of more than 7 metres and stands more than 30 metres tall. It has been culturally modified, with fire, creating a small room in the base of the trunk. Thousands of Djab Wurrung babies have been born, over multiple generations, within it. The placentas of those babies have been buried under the Directions Trees around it. How do you offset that?”
“Since the quadrennial Netball World Cup began in 1963, Australia has held the trophy aloft 11 times. It’s the type of domination that puts a target firmly on the back of each green and gold dress in Liverpool. Still, although the Diamonds are the reigning champions, the world of netball has changed a lot since their 2015 win against New Zealand’s Silver Ferns in Sydney.”
“The threat posed by plastics, poly-chlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, and other forms of marine pollution may be immense, but it pales into insignificance against that of climate change, something that was made heartbreakingly clear in 2016 and 2017, when the Great Barrier Reef suffered devastating back-to-back bleaching events that killed almost half of its coral.”
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?
On July 19, 2013, then prime minister Kevin Rudd reintroduced offshore detention for asylum seekers arriving by boat. Today, to Australia’s shame and international embarrassment, around 800 people are still on Manus Island and Nauru, and there is no sign of a solution from the federal government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to reject New Zealand’s resettlement offer, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last night made clear is still on the table. Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, says [$] that he wants to see offshore processing on Manus end “as soon as possible”, and will use a visit next week to push Morrison for a timetable. Australian Greens senator Nick McKim, who was today...