FRANK BRENNAN, TIM COSTELLO, ROBERT MANNE and JOHN MENADUE. Stopping Boats and Saving Lives Four Years On …

How much longer will we continue to punish proven refugees who are our responsibility while they await interminable, uncertain futures in Nauru and Manus Island?  Everyone knows that not all the proven refugees will be resettled in the USA even once the USA resumes taking refugees in October 2017.   Kevin Rudd first announced the most recent plan for removing unvisaed asylum seekers offshore on 19 July 2013, seven weeks out from the 2013 election.  Richard Marles helped with the negotiation of the deal. 

15 months ago, which was two months out from the 2016 election and immediately after the PNG Supreme Court had struck down the indefinite detention of asylum seekers as unconstitutional, Richard Marles speaking as the ALP Shadow Minister for Immigration told ABC Lateline: ‘What we were not seeking to do was make an example of 2,000 people as a form of deterrence. We were absolutely not seeking to put people in a form of indefinite detention. And we totally acknowledge that the vast majority of those on Manus and Nauru who have been assessed have been found to be genuine refugees. They are deserving a safe, humane and dignified refuge.’ (See

The boats have stopped and will stay stopped.  They’re stopped by joint military and diplomatic co-operation between Australia and Indonesia.  They have remained stopped despite the promise that a significant percentage of the proven refugees on Nauru and Manus will be permanently resettled in the USA.  The boats would remain stopped with ongoing diligent military and diplomatic negotiations even if the refugee remnant on Nauru and Manus Island were to be resettled in New Zealand and Australia, as they were in John Howard’s time.  Meanwhile, all that’s changed since the Marles Lateline interview is that the lives of genuine refugees have been further destroyed by another 15 months of uncertainty.  And now our two major political parties are preparing for yet a third federal election when they think it makes sense to direct that these proven refugees rot in the Pacific.  But for what purpose?  When does the inhumane treatment of a child who is a proven refugee become too costly for the purchase of votes, especially when there is no ongoing coherence to a four year old policy (whose architects thought it would run its course in 12 months!) other than response to fear in the electorate?  Voters have to accept that when it comes to voting in the Senate, they can’t trust the major political parties acting alone or even in concert to do the right thing by children who are proven refugees languishing in the Pacific, in our name and at our cost, as well as theirs.

Sadly for the third election in a row, it seems that both Liberal and Labor will be seeking to ‘make an example of 2,000 people as a form of deterrence’. They completely fail to ‘acknowledge that the vast majority of those on Manus and Nauru who have been assessed have been found to be genuine refugees. They are deserving a safe, humane and dignified refuge.’  The motions put forward by the Left of the ALP at this week’s NSW Party Conference are to be welcomed.  Those wanting to save the lives of refugee children being punished in our name should not have to rely only on the Greens to put things right, especially when it was the ALP which put these children in harm’s way in the first place.  Voters need a real choice on this moral question.  And yes, by all means keep the boats stopped by all authorised military and diplomatic means.  Just stop punishing proven refugees in our name.  We can’t afford a third federal election with no choice on this issue, and with no moral principle underpinning the approach of both major political parties.

(The first of our articles arguing for a breaking of the nexus between stopping boats and inhumane treatment of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island appeared almost a year ago at




Frank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

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5 Responses to FRANK BRENNAN, TIM COSTELLO, ROBERT MANNE and JOHN MENADUE. Stopping Boats and Saving Lives Four Years On …

  1. Kevin Bain says:

    Within Secretary Pezzullo’s effort to humanise his image this week at Inside Story was his comment that the rationing and death at sea issues are predominant and “if people can solve that conundrum, we should adopt the view of the 30 per cent” who find govt policies morally objectionable. Yet the solid reasoning of the 4 above writers, outlined repeatedly, about the redundancy of island deterrence due to existing strong naval barriers seems to have no traction in govt. Conscious cruelty for domestic political advantage is the shameful legacy Pezzullo and his political associates (masters doesn’t seem the right word) cannot evade.

    It would be useful to outline the possible scenarios for the island detainees. My understanding is that the PNG courts have set a deadline of October and in both PNG and Nauru there is no service provider contract beyond that date, the US offer continues to shrink and be pushed further out, and there’s no further third party or UN assistance. So to where? Are they not inevitably to be brought here?

  2. Tony Kevin says:

    Thank you for continuing to fight this good cause. I gave up after the last Labor Party Conference when most refugee activists decided they preferred to retain their moral purity rather than actually try to help get the people off Manus and Nauru into Australia. So Shorten and Marles could safely ignore them . Your pragmatism and logic – always my position – comes late in the political day . Maybe it will finally influence Turnbull to show some humanity. Or maybe we will just go on blindly torturing the inmates of Nauru and Manus. It has certainly changed the way I think about my country.

  3. My parents, who migrated with their six children including me to Australia in 1956 would turn in their graves if they knew how Australia has turned so callously towards refugees on Manus and Nauru .
    The world stands aghast in what is happening in Australia now.
    Back those decades ago, empathy and a welcome was the norm. It seems the refugees are now being punished for not having drowned. Did I read the water and electricity are being turned off on Manus?

    Joseph Mengele would smile.

  4. Terry Laidler says:

    The sad reality I think, John, was that this immoral policy was always about deterrence. And the consequent fear in both political parties is about the blame they would shoulder for any resumption of the flow of asylum seekers. That’s why your original, very sensible proposal got no traction, and why both parties would rather that those who raise the issue would just go away.

  5. Chris Sidoti says:

    The policies adopted, implemented, pursued and supported by both major political parties constitute crimes against humanity. I cannot in law or conscience vote directly or preferentially for a political party, at any level federal state or local, responsible for crimes against humanity. I have therefore not cast a valid vote in any Australian election since Julia Gillard adopted this policy and Kevin Rudd commenced its implementation, that is, since before 2013. And I cannot and will not cast a valid vote in any future Australian election until one or other major political party disowns this abhorrent policy. I live in hope that some day before my demise I have an opportunity again to vote in an Australian election.

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