JOHN MENADUE-Refugees – Donald Trump’s help is accepted but Jacinda Arden’s offer is rejected.

Refugees and asylum seekers are being kept on Manus and Nauru for one purpose only – to serve the government’s party political purposes.

 We welcome US help but not offers of help from NZ.

 Keeping vulnerable people in offshore detention is not deterring boat arrivals. It is the turnback policy that is stopping the boats.  The vulnerable people in Nauru and Manus are being punished for no useful policy purpose.  They should all be brought to Australia where we have well established settlement services.

 In all this cruel mess, the ALP is silent.  Where is its courage and its humanity?

 In the aftermath of the Wentworth by-election there was some hope that after five years we would start to wind back the cruelty we have inflicted on vulnerable people in Manus and Nauru.  But the government continues to contend that if we showed any compassion to detainees, the boats would start again.  That is just not true.

It is also not true that the Abbott/Morrison government stopped the boats in 2013. By the time the Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders came into effect in December 2013, boat arrivals had been reduced from 48 in July 2013 to only 7 in December 2013.  Operation Sovereign Borders was only involved in cleaning up a few loose ends in late 2013 and early 2014.  The deceit continues that the government stopped the boats.  And many in the media continue to accept the government spin.

Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton contend that taking up the NZ offer of 150 refugees would ‘give a green light to people-smugglers’ again.  That is nonsense.  How can they honestly claim that the NZ would start boat arrivals again but there was no risk of more boat arrivals if the government took up and is now implementing the US offer of taking possibly 1,250 refugees.  This response by the US did not result in the boats starting again.  How on earth can the government seriously contend that the NZ offer, but not the US offer, would start the boats coming again.

I am sure that the so called issue of ‘back door ‘ entry from NZ to Australia could have been resolved. What stands in the way is  pig headedness by Australia.

Then to justify bringing some children to Australia for medical reasons, Peter Dutton who triggered the overthrow of Prime Minister Turnbull, told us that bringing some children to Australia was to reduce costs.  That  has not worried the government in the past.

In 2014 the National Commission of Audit advised that it costs

  • $400,000 pa to hold an asylum seeker in offshore detention.
  • $239,000 pa to hold an asylum seeker in detention in Australia.
  • Less than $100,000 pa for an asylum seeker to live in community detention in Australia, and
  • Around $40,000 for an asylum seeker to live for a year in the Australian community on a bridging visa while the refugee claim was processed.

Then to hide the cruelty and policy failure of Manus and Nauru, Morrison and Dutton continue to tell us that stopping the boats is to save drownings at sea.  That is sheer hypocrisy.  The policy is not designed to save drownings, it is designed to play politically to the fear engendered by the Coalition about refugees, foreigners and strangers.

As Tim Costello, Frank Brennan, Robert Manne and I have argued for two years, we should bring all detainees on Manus and Nauru to Australia and continue, and if necessary strengthen, the turnback of boats to Indonesia.

That is not a policy I would have agreed to in the past, but for the sake of the wounded souls on Manus and Nauru, and to rebuild a generous refugee program, we can’t allow boat arrivals to restart.

The Australian community will just not accept boat arrivals, but it will accept organised refugee arrivals that are supervised by the government.  That is the plain fact of political life and must be recognised if we are to get all the people off Manus and Nauru.

To cover its tracks, the government talks of bringing a few children to Australia for medical attention.  But that is not enough.  Do Morrison and Dutton suggest that the children should be brought to Australia without their parents?  That would be even more cruelty.

The continued detention of people on Nauru and Manus serves no useful purpose in stopping the boats.  But the government will not admit it.  It wants to play  ‘border protection’ and ‘fear of the foreigner’ for as long as it can.

In addition to bringing all detainees from Manus and Nauru to Australia and stopping the boats, we need to renew efforts in our own region to manage refugee flows.  The Government is just not doing that.  The principle reason why Australians generously accepted refugees from Indochina  in the past was that we had effective cooperation between UNHCR, regional countries and resettlement countries such as Australia, Canada and the US for the orderly processing in the region and then government-controlled resettlement.

But there is more than government failure and deception in all this.  Afraid of being wedged, the ALP on refugees as on so many other issues, is silent. When will we see  from the ALP some courage and humanity to help vulnerable people that are being punished in the name of Australia.

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John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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