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Death on Manus Island: the govt is offshoring the accountability

The government lost control of the Manus Island detention centre, and people are dead and seriously injured as a result. There must be full transparency in establishing what happened on our watch there.

What happened last night on Manus Island? One thing is clear: the government lost control of the detention centre, which was re-established by the Rudd government and maintained by the Abbott government. As a result, one person is dead, another is critically injured and 13 others are seriously injured. Dozens more were taken to hospital.

Whether the death and injuries were the result of rioting and escape attempts by asylum seekers or, as refugee advocates claim, the result of assaults by Papua New Guinea police and locals, isn’t yet clear. Refugee advocates have a history of overstating claims of abuse in detention centres. But the allegations made — that PNG police have been involved in unprovoked attacks on asylum seekers — are extraordinarily serious.

The following, from yesterday, was provided to Crikey from a source on the island:

The PNG police have just entered the compound on Manus Island with machine guns. A client called me, and I heard machine gun shots. People are going to die tonight. There’s nothing on the media because they cleared the expats out of the centre. It’s just the PNG police and locals beating up our refugees. I called a refugee activist, but there’s not much I can do. I’ll probably lose my job for leaking info.”

The rationale for Australia’s offshore detention and resettlement policy — and in particular, the use of Papua New Guinea as both a temporary and permanent destination for asylum seekers arriving by boat — is that it deters people from undertaking the risky maritime journey to Australia, which regularly results in drownings. Thus far it appears to have worked — since the Rudd government signed its agreement with PNG that re-established Manus Island, boat arrivals have fallen precipitately; the extent to which the Abbott government’s policy of surreptitiously sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia while our navy risks unauthorised entry into Indonesian waters has contributed to the decline remains open to debate.

But even putting aside that Australia has a duty of care toward those it detains, once people begin dying and being seriously injured while in our custody, that undermines this bipartisan policy rationale of seeking to prevent deaths.

The Coalition professes to be concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers. When then-prime minister Julia Gillard announced the government’s asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia, the Coalition opposed it on the basis that the rights of asylum seekers were at risk. Then-opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison mounted his high horse to complain that asylum seekers would have no work rights or access to education, that the Malaysian government would not protect their human rights. Tony Abbott was later forced to make a humiliating apology for these claims to the Malaysian government when he became PM.

Whatever might have happened in Malaysia, it doesn’t appear comparable to what has occurred on our watch on Manus Island. Morrison, who was so concerned about asylum seekers being caned in Malaysia, readily notes the high levels of violence outside the Manus Island detention centre should asylum seekers try to escape detention.

And judging by his media conference this morning, Morrison is already seeking to use the location of Manus Island — on PNG soil — to deflect responsibility. This is an intended consequence of offshoring — the diffusion of responsibility when things go wrong, making accountability and investigation that much more difficult. This is what governments of all kinds now do: they outsource, offshore and delegate responsibility to other agencies, to the private sector, to other countries (in the case of asylum seekers, all three), enabling them to duck responsibility and redirect scrutiny.

Overlaid on this is the Abbott government’s refusal to provide even basic information about its treatment of asylum seekers, with the absurd excuse that we are engaged in some sort of war that justifies national security-style secrecy. Moreover, it lashes out in confected fury at media scrutiny, claiming the ABC was unpatriotic in reporting allegations of abuse by Royal Australia Navy personnel — although curiously, the likes of Coalition frontbenchers Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop didn’t demand an apology from Fairfax or Reuters when those outlets followed up those allegations with additional evidence.

Allegations of physical abuse are one thing; now, an asylum seeker is dead because of our detention policies, and others severely injured. A transparent inquiry into the circumstances in which these injuries occurred is critical both in terms of providing accountability and to assure Australians that, together, the Labor Party and the Coalition haven’t offshored the issue of asylum seekers into exactly the kind of violent world so many of them are fleeing.

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  • 1
    Wynn
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I’d just like some links or context for the statement that refugee advocates have “a history of overstating claims of abuse in detention centres”. For the most part, I’m not sure how anyone can be sure of this, for the very reasons stated in the article.

    This whole situation is horrifying, and our prospects of seeing the transparency the piece calls for seem to be nil.

  • 2
    The Pedanticist
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    The philosophy of outsourcing is to pay to transfer risk. This but serves to divorce the moral aspect from the operational aspect.

  • 3
    rhwombat
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    The veneer is cracking, and the ghastly truth shows through. The Navy went into Indonesian waters on Morrison’s orders, only for Morrison to accuse them of not following ‘policy’. Nobody but Toady’s minders, Rupert’s lackeys and the Menzies House kiddies believe the official story of the burnt hands of asylum seekers. There aren’t enough bread or circuses to distract from the immolation of our national reputation wrought by the Plutocrat’s Party.

    Meanwhile, Furnival has left another stinking corpse behind Credlin’s arras - this time with Big Alcohol’s prints on it, rather than Big Food, but theres little to distinguish their business models, or their methods. Wonder whether we’ll hear anything about this from any Newscorpse ‘journalist’?

  • 4
    drmick
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Wonder if the “politician of the year” can figure out who the baddies and the goodies are in this one? He as used everyone but the army to get his political will, so maybe they will be called in to protect our border and “mop up” in Manus? if it looks like , smells like and the AFP “raid” a TV Station And lawyers office; it is definitely fascism. Who voted for that?

  • 5
    Steve777
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    We can’t ‘offshore’ responsibility.

  • 6
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    This government is outsourcing responsibility and accountability on everything.

  • 7
    MJPC
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    The USSR had Siberia, Australia has Manus Island for its gulags.
    Remove all copies of “The Great Escape” from the camp library now!

  • 8
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    One thing that seems to have gone missing in the last few months of reporting on the new detention regime, is this: detainees at Manus Island are supposed to be processed and then resettled in PNG; is this happening at all? While I often reach for the remote, as soon I hear Abbott or Morrison mouthing platitudes about Operation Sovereign Borders, I don’t think I have heard any reports of refugees being settled in mainland PNG. Has this actually been happening, and if so, have any of these people been asked what they think of this arrangement? Or have asylum seekers just been festering in Manus; getting incrementally more desperate and inexorably angrier?

  • 9
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps a Royal Commission? After all, one was announced into the whole union movement for much less.

  • 10
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m also curious about the line on refugee advocates overstating claims of abuse. Says who? Any proof?

    And while we have this ugly & inhumane distraction Toady & Co are about to appoint Lord Downer to the plum job as High Commissioner in the UK. Hardly a day passes when I’m not left in some degree of dismay by this government.

    Not that Rudd/Gillard were any better in extending solace to desperate refugees.

  • 11
    drmick
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Zut I am with you there. I think Mr Wombat has also exposed the “nothing to see here move along” process that, if it were not for the very few honest journalists and reporters still avoiding the rancid forehead tattoo of being a murdoch employee, we would not hear about.
    That wonderful line about the ultimate worst types hiding behind “Patriotism” has been proven time and again as a pommie b@stard, fed and led by a septic tank, discredit us and our country; and thanks to their “supporters” we cant do a thing about it.
    Where is superman/batman/Julia when you need her?

  • 12
    Rohan
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Either Marilyn Shepherd has finally been banned or she’s too apoplectic to type.

  • 13
    MarilynJS
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Rudd did not set up the camp on Manus Island, Gillard did. AT least with your irrational hatred for Rudd you could get that part correct.

    Morrison is Ruddock’s apprentice and Ruddock’s ghastly chief of staff is his advisor.

    But Bernard and the entire Australian media are as much to blame for this as anyone with the continual whinging about refugees and pretence that they care about them drowning when it is clear we drowned them and then used the deaths as an excuse to punish those who don’t drown.

  • 14
    Wynn
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad they’re sending Downer to London. I won’t have to hear or see him expressing opinions in the Australian press again. Perhaps they could ship Vanstone and Reith off too.

  • 15
    Tyler T
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    the whole thing absolutely stinks, dozens of injuries to asylum seekers, none to anybody else (even by Morrison’s reports) and the only serious investigation is in the hands of the PNG forces who inflicted all of this violence.

    What an absolute disgrace

  • 16
    Wynn
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    And notwithstanding conflicting reports, sections of the media refer to ‘rioting’.

    Morrison is blaming asylum seekers who left the compound for putting themselves at risk - although nobody has yet said that the person killed was outside the compound.

    And the Labor response is to continue to claim credit for the success of their PNG solution.

    Disgusting all round.

  • 17
    graybul
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Machine Gun and machete. PNG troops operational within an Australian Detention facility. All ‘ex-pats’ extracted to circumnavigate possibility of witnessing carnage. Minister “diffusing” responsibility. Australian Military mute, on death and injury of persons under their authority.
    Main stream Media complicit by a total failure to confront and keep informed, Australian Nation. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” . . I wonder what the Diggers on Anzac Cove would say about current values of today’s Australia. I wonder what refugees and their children now think about their choices. Minister Morrison, General Campbell stand down!!

  • 18
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I think that we shal soon know what sort of voters we have in this country depending on how they react to this inevitable occurrence.
    It’ll be our 21stC version of the country estate dames who would arrange ehtier dinner guests’ seating according to how they felt about Angel & Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
    By their response we’ll know the reckneck, racist, bigots and their ‘oh, well, tch, tch’ fellow travellers.
    Can this ethically illegitimate “government” blunder on for three years without making us a pariah state?

  • 19
    Patriot
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Haha! Shot the stupid illegal in the arѕe. That’s fuсking hilarious. Why didn’t we think of that when they were running amok here?

  • 20
    rhwombat
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Still not quite getting this not-being-a-complete-sociopathic-arsehole-all-the-time-thing working yet, are you Patriot? How surprising.

  • 21
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Mr Wombat, it’s a shame for people like poor Paddy. What with there being only a limited number of positions for for full blown sociopaths in the Australian media, and those who fill those positions, Bolt, Jones, Devine, etc, have no intention of moving on. So wannabe whack jobs are left to ply there imitations on social media; fulminating away in the all too common delusion that regurgitated obnoxiousness is somehow wit.
    Pick me, Alan, pick me, Alan; I’ll say and do anything to get on your show.

  • 22
    EIH01
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    ” It’s the deadly police brutality paid for by Australian taxpayers. Papua New Guinea’s most thuggish paramilitary police unit – allegedly responsible for rapes, murders and other human rights abuses – is being discreetly funded by the Australian Immigration Department to secure the Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre. Officers of the “Mobile Squad”, who last month beat a local man to death on the island , are receiving a special living away allowance of about $100 a day out of funding provided by the department “
    On August 4th 2013 the SMH published this description of the PNG police who will now be INVESTIGATING the incidents on Manus Island. In Germany it was said surely people knew about the concentration camps and, as it turned out, they did, but they pretended not to. We too know about our elected governments concentration camps and we as a nation are also turning a blind eye.
    We have allowed our Government in our name to outsource our brutality and encourage behaviour that would not be tolerated in Australia. But it is positively condoned in out of site, and they are desperately trying to make, out of mind, Manas Island. Australia once had a human rights record to be proud of. Our two major parties are now competing to make it one to be desperately ashamed of.

  • 23
    drmick
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Never thought the ‘I am alright Jack, f@ck you” mob and the NIMBY`s would outnumber the “fair go” and “how can we help” people. Welcome to Australia Pty Ltd and Humanity Ltd. Its not personal. Its business; and we are open for it.

  • 24
    Ian
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Too man patriots like Patriot in this once, I think, fair land.

  • 25
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Why oh why does PatrIdiot still pop up here occasionally?

  • 26
    graybul
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Australian Govt(s) have engineered at multiple levels an incremental dissolution of national values ie our professional Navy incapable of accurately locating position at sea . . a lie; Australian people cannot be told, nor Parliament debate, brutal acts carried out under our name . . loss of accountability; genuine refugees incarcerated, mentally broken as means of forcing individuals to return ‘voluntarily’ to homeland . . torture by any name.
    And so it goes on! Unionist, Corporation, ABC . . all targeted and/or intimidated. No matter how such actions are packaged . . we must never accept nor disengage.

  • 27
    drmick
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    AR; I have a theory that pet is either bolt or a bolt nut; either way, he enjoys acting strange at the airport for the free cavity searches the AFP deliver, and is a total dickhead here for the insults.
    The irony for me was that blot was going to give it away after the high court called him out for what he was; I was delighted until Tony decided to talk him out of it. Bugger; we get two nuts for one bolt and they all have a screw loose.

  • 28
    Patriot
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Bоlt nut? Ha! The pompous, toffish image does nothing for me, what with the opera music, tulips, lah-dee-dah travel and food blogging, etc. He’s also just plain boring to read. If you’ve followed the guy for 6 months you’ve heard everything he has to say.

    Besides that, I’m pretty sure I’m blacklisted from commenting on his blog. Needless to say some of his protestations for free speech now ring a bit hollow with me. He’d argue that that the right to free speech doesn’t confer the obligation to publish. He also argues that the answer to bad speech is good speech. Just not at his place, apparently. With all those good speakers there just itching to speak good, too. What a waste.

  • 29
    rhwombat
    Posted Thursday, 20 February 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Patriot=Pet Riot?

  • 30
    Alan Power
    Posted Thursday, 20 February 2014 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Just did a guided tour of Sachenhausen Concentration Camp outside Berlin which was a Nazi model for subsequent camps. In the narrative as we walked around the camp which was profoundly moving the subject was raised about Australia and its treatment of asylum seekers in the context of how people turn a blind eye to what is happening. Reason is that they are subject to propaganda over time as many of the Germans were. They believed that all non-Aryan people were not fit to be part of the human race. I didn’t defend Australia because I am horrified at our government’s treatment of asylum seekers at putting them into camps without hope. The guide told my group that every Australian who visited the Camp all expressed outrage at the Australian govt and its treatment of the Manus Island detainees.. It all made me more determined to be active in the my protests when I return.

  • 31
    graybul
    Posted Friday, 21 February 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    ALAN . . Looking forward to your contribution on return.

  • 32
    Ian
    Posted Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Alan, It’s good to know the rest of the world knows and cares - at least the people if not “their” governments.

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