“I’m worried about developments across the last 24 hours, I’m concerned about what I’ve learnt in the last hour or so, and the situation is volatile — there’s no question about that.”
This was new Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s response to the news that asylum seekers on Manus Island were swallowing razor blades and refusing food and water in a desperate bid not to be resettled in PNG.
Advocates say the situation on Manus is spiralling out of control today and is eerily similar to the lead-up to last February’s violence at the Australian-run centre, which left one asylum seeker dead and several others severely injured.
Dutton has mostly been missing in action since taking over the Immigration portfolio, but he did re-emerge on Friday to lay the blame for the situation on Manus at the feet of refugee advocates.
In fact, advocates and a select few journalists are the only reason we have any information at all about what’s being done at Manus — in our name and with our tax dollars. Dutton and the Abbott government would prefer we knew nothing at all.
Rather than his concern, what Australians need from Dutton is a clear message about what he is going to do about the situation on Manus, before another detainee is killed on our watch.
The top priority for any government must be the safety of those who are in its care — even if its entire policy rationale is to use those in its care as a deterrent to others. Australia may try to squirm its way out of this responsibility by dumping it on the PNG government, but asylum seekers trying to reach Australia detained in an Australian-funded camp run by Australian companies and the Australian government are our responsibility.
It is a responsibility that his predecessor spectacularly failed to discharge. Peter Dutton must demonstrate a willingness to take seriously his — Australia’s — responsibility of care to people it has detained.