It takes a lot to shock the jaded denizens of the Canberra press gallery, but the cynicism of the government’s release of the Moss review of allegations of abuse of detainees on Nauru on Friday surprised even them. Journalists are used to seeing governments “take out the trash” of embarrassing or unfavourable news late on a Friday afternoon, but to do so after the death of a former prime minister — better yet, one of the government’s own party — was staggering.

Nor was this any standard-issue embarrassment or inconvenience. This review examined serious allegations of physical and sexual abuse of detainees under Australia’s care, and allegations made by the government that they had been fabricated with the help of its own service providers. The review found allegations of abuse “credible and convincing” and that detainees were scared to report the abuse they were being subjected to, but found no evidence that abuse allegations had been fabricated.

The government insists “stopping the boats” is the panacea for any problem that arises for asylum seekers in detention. In fact, preventing abuse of detainees, and ensuring detainees can safely report abuse without harassment or reprisal, has nothing to do with stopping the boats. As their jailer, Australia has a duty of care to these people. It is possible to deter asylum seeker boat arrivals while ensuring detainees are not physically or sexually abused and while giving them access to appropriate health facilities. But the Immigration Department is unable — or more likely unwilling — to do that.

Peter Fray

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