The Australian government is trying to argue that Nauru’s asylum seeker “processing” centre is not a detention centre.

That’s right, the Turnbull government is trying to argue that asylum seekers being held on Nauru against their will are not in fact in detention.

What an utterly cynical move.

As Josh Taylor reports today, the federal government is currently fighting a case in the High Court that hinges on whether it is constitutional for the government to send people from Australia to a foreign country to be detained in centres funded and, effectively, controlled by the Australian government.

As we revealed yesterday, Australia was complicit in Nauru’s snap decision late last week to make its detention centres “open centres” — allowing asylum seekers to apply for leave from these centres 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And now, lawyers for the government are trying to argue that this surprise move means the centres are not in fact detention centres.

If the government wins this case, it has essentially washed its hands of any legal or moral responsibility for the lives of the desperate people it locks up. That will be a dark day for Australia.

If it looks like detention and leaves asylum seekers in legal limbo like detention, it is detention. No amount of white-washing or tricky manoeuvring by the Australian government will change that.

Peter Fray

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