This morning’s appearance at Senate estimates by the Immigration Department, led by its aggressive secretary Mike Pezzullo, yet again illustrates how profoundly broken Australia’s policy of offshore detention really is.

In a bizarre performance, Pezzullo sought to downplay the sexual assault of a child who is to be sent back to Nauru, where his assailant remains free; attacked the accuracy of media coverage of events on Nauru; and said public calls for asylum seekers to be allowed to stay “reduce our discretion” to allow them to remain in Australia.

Pezzullo also said that the leaking of a draft cabinet submission prepared by the department proposing new programs to vet and monitor migrants had been referred to the Australian Federal Police — who are doubtless now combing through the phone metadata of every bureaucrat in the Immigration Department — and whoever leaked it could be jailed.

It’s a strange contrast from Pezzullo: on the one hand criticising the accuracy of media coverage of events on Nauru, on the other overseeing offshore processing on an island detention facility that is, in effect, off-limits to journalists except those guaranteed to be friendly.

Australia’s offshore processing regime has come badly off the rails — and it has done so as a result of the punitive way in which the regime has been allowed to operate by the department, under which rape, child abuse and indefinite detention have become core characteristics of the taxpayer-funded facilities Australia operates. And the more Pezzullo and co try to avoid transparency, the worse it will get.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey