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Feb 8, 2016

Shush your bleeding-heart ‘moral lecturing’, Immigration tells doctors, state premiers, lawyers

Doctors, premiers and the Human Rights Commission all begged the government to allow 267 asylum seekers bound for Nauru to stay. But the government is not for turning.

Josh Taylor — Journalist

Josh Taylor


Michael Pezzullo

Department of Immigration secretary Michael Pezzullo has said the government will not give in to “moral lecturing” from doctors, lawyers, churches and state governments that have pleaded to allow 267 asylum seekers bound for Nauru to stay in Australia.

Last week’s High Court decision upholding the government’s framework for offshore detention for asylum seekers who seek to get to Australia by boat means that 267 asylum seekers, including 37 babies and 54 other children, currently in Australia for medical treatment could be sent back to Nauru any day now.

Refugee advocates, churches, doctors and the Human Rights Commission are just some of those pleading with the government to allow the asylum seekers to stay in Australia. Over the weekend, the Labor premiers of Victoria and South Australia, Daniel Andrews and Jay Weatherill, both told Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that their states would be willing to accommodate and pay the costs for the asylum seekers to stay in Australia. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Liberal premiers Mike Baird (NSW) and Will Hodgman (Tasmania) have also called for the asylum seekers to stay.

The federal government does not appear to be for turning, however. In a Senate estimates hearing this morning, Pezzullo reiterated that asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat would never be settled in Australia, and if a boat is not turned back, the best its passengers can hope for is to be taken to Papua New Guinea or Nauru. He said this was a “durable solution” that would not be compromised by public campaigns like the #letthemstay movement:

“No amount of moral lecturing from those who seem unable to comprehend the negative consequences of an open borders policy will bring forth those solutions. There is no compassion in giving people false hope.”

Pezzullo said the government was now engaged in “quiet diplomacy” including possibly resettling the asylum seekers in a third country, or persuading them to go back to their country of origin. There would be no “bulk” return of asylum seekers to Nauru as it would not be appropriate, he said. The secretary said the handling of the 267 asylum seekers needed to be done quietly and on a case-by-case basis, so as to not give people smugglers a belief that there was a way to get around Australia’s strict border protection policy. Pezzullo told estimates:

“Yielding to emotional gestures in this area of public administration simply reduces the margin for discretionary action which is able to be employed by those people who are actually charged with dealing with the problem.”

Pezzullo later clarified that his comments were not directed specifically at the state premiers, but were more “general”. He said the department did not have a view on letters sent from state premiers to the Prime Minister.

Pezzullo said no asylum seekers had been transferred back to Nauru yet as a result of the High Court decision.

He also took aim at “advocacy parading as journalism”, which often led to incorrect reporting, such as that of the claims of a five-year-old allegedly raped on Nauru. He said the department had investigated the claim, and the incident was related to a child much older than five. He said the alleged assailant was another child two years older than the complainant.

On ABC’s Insiders program yesterday, Turnbull said that the government needed to choose its words carefully around the case of the 267 asylum seekers because people smugglers could twist the words to make other asylum seekers believe that there was a way to Australia by boat:

“What I’m not going to do is give one skerrick of encouragement to those criminals, those people smugglers, who are preying on vulnerable people and seeking to take their money, put them on the high seas in boats where like as not, they will drown.”

Last week Lateline reported on a leaked cabinet document that suggested the government was looking to make it tougher for asylum seekers to get permanent residency in Australia, and an increase in the monitoring of migrants to Australia. Pezzullo told the estimates hearing the leak had been referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation on Friday, but said the document had been prepared by the department for cabinet and had yet to be sent to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, or Turnbull.

Pezzullo said he had only been made aware of the leak when Lateline  began making inquiries about the document. Fairfax also reported it had “obtained” the document, but Pezzullo said it was unclear whether Fairfax had also received a copy, or had just “obtained” a copy of the document from the Lateline website. “I can’t be sure … but it appears to be a singular document that has regrettably been disclosed in an unauthorised fashion,” he said. 

Crikey is live-blogging estimates updates as they happen. Follow our live blog for up-to-the-minute news from the latest round of Senate estimates.

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28 thoughts on “Shush your bleeding-heart ‘moral lecturing’, Immigration tells doctors, state premiers, lawyers

  1. klewso

    And so he should. Who’s running these dungeons?

  2. paddy

    The sheer bastardry is breathtaking.
    Hypocrisy and cruelty above and beyond the call of duty.
    Thanks to the fact that the Internet never forgets, some years down the track, Pezzullo will probably regret today’s performance.
    I certainly hope so!

  3. Grumpy Old Sod

    Our own little Eichmann. We can hold our heads high knowing that now we are mixing it with the big boys.

  4. cairns50

    is this man a public servant who is there to follow what an elected govt dictates or does he see himself acting as a politician carry out public policy as he seems fit?

    if hes doing that he should resign

    his day will come anyway when hes charged with crimes against humanity

  5. Fiona Brooke

    Trying to force refugees back to where they came from is despicable. They fled because they feared for their lives. We should hang our heads in shame at what we are doing. And Pezzullo and his like should be before teh Hague to answer for crimes against humanity

  6. drsmithy

    “No amount of moral lecturing from those who seem unable to comprehend the negative consequences of an open borders policy will bring forth those solutions. There is no compassion in giving people false hope.”

    Why are officials making these sorts of deceitful comments not immediately sanctioned ?

    Nobody is asking for “an open borders policy”.

  7. tonyfunnywalker

    This is an unelected public servant not a dictator — the culture of the Department is known to be doctrinaire but this outburst Pezullo has overstepped the mark. It would appear that Morrison has created a monster which has now moved beyond the realms of good and responsible governance into some sort of a wartime footing autocracy. This will not make public opinion go away –all that it has done is to galvanise the thought that cruelty and illegality is acceptable. At the end of day they are a public servants and public opinion counts — in a democracy anyway if not in Canberra.

  8. Jaybuoy

    Once we let these Ministers and their apparatchiks hide the truth behind “On water matters” we were always headed to the position we now find ourselves..ill informed accessories to whatever crimes are being committed..

  9. John Newton

    Oh it’s alright then it was only a seven year old who raped a five year old.

    My God. Who are these people? Public servants or public slaves?

  10. Dogs breakfast

    Would it be too cynical of me to imagine that the leak came from very high up and may have been just another part of the theatre, and approved with a nod or a wink from the higher ups?

    Would it be too naive of me to think that they are already re-settling refugees from Nauru at a reasonable clip, and won’t be returning these refugees, and also not disclosing it on the basis of ‘operational matters’?

    Both are possible, but perhaps not equally likely.