Australians have no real idea what conditions are like on Nauru and Manus Island, according to this morning’s very mixed Essential Report. According to polling, 34% of Australians think conditions on Nauru and Manus are “good” or “very good”, while 40% think conditions in our offshore detention centres are “poor” or “very poor”. And 40% of those polled think the 37 babies currently awaiting a return to Nauru should be allowed to stay in Australia, but 39% think they should go back to detention. Presumably the ones who think conditions are just swell see no problem with sending the babies back to detention, while those who think Nauru is a hellhole think they’d be better off in Australia.

But is Nauru an island paradise or a nightmarish concentration camp? That is the central question forming the backbone of Australia’s “stop the boats at all costs” immigration policy — and we have absolutely no idea of the answer. Just one journalist has been granted a visa to report on Nauru since 2013, The Australian‘s Chris Kenny, and journalists have not been able to report from Manus for years. Kenny has described Nauru and the detention centre there as a pleasant place with plenty of job opportunities for happy, healthy asylum seekers. But troubling stories keep coming out of child abuse, rape, self-harm and bleak conditions. Which to believe?

We won’t know until all journalists are allowed to come and go from Nauru and report freely and accurately. At Senate estimates earlier this month Immigration secretary Mike Pezzullo said journalists who didn’t have all the facts about Nauru were publishing false information: “It’s getting to the point that there is advocacy parading as journalism that is actually deleterious to a sensible discussion about these matters.”

We agree with you there, Mike. We need to have a sensible discussion about these matters. And we won’t be able to until we know for sure what is being done in our name.

Peter Fray

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