Last Thursday, I went to my local pub for dinner. I live in a town where the only local newspaper is owned by Murdoch. I had a choice of two papers to read: the Herald Sun and The Mercury. Neither of which carried any reference to the Nauru leaks and the stories of Australian abuse of detainees that had dominated international news for the last 24 hours.
Australia has been getting a bit of press internationally over The Guardian‘s Nauru leaks. CNN, The New York Times, the Russian network RT, papers in Lebanon, Germany, Jordan, the UK and even Israel have all run the abuse story on Nauru prominently. Australia has only really been mentioned internationally in the past week in relation to the fact we torture children, sanction sexual abuse against women and beat up men in our offshore detention centres.
For the punters down the local, watching sport on Sky and maybe occasionally glancing at the beer-stained Murdoch tabloids on the bar, this revelation, confirmation of their own government’s systematic abuse of those we lock up offshore for the supposed crime of seeking asylum, seemingly hadn’t even happened. Internationally, it was a different story.
Let’s have a look at some of the coverage. Take CNN, for example, a staple for airport lounges, hotels and viewers all over the world. Veteran anchor Kristie Lu Stout hosted an extended interview with Guardian correspondent Paul Farrell. Here is how the world saw the intro to the story:
“There’s a damning new report on the treatment of asylum seekers, especially children, at Australia’s offshore detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru. A document leaked to The Guardian newspaper highlights 2000 cases including assault, sexual abuse and child abuse. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity, but the allegations match those made by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International says they detailed a dysfunctional and cruel system but the Australian government told CNN that many of the reports were unconfirmed allegations. Earlier I spoke to the Guardians Paul Farrell in Sydney and began by asking him what the leaked documents reveal: There are constant allegations and reports of self harm attempts, sexual assault allegations, of abuse, all kinds of horrible things and these are truly staggering to read. I mean, this is the largest leak we have ever seen from inside Australia’s detention network. It really paints a picture that is quite devastating.”
Russian English language network RT ran with “New Nauru files leak exposes horrifying abuse of kids at Australia’s island detention centres“. The story went on to document:
“The leaks reveal 1,086 incidents involving children, who make up only 18 percent of Nauru’s 442 detainees. There are 59 reports of assault on children within the files.
“Perhaps the most chilling reports come from incidents of children acting abnormally, likely as a result of trauma and their internment.
“One girl sewed her mouth shut, and a guard reacted by laughing. Another girl pointed to her vagina and said a male detainee ‘cut her from under’.”
That is Russia’s take on Australia’s behaviour.
Let’s have a look at the other massive country in the world, China. Shanghai Daily reported:
“Victimized by constant physical and mental violence, refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru camps were suffering from severe psychological trauma and mental health problems.
“‘Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme,’ said Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International. ‘Few other countries go to such length to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom.’
“In response to the Nauru files, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection said in a statement on Wednesday that many of the incident reports reflect ‘unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims — they are not statements of proven fact.'”
That is what half the world’s population is reading about Australia.
Now let’s move on to some countries that are actually being overwhelmed with refugees, e.g. Lebanon. The country now has 1.1 million Syrian refugees and cannot cope. Lebanon has a population of 4.467 million. Lebanese media outlet Daily Star wrote of Australia’s treatment of refugees:
“The reports allege such incidents as guards threatening a boy with death and only allowing a young woman a longer shower in return for sexual favors.
“Mental stress caused by prolonged detention was deemed to be the cause of alleged cases of self-harm, including a woman trying to hang herself and a girl sowing her lips together.
“One girl wrote in her school book in 2014 that ‘she was tired, doesn’t like camp and wants to die’. The report said she wrote: ‘I want DEATH’ and ‘I need death’.”
A country where almost one in four people are refugees seeking shelter is outraged by Australia’s treatment of the handful of asylum seekers on Nauru. Australia has a population of roughly 24 million. Yet we do this to 1500 people. We do not have a refugee problem. If I were a Lebanese journalist, I’d give this story a big run too.
But what about Old Dart? Here is one from The Daily Mail, not what I would call a left-wing rag:
“Nauru, which charges foreign journalists AUD$8,000 (4,500 pounds) for a visa application and restricts access to social networking sites such as Facebook, this year experienced a series of suicides and incidents of detainees hurting themselves in protests over their treatment.”
On Sunday, more reports emerged of refugees being assaulted on Australia’s other detention island, Manus in Papua New Guinea. For once, a photographer, Matthew Abbott, was there to document the two refugees beaten up in the local town of Lorengau. They were on day release from detention. That is part of the strategy by the current Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to stymie efforts by the Papua New Guinea government to declare that detention centre illegal (the PNG Supreme Court already has). Now the refugees there are not “detainees”; they are allowed out in to town, where they are free, according to the Australian government. But the reality is the locals don’t want them there and they are really just free to be beaten up.
I could go on and on all day. There are a lot of articles about this out there. It started with Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison and their rhetoric. Now we have the hapless Peter Dutton stammering internationally that the reports of abuse are unsubstantiated.
The truth is these reports are not alleged. The leaked reports were written by people who work for the Immigration Minister, whether it be by contract or directly. No amount of obfuscation by the minister can get around that. The rest of the world is not buying it.
Australia’s reputation is suffering as a result. Even if the blokes at the local pub with their beer-soaked Murdoch rags don’t know about it, the rest of the world does.