Crikey believes it is important to recognise journalists and editors whose hard work gives the fourth estate the sterling reputation it has in the community. And this week, there is no one more deserving of a Wankley Award than Renee Viellaris of the Courier-Mail for today’s front-page spread on Manus Island detainees having “holidays at an idyllic island”.


Viellaris has a long history of hatchet jobs on asylum seekers — there’s a Media Watch demolition of her work nine years ago — but today’s effort in which several detainees, one with “designer stubble and gold-rimmed, aviator sunglasses and an on-trend white shirt”* variously “frolic”, “sip coconut milk from straws” and look “bronzed” could be her crowning achievement.

For Viellaris’ edification, here’s a quick rundown of conditions on Manus Island:

  • one detainee bashed to death by a mob;
  • two detainees died from illnesses, including one who was refused medical evacuation;
  • one detainee drowned;
  • two suicides;
  • drunken PNG soldiers firing weapons into a compound where detainees were located;
  • facility being found to be illegal under PNG law;
  • bashings of detainees by PNG police;
  • government settling a class action claim brought by detainees for $70 million; and
  • the ANAO revealing massive problems and illegal expenditure in the Department of Immigration’s contracting for, and managing of, the operation of the detention facility.

Viellaris was able to find a Queensland senator to deplore the “frolicking” detainees, with LNP senator Barry O’Sullivan declaring, “I’m not pretending it’s Club Med …” O’Sullivan at least brought some factual basis to the article because Manus Island certainly isn’t Club Med — it’s far more expensive. In 2016, the cost of the facility was estimated at $1 million per detainee, as the total cost of Manus Island and the government’s other offshore detention facility headed toward $5 billion.

We can think of no better way to toast Viellaris’ Wankley than to adjust our aviator sunglasses and raise a coconut to say “cheers” to quality journalism.

*yes, we know — what even is an “on-trend white shirt”?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey