It takes a special breed of PM to admit that he has no idea where he’s going, let alone when there’s an election or a war on. Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, however, rises to the occasion Wednesday this week when he claims, incredibly, to have no idea that Australia’s indefinite detention of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island is wrong.
The full bench of PNG’s Supreme Court unanimously rules that Australia’s mandatory indefinite detention of asylum-seekers is illegal and unconstitutional, leaving our government exposed to potential claims of more than $1 billion and prompting PM Peter O’Neill to close our Manus prison camp.
Last month, at the National Press Club, O’Neill, who is fighting for political survival in a PNG where the issue of keeping Manus Island open is no vote-winner, implied more Australian money might help. Currently PNG receives 557 million per year in aid which is not targeted to help PNG fight corruption. PNG is likely to go bankrupt in June.
“We have issues about cost of the resettlement, who is going to pay for it? Certainly [the] Papua New Guinea government does not have the resources to resettle the refugees as required.”
AID/WATCH Director Thulsi Narayanasamy adds “Australia presents the relationship with PNG as one of an equal partnership when the reality is that the cornerstone of the relationship is unequal power. So long as Australia can dump refugees on Manus Island, engage in an unfair free trade agreement, and facilitate its companies to have access in PNG – corruption is not a threat to Australia’s national interest, in fact, it appears to benefit from it.”
Australia dismisses O’Neill’s appeals with predictable results. Its arrogance and its policy of War on the Unfortunate and The Other at home and abroad prompts a welter of speculation.
Will Manus inmates be mixed in with the Kiwis of Christmas Island, whose past criminal convictions allow us, we claim, to hold them without charge prior to deportation? This would blend two policy catastrophes.
Will Manus’ 850 inmates now bunk down on Nauru, a place where detainees swallow razor-blades and washing powder, a hell-hole where even teenagers and children are so depressed they contemplate suicide?
On Wednesday, Omid, a twenty-three year old Iranian man burns himself to death in front of his wife and a UN inspector. After three years on Nauru, he is heard to say he “cannot endure any more.”
24 hours elapse before Omid is flown to Brisbane hospital, a delay which Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul describes as “criminal, arguing that the “lack of experienced staff, medical supplies and “shocking conditions in the Nauru hospital” cost the young Iranian his life.
Will Manus detention centre be flung open in a cruel parody of liberation? This will allow asylum-seekers who can make the long trek from the prison to Manus proper free to bond with Manus society and people including former guards who have tried or vowed to kill them. PNG says no. The Immigration Minister pretends this is an option.
Enter Peter Dutton stage right. Immigration Minister and Monkey Pod Supremo, Dutton, leader of the Liberal Party’s Delcons, the right-wing rump, quasi cargo cult whose mutual delusion is to daily prepare for the return of Tony Abbott, volunteers another view. Everything is under control.
Dutton mutters that a bad Manus “outcome” was expected all along. Doing nothing about it, whilst doing everything to appear caught on the hop by it, must be equal parts of his cunning plan. He picked up the legal vibe from PNG a year ago, he reckons. He just did nothing. His PM is left to plead ignorance.
Whether Turnbull’s disclaimer represents peak cynicism, peak snake-oil or just what he is told to say by his right wing, it is undeniably summit of the week in political chicanery. The very next day the PM’s innovation drive malfunctions. Our Guru of Agility does not know what to do next. Or so he maintains.
Statesmanlike leadership is off the leash and running in all directions in week two of his snap election campaign.
Staffers toil to spin Turnbull’s bewilderment into a strength only to have him appear like a Big Bwana waiting patronisingly above the fray for poor benighted, basket-case PNG to come to its senses. Accept our “help.” Obey our wishes.
PNG’s Supreme Court rules that Australia’s practice of detaining 850 asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal; unconstitutional. Only Turnbull is surprised. Manus was always illegal – ever since Kevin Rudd dreamed up the crafty dodge of sweeping our maritime refugee problem under someone else’s woven organic floor covering.
When Australian legislation had to be urgently revised to fend off a challenge to our own High Court to permit the tragic farce of off shore detention to continue, it was inevitable, surely, that other judiciaries would follow suit.
Rudd’s 2013 deal with PNG was never about what was right. It was a political strategy devised on the eve of a federal election aimed at blocking a key Coalition line of attack. In this, and only in this, did it succeed. It was wrong, then and everyone knew it. It was unconstitutional, illegal and immoral. Both parties knew it. And it was never intended to be a “processing facility,” a euphemism for indefinite detention.
Manus Island was set up to be a hell-hole. As former migration agent, Liz Thompson, explained to SBS in 2014,
“It’s not designed as a processing facility. It’s designed as an experiment in the active creation of horror to secure the deterrence.”
Nevertheless, our PM now claims PNG’s High Court ruling is unexpected. He has no idea what to do next. Luckily, he quickly adds, it is a PNG issue. Yet even Blind Freddy can see that it is our problem.
Nor is there a flicker of recognition from the PM that because PNG has ruled our camps unlawful that Australia might be doing something wrong; that the lives of those detained count for more than his own political advantage.
We made Manus Island Detention Centre; we own it. It has not been cheap. Australia spent $1.2 billion plus $400 million in PNG aid at the last renewal of Broadspectrum, formerly Transfield’s contract in 2014. It costs $400, 000 per person per year to maintain refugees on Manus or Nauru as opposed to a little over half that on the mainland.
Only a Turnbull or an Abbott could persevere with the myth that Manus is anyone else’s problem. Yet our PM claims the “matter is for PNG initially, but the ruling was under consideration at home and Australia would support PNG in figuring out a solution.” It is code for offering PNG a better-directed bribe. No innovation here.
The PM fails to mention that in 2014, PNG already unsuccessfully tried to change its constitution to make Australia’s Manus Island prison camp legal. Nor does he begin acknowledge that money won’t fix this issue. Yes, he’s lost, he admits reassuringly, as if we are to be comforted by his ownership of his own moral and legal abyss.
“I can’t provide a definitive road map from here, but today … we’re getting briefed on it,” Turnbull tells reporters in Brisbane on Wednesday, only to be contradicted by Dutton who says he had “anticipated” the ruling.
Dutton can, of course, offer no evidence, whatsoever, of anticipation or plan, despite asserting that his department has been burning the midnight oil for a year in anticipation of “an adverse legal outcome”. His protestation as always sits oddly with the government’s shocked reaction and its lack of any plan.
Redefining the meaning of the phrase “going on the offensive,” a hairy-chested Turnbull quickly advises the nation that it is rash to “become misty-eyed” over immigration policy or any other gross breaches of human rights necessary in its implementation. Those suffering the brutality we inflict on them simply don’t count.
Nothing matters except the Liberals’ political expediency; how this plays out at home. PNG may be a basket case. Manus may be closing down. But asylum seekers must suffer. Turnbull’s cruel phrase betrays his calculated inhumanity.
Turnbull vows to continue to play politics with the lives of 850 men currently indefinitely detained in a prison, condemned by human rights organisations and the UN, a prison which Peter O’Neill, the PNG PM wants to close.
“They will not come to Australia — that is absolutely clear and the PNG Government knows that,” Turnbull says.
The Liberals mistook Labor’s off-shore plan. The Houston-Aristotle-L’Estrange 2012 report on asylum seekers to PM Gillard, recommended offshore processing only as a first step towards setting up a broader, permanent regional solution to refugees and asylum-seekers. Bernard Keane notes, after nearly three years in power, the Liberals still don’t get it. The Cambodian solution, a $55 million, unworkable parody is all they have to show.
Not to be outdone, Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles is on the box to declare that “offshore processing has been the single most important policy that any Australian government has made”.
Marles’ claim is an outrageously false and yet unctuous display of bipartisan victimisation yet heard in the asylum-seeker debate which is not a debate but an agreement to treat the suffering of the alienated, the dispossessed, the wretched of victims of ever-widening political persecution and instability with cruel contempt.
What place does Marles affords to policies such as votes for women or the eight hour day? Hogs are publicly washed as the slow bicycle race of bipartisan immigration policy totters toward its inevitable forced dismount.
Still urging the Liberals’ domestic war on the poor, the less fortunate and the different in our society, George Brandis, Liberal Party pocket philosopher on the Neocon version of human rights which includes the right to defame and hate speech, attacks Labor for its plan to leave Tim Wilson’s role of Freedom Commissioner unfilled. Outrageously Labor plans to restore the Disability Commissioner to a full time gig.
“It shows how little Labor cares about our fundamental political freedoms, including freedom of speech, opinion, religion, association and freedom of the press, that it is once again proposing to abandon this role.”
Not abandoned, however, are all those many Australians who live in cities. The PM makes the astonishingly platitudinous observation that no Australian citizen should live within thirty minutes of his or her job. Who writes his stuff? No practical suggestion or plan is provided as to how we rebuild our cities to resemble his ideal or who will pay. Clearly we are expected to live inside his thought bubble.
The jargon du jour of “value capture” and private-public partnerships are airily presented as solutions to funding, if indeed, any further funds are needed, given that the government is prepared to commit a whopping $50 million to the wankfest. This is a tenth of the amount it is estimated it is prepared to waste on its marriage equality plebiscite, an extravagant stunt to avoid the party’s responsibility to make a political commitment.
“Smart Cities” allows Turnbull to talk to himself in public again. Because his real area of expertise is airy generalisation and speculation, Turnbull is in his element. He may waffle on so much that someone, somewhere, will think he’s come up with a real policy. Even if it is only George Brandis.
Yet the government’s investment in the Smart Cities thought bubble is piffling in contrast to the week’s economic master-stroke which rather startles the Japanese to whom Tony Abbott had made captain’s call assurances. French submarines, built it South Australia by DCNS, a firm which has had bad luck with the odd corruption scandal in its chequered past will be our saviour. In February France opened a probe into the alleged bribery of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak by the firm to win a contract for two submarines.
At least the new boats will save a couple of marginal seats in the rust-belt of South Australia. Brian Toohey in the AFR estimates that it will cost $20 billion extra to build the subs in Australia.
Factor in the $35 billion already committed for nine new frigates and it is clear that the coalition is committing to spend over a hundred billion on war toys without once deigning to explain where the money is coming from. All up it is calculated that the government has committed to spending an astronomical $1 trillion dollars on defence over the next twenty years. You would have to spend 10 million dollars every day for 273 years to spend $1 trillion. In this context, splashing $50 billion submarines is a bargain buy.
$50 billion is a lot to pay for a couple of seats, in the real world, however, even if one is Christopher Pyne’s. It also betrays some poor priorities. With bipartisan support, Turnbull is committing bulk public funding to defence while dodging investment in real infrastructure such schools or hospitals, or other investments such as renewable energy of vastly greater and enduring benefit to society and economy.
Why subsidise submarines and not cars? All it would have taken is for GMH to stay in Australia would have been a paltry $150 million a year, according to Mike Devereux, former GM Australia managing director.
The logic of lavish defence spending contradicts the government’s principled neo-con decision to cut off the auto industry from all subsidy or support. Why not fund an industry which employs vastly more Australians? Whilst the political bleeding may be staunched in a few seats for the Liberals in South Australia, moreover, unemployed car industry workers will be far more numerous.
Victoria also faces high unemployment as the effects are felt of Abbott and Hockey’s decision to deprive car-makers of any form of subsidy. Thousands more workers will be out of jobs in car making and ship building in Victoria than in South Australia as a result of this government’s selective free-market ideology. The submarine deal is poor value for money before you even go into the logistical and practical drawbacks of our location at the arse end of the world, to use Keating’s famous phrase.
Scott Morrison will blow hard on his expenditure on defence in his Budget speech next week. He will rave on about keeping us safe and all the other cheap rhetorical tricks governments use to induce compliance and conformity. Millions will be spend on advertising to show that we must spend every waking moment in fear of invasion or terror attack. He will not show us the real equation.
The Treasurer will not list all the of opportunities Australia will have to forgo, including the capacity to behave like a mature global citizen that can offer real foreign aid to neighbours like Indonesia, the Pacific Islands or PNG, nations which are in desperate need of support and whose plight it ill-becomes us to treat with contempt, whose plight it is not in our national interest to ignore.
Above all he will remain silent on the fate of the poor, the elderly, those marginalised by misfortune at home, the nurses the teachers, the doctors whose welfare and capacity to do their jobs will continue to be presented as a welfare burden while a trillion dollars is splurged on military hardware we really don’t need and can’t afford.