NICK McKIM: A reply to Peter Hartcher on the Manus humanitarian crisis

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Senator McKim with Manus Island refugees (image via @NickMcKim).

'Hartcher asks what the Greens and refugee activists hope to achieve on Manus Island. My answer is simple: the freedom and safety of every single detained person.'

~ Senator Nick McKim

HERE is my response to Peter Hartcher’s column about the Manus emergency.

Peter Hartcher made a number of false assertions about the Manus Island situation in his opinion piece published by Fairfax on 4 November.

Firstly, he claimed that the closure of Australia’s Manus Island RPC was not optional.

The reality is that the decision to close the RPC was, in fact, a choice made by the Australian Government.

Last year, the PNG Supreme Court found that imprisoning the Manus men was unconstitutional.

The detainees were then allowed to move around on Manus Island. This was enough to satisfy the PNG Court ruling.

The Australian Government’s decision to close its detention centre was an arbitrary decision made by Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton and was not necessary to meet the terms of the Court’s decision.

Hartcher also claimed that the three alternative facilities were ready to receive detainees.

The fact is that there was not enough accommodation ready on Manus Island for all of the 600 men at the RPC when the centre was "closed".

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repeatedly confirmed this.

More notably, after multiple knife and machete attacks on refugees on the streets of Lorengau, the men simply do not feel they will be safe in the community.

The fact that the men believe the place where they have witnessed murders, beatings, deprivation and an armed assault by PNG naval personnel is the least unsafe place for them speaks volumes about their plight.

Hartcher also repeated the Government’s big lie that the boats have been stopped.

On the Government’s own evidence, there are still turn-backs happening in the waters off northern Australia.

If the boats have stopped, what are we turning back?

We simply do not know how many people have been turned back to drown or, have been forced back to the countries they are fleeing to die, face torture or persecution.

All the Government has achieved is to remove the deaths from our television screens.

The tragedy is that this has come at a cost of so many lives destroyed.

The Liberals’ lies have cost them the right to have their words accepted at face value.

They downplayed the severity of the Good Friday attacks at the detention centre and lied about their cause.

As revealed at Budget Estimates, a single statement from Dutton’s department to Fairfax Media contained three major errors of fact about the shootings and their cause.

They were not corrected until Border Force Department officials were questioned under oath.

Member for Cook Scott Morrison falsely claimed that Save the Children employees were coaching children on Nauru to self-harm.

People lost their jobs over this terrible lie, and the Immigration Department was later forced to pay compensation.

Later, the Nauru files revealed the appalling abuse of women and children that happened and was suppressed and downplayed under Morrison and Dutton’s watch.

The suggestions that I am trying to “engineer an incident” or that I have “coached” detainees are repugnant and completely false.

It might come as a surprise to Peter Hartcher, but these men have free agency.

I have simply supported them in the choices they have made.

And I will keep doing so because it is their lives which are at risk and it is not right for me, Hartcher or anyone else to make decisions for them.

Cutting off drinking water, food, electricity and medication to vulnerable people can never be justified.

Hartcher asks what the Greens and refugee activists hope to achieve on Manus Island. My answer is simple: the freedom and safety of every single detained person.

If he and others cannot accept that, it is due to their failure of moral ambition.

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