Undermining NZ: Dutton's refugee ploy

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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) has made finding a solution to the Manus Island standoff a priority. The remaining refugees and asylum seekers of the Lombrom Naval Base insist that their new locations in Lorengau closer to community areas will be unsafe, and refuse to leave.

Jacinda ArdernDuring this crisis, the Turnbull government has become visibly irritated at Ardern's offer to accept 150 men from the centre. Such indignation was going to be hard to avoid. The New Zealand Labour Party had been accused by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for undue interference regarding the dual citizenship of Barnaby Joyce. Egg had to be promptly cleared off her face once Ardern formed government.

Given Australian coolness to the NZ refugee offer, Ardern has taken a different tack: approach the Papua New Guinean government for an independent arrangement, cutting out the intransigent middle man. Australian immigration minister, Peter Dutton, was far from impressed, adopting a threatening pose. New Zealand, he promised, 'would have to think about their relationship with Australia and what impact it would have'. 'They'd have to think that through, and we'd have to think that through.'

Dutton was so unimpressed as to directly question the judgment of New Zealand's prime minister. The offer, for instance, to supply up to $3 million to the PNG government to assist the refugees was 'a waste of money in my judgment, I mean give that money to another environment somewhere, to Indonesia, for example'.

Having berated Ardern's choices and suggestions, Dutton then did what Australian politicians in the past have done to their New Zealand colleagues: insist upon ample gratitude. 'We', exclaimed Dutton, 'have stopped vessels on their way across the Torres Strait planning to track their way down the east coast of Australia to New Zealand.' This had taken 'many hundreds of millions of dollars into a defence effort to stop those vessels ... We do that frankly without any financial assistance from New Zealand.'

Australian papers and media outlets have also been mobilised to undermine New Zealand refugee policy. Classified material had supposedly found its way to Brisbane's Courier Mail, registering 'chatter' from people smugglers pointing the finger to New Zealand as a richer target. Suddenly, it seems, Australia's Border Protection Force had gotten busier, intercepting four vessels, carrying 164 people destined for New Zealand — another reason for Auckland to be respectful.

The Turnbull government has also adopted another approach. If it cannot directly change Ardern's mind, it will undermine her position domestically. A salient feature of this strategy is to diminish the character of the refugees in question, to damage the product, as it were.

 

"Having berated Ardern's choices and suggestions, Dutton then did what Australian politicians in the past have done to their New Zealand colleagues: insist upon ample gratitude."

 

The Australian Financial Review, to take one notable example, received an Australian intelligence cable last month outlining advice to the PNG government citing 'broader allegations of drug taking and dealing (Marijuana)' by certain refugees on Manus and 'overarching community concerns regarding allegations that some residents were engaged in sexual activities with underage girls'. A number, for instance, 'were renting rooms throughout Lorengau and luring underage girls between 10 and 17 years of age, with money, goods, and food'.

The cable is problematic on several points. It cites no prosecutions or investigations — none took place, as no complaints were ever filed. It also proceeds to shift the blame from local hostilities and the dangers posed to refugees released into the community to the refugees themselves. They, we are told, are the ones to be worried about.

By way of example, the views of officials of the local provincial health authority are noted. There had been, for instance, an 'increased interaction between the residents and the young girls from a health perspective, saying they had seen an increase in sexually transmitted infections and HIV'. All the markers of refugee demonisation are there: disease ridden, depraved, exploitative.

These sprinklings of poison through the Australian press, with occasional mentions in New Zealand, serve two purposes. The first is to show Australian refugee policy as sound, and offshore detention and resettlement in an unsuitable third country as appropriate. After all, who would really accept such applicants? Certainly not Australia, and certainly not an interloping New Zealand.

The second is to deflect attention from the discharge of obligations under the UN Refugee Convention. The obsession with breaking a 'people smuggling model' (since when haven't there been those smuggling the desperate and the persecuted?) is being cultivated in New Zealand. Again, the theme of gratitude is emphasised: we are doing a job for you.

There is already some evidence that this obsession is taking hold in New Zealand. Bill English of the Nationals has little time for Ardern's position, which he deems purely opportunistic. But his point is similar to Dutton's: Canberra should be thanked for their efforts in preventing the small state from being swamped. The Australian effort to sabotage Ardern's Manus offer might yet work.

 

 

Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Manus Island, asylum seekers, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand


 

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Existing comments

What if the claims regarding some of the refugees are not conspiratorial as you suggest, Binoy, but are in fact true? It was to be expected that if NZ displayed a willingness to accept alleged refugees that the Indonesian people smugglers would again be in business. I take it that has happened if the navy has intercepted 4 boats carrying 164 people who have been presumably domiciled in Indonesia for some years with sufficient money to pay. This doesn't suggest that Auckland should become respectful to Australia's position. It means that in its naivety it should wake up! The fact that there have been no prosecutions or investigations of crime amongst the refugees on Manus mirrors exactly the situation in Europe over the last 18 months where a crime spree including thousands of rapes have gone unchallenged for the politically motivated fear of being accused of abuses against refugees. Meanwhile, locals who protest in the streets against this overwhelming immigration and its disruption of their society are dislodged by the authorities using water cannons. Of course, as cultural Westerners, we are all evil and the refugees are all saints! Let's hope, for NZ's sake, that Ms Ardern is not cast in the mould of Angela Merkel.
john frawley | 20 November 2017


In our little corner of the world Australia plays the role of big brother to New Zealand, even as NZ smiles cryptically. Papua New Guinea is even more dependent on Australia's largesse. Is it to do with size of land mass or size of ego? And we do have an unrivalled Opera House. More seriously, the refugees are definitely Australia's responsibility and we have failed miserably. If the NZ offer has been refused, it's no credit to Australia. But should NZ interfere in policies they consider 'bad'? Tell us, of course, 'your policy is unacceptable' but it's another step to negotiate with another country about disrupting policy. Or maybe NZ should take over as big brother.
Pam | 21 November 2017


I am so tired of the narcissistic projecting and gaslighting behaviour of Peter Dutton. His response to assistance, sensible suggestion and generosity is with derision and superiority.....typical ego injury. This is not the kind of person to represent our country to the international community.
Kerry Hitzke | 21 November 2017


The fact that they are refugees who attempted to come to Australia by boat seems to have tarred and feathered these people indefinitely. The fact that they are human beings who fled from conflict in their homeland seems to have been forgotten in the self-righteous rationalising being directed at others who are attempting to provide a humane solution to their plight. Australia seems be going through a phobic phase. Maybe as a country we need to examine why we fear the things that we do.
Paddy | 21 November 2017


So it's laudable to stop people smugglers by offering up those on Manus Island as sacrifice. I'm disgusted that our so called leaders are so insensitive to the suffering of these people, particularly as our involvement in a USA- led war is probably responsible for their being here. Where's your bowl of water Mr Pil - er Dutton?
hilary | 21 November 2017


Inhumanity to man is never acceptable. Never. What we do to each other we do to ourselves and in the process demean the very culture we are supposedly trying to protect.
Barbara Carseldine | 23 November 2017


If you're going to refer to a country's government by its capital city as shorthand, you should probably get it right - it's Wellington, not Auckland.
Catherine | 25 November 2017


We in Australia have missed an opportunity to assimilate refugees into our society. We do take some but our attitude of superiority and lack of compassion for genuine refugees, and our unreasonable punishment in the form of detention is disturbing. We do not do our duty internationally.
Ade | 28 November 2017


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