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'Frankenstein' asylum regime turns six

  • 18 July 2019


I arrived on Manus Island in early December 2012. I had a background in youth work, and was fresh from writing an honours thesis on Australian immigration detention. I came to the newly reopened centre to work for a subcontractor of the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

During the time I worked there, I witnessed a palpable reduction in the mental health of the men with whom I worked. The centre at the time was a restricted tent city of tropical downpours, mud and mosquitos. Even during those brief six months, I saw a group of healthy, good-humoured men reduced to shadows.

When I arrived on Manus, Julia Gillard was prime minister. By the middle of the following year, she would be replaced by Kevin Rudd, who, mere weeks later, would announce that those who arrived by boat would never be resettled in Australia. This Friday 19 July marks the sixth anniversary of that announcement.

On this anniversary we must remember, protest and mourn the terrible toll on human life incurred by six years of offshore processing. But we must protest, too, the Frankenstein of mechanisms through which this has all been enacted.

Our offshore calamity has now included multiple Australian governments (four prime ministers and various ministers-in-charge), the governments of PNG and Nauru, the Department of Home Affairs and its prior iterations, the Australian and PNG navies and armies, and various departments of the PNG police force.

Perhaps most tellingly, there has also been a high turnover of subcontractors, including multiple non-profit NGOs and multinational corporations, as well as Australian, Nauruan and PNG-based businesses.

The Australian government departments and ministers responsible have failed to manage not only their own actions, but also the actions of these numerous subcontractors, with alarming consistency and tragic consequences. The humanitarian failure of this regime is concisely exemplified by the 12 young men who have died over these past six years, including one that the Queensland coroner found was preventable.


"Both citizens and non-citizens will continue to bear the brunt of this erosion of good governance, as government makes policy decisions and then fails to manage the companies to which it farms out its responsibilities."


It is reflected, too, in the successful (settled) class action to the tune of $70 million in 2017 that was brought against the Australian government by 1905 detainees 'for illegally detaining them in dangerous and damaging conditions'.

Not only have our government and its subcontractors failed to