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Border control gulags have had their time

  • 05 October 2015

What are the chances of Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten agreeing by Christmas that it's time to close the refugee processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island? Turnbull and Shorten already agree that the boats coming from Indonesia should be stopped. The boats are now being stopped, if need be, with turnbacks, which neither side of politics now questions.

Now that the boats have been stopped and will remain stopped no matter who is in government, there is no reason to maintain the facilities on Nauru and Manus Island. The conditions in these facilities are not only harsh, they are cruel. These facilities no longer serve any useful purpose. They cost a fortune. They are wreaking havoc with the local community as well as with the traumatised detainees. They have outlived their intended purpose. They are gulags which rightly tarnish Australia's reputation.

Consider the history. When Julia Gillard failed to have her Malaysia solution implemented, she set up an expert panel chaired by Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, the respected, recently retired Chief of the Armed Forces. In August 2012, Houston's panel told the Gillard government that 'the conditions required for effective, lawful and safe turnbacks of irregular vessels headed for Australia with asylum seekers on board are not currently met in regard to turnbacks to Indonesia'.

So they looked for other short-term measures. Having studied John Howard's 2001 Pacific solution, the panel concluded that 'in the short term, the establishment of processing facilities in Nauru as soon as practical is a necessary circuit breaker to the current surge in irregular migration to Australia'.

When Kevin Rudd replaced Gillard in June 2013, he set about resurrecting the Pacific Solution immediately but with an added 'nasty': anyone found to be a refugee on Nauru or on Manus Island would be resettled anywhere except Australia.

The situation has changed radically in the last three years. We no longer need a 'circuit breaker'. Retired Major General Jim Molan has advised government that the conditions for effective, lawful and safe turnbacks are now met. The military have turned back boats. They have stopped the boats coming.

Tony Abbott as prime minister was adamant that his government was acting decently when stopping the boats and turning them back. The government is confident that the people smuggling racket in Java has been smashed. The Labor Party national conference has signed off on stopping the boats and agreeing to turnbacks if they be required.