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Close the camps now and stop the posturing

  • 25 May 2018


Both the Turnbull government and the Shorten opposition are committed to 'stopping the boats'. Tony Abbott's mantra is now the political orthodoxy on both sides of the political aisle in Canberra. Labor knows it has no chance of winning an election unless its commitment to keeping the boats stopped is as firm as the government's.

The political difference is no longer over stopping the boats. Both sides are committed to takebacks and turnbacks, usually to Indonesia, provided the practices of the Australian Border Force and defence forces are safe, legal and transparent. The political brawl is about keeping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island without a permanent solution, and the claim that this is a necessary precondition for keeping the boats stopped.

Peter Dutton, the Minister for Many Things — Home Affairs, Immigration and Border Protection — smelt blood last week after Labor's newest recruit in the House of Representatives, Ged Kearney, told Parliament in her first speech: 'I doubt we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women, and children to years of punitive indefinite detention. We must, as a priority, move the asylum seekers off Manus and Nauru to permanent resettlement and ensure that indefinite detention never happens again.'

Kearney was backed by Labor frontbencher Linda Burney when interviewed by David Speers on SkyNews. Labor then doctored the transcript to downplay the commitment to a deadline for emptying the camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

Then following a death of a refugee on Manus Island, the Greens' Adam Bandt had a go at Dutton in Question Time asking, 'Is it now government policy to leak to the media about the death of someone under your care and not notify next of kin, and doesn't this fundamental lack of human decency show that there's simply no line you won't cross?'

Dutton has no time for what he regards as the moral superiority of the Greens and the Labor Left when it comes to refugee policy. Taking the moral high ground, Dutton responded, 'I haven't put anyone on Manus Island; you did. I am charged with getting those people off, and I'm doing it. This government — not the government that you were in coalition with, the Rudd and the Gillard governments — has brokered a deal to get 1200 people off Manus and Nauru.'

With by-elections just around the corner, including a couple in which the sitting Labor members are