Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Murphy's Law: The PM on Christmas Island



Two rules of thumb came to mind when surveying Prime Minister Morrison's recent excursion to Christmas Island: Murphy's Law and 'Those whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad'.

Scott Morrison (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)It was clearly choreographed as part of the pre-election opera to draw public attention to the dramatic act of a strong leader who is prepared to stop boats and keep out asylum seekers. But it was supplanted even on the front page of the Coalition-friendly Australian by the story of a National Party insurgency in Queensland.

To add insult to injury, the accompanying photograph showed the Prime Minister enjoying the sunshine on the pier more like a genial American tourist than the Australian Master and Commander. Meanwhile the commentary in the Melbourne Age focused its attention on the cost to the taxpayer of the plane that carried Morrison there.

The story told by Morrison at his news conference contained nothing new. In it he claimed that the Medevac Bill, supported by the Labor Party, presents grave dangers to Australia in allowing a host of refugees to come to the Australian mainland. The peril lies in the encouragement given to people smugglers and Australian refugee advocates, and in the likely presence of a number of lawbreakers and possible terrorists among the people transferred.

The Prime Minister expanded on this theme, again in practiced lines. The main reason why many people may come to Christmas Island for treatment is that refugee advocates help them game the system by inventing symptoms and so on. Many of them have a record of unspecified criminal behaviour and so pose a risk to Australian society and the institutions to which they are sent.

If they come to Australia they are enabled to 'get their hooks into the Australian legal system' and so doing might thwart or delay the government's decision to send them back to Nauru. To prevent this from happening, the government has committed many millions of dollars to send a large medical team to Christmas Island, including more than 30 mental health experts, and to build secure riot-proof accommodation to hold people sent there. All this will deter people smugglers and guarantee Australia's territorial integrity.

So far this pitch has failed to excite the punters. Even the mainstream media have drawn attention to the evident inconsistencies in it. If, on examination on Christmas Island, people transferred there proved to need care available only on the mainland, they would have to be sent there anyway. To broadcast fear that Australia's defences against people smugglers are breached would seem to be the best way to encourage them; similarly, to build a centre on Christmas Island, so close to Indonesia, would seem an odd form of deterrence to people smugglers.


"It is surely time now to reject the reasoning behind the restoration of Christmas Island as a threadbare security blanket sodden with the tears of the innocent."


It seems hardly reasonable to panic about the damage a handful of potential criminals among the people transferred might do, when set alongside the far, far larger number of people who appeal for protection after arriving by air. In the light of these and other considerations, the developing consensus is that Morrison's Christmas Island dalliance is an expensive election ad paid for by tax payers.

These, of course, are matters of opinion about practicalities. There are, however, much more fundamental objections to Morrison's pitch. Lacking in it, as more generally in the treatment of people seeking protection in Australia, is any attention to the people who may be sent to Christmas Island. They are human beings who sought protection from Australia and were sent to Nauru and Manus Island by the Australian government to avoid its responsibilities to them and to use their harsh treatment to deter others.

Both places were proxies for the Australian government, which retains moral responsibility for their treatment. In the course of their time on Nauru and Manus Island they endured many indignities that are well documented, and the misery caused to them can be gauged by the fact that over 30 mental health workers are being dispatched to Christmas Island in preparation for their arrival. All their suffering was imposed as a means, and an unnecessary means, to the government's end. Such a policy and such treatment are indecent.

What matters is that having long been scourged at the Second Pillar of Australia's policy towards people who come into Australian waters to seek protection (off-shore detention), they are now being ceremonially whipped at the ornamental Third Pillar (the bar from ever coming to Australia). They suffer as did earlier British immigrants dispatched to Port Arthur.

It is surely time now to reject the reasoning behind the restoration of Christmas Island as a threadbare security blanket sodden with the tears of the innocent. Let the sick come to Australia and be treated with respect.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Main image: Scott Morrison (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Scott Morrison, Christmas Island, asylum seekers, refugees



submit a comment

Existing comments

So there are people who are said to be a danger to people living on the mainland, but it's OK to expose the people of Christmas Island to the same risk? Is that because the Australian citizens on Christmas island are second class citizens?

Ginger Meggs | 12 March 2019  

Thanks Andrew! "Let the sick come to Australia and be treated with respect." I agree totally. Desperate people who came to Australia seeking asylum have become political pawns and sent to off-shore 'hell-holes' to languish and even die. Twelve of these people have died already. How low some of our major party politicians have sunk. None of these politicians would like to be treated like this themselves. The boats have stopped and boats will be towed back if any start up again, so let those asylum seekers remaining off-shore come here permanently. As for the politicians indirectly responsible for the deaths of the 12 asylum seekers sent to Nauru or Manus Island, shouldn't they be charged with manslaughter? Or should they be allowed to treat desperate people seeking asylum in such an inhumane way and continue to get away with it? I think not!

Grant Allen | 12 March 2019  

Morrison is destined to go down in Australian history as our first unelected prime minister! Despite all the ludicrous coups that led to new PMs, at least the incumbents managed to win the upcoming election and save face. In Morrison’s case, he has Buckley’s - hence his current desperate and bizarre antics. It’s sad that he’ll enjoy a fully funded prime ministerial retire package at the expense of taxpayers even though us taxpayers.

Aurelius | 12 March 2019  

40 Serco guards despatched 30 mental health workers and a squadron of ABF and AFP staff sitting in waiting like spiders in waiting for unsuspecting prey. So far no one. While Morrison was beating his chest onChristmas Island 2 men were flown direct to hospital in Australia for urgent treatment. So much political hate mongering img so little truth about what is happening in fact. To incarcerate these sick and traumatised men from Manus in the cruel conditions of the high security prison on CI would be the final indignity to men who have been subjected to years of deprivation and humiliation for political purposes. Will Australians collaborate in this cruelty? At what point will enough of us say Enough- Stop to end this. The Palm Sunday walks for Justice across Australia is one small way Everyone can stand up and be counted

Pamela | 13 March 2019  

Andrew, as usual you are the voice of reason. As far as our family is concerned, we can't wait to rid the country of these morally and ethically bankrupt politicians. Bring it on Scott!

Gavin O'Brien | 15 March 2019  

Stop the negativity Andrew. Our country has grown to quickly and the jobs and infrastructure are a long way from supplying the nation's needs. Our Public Hospitals can’t cope. 12 months or more for surgery. New treatments such as Rezum for the prevention of prostate cancer are only available in our private Hospitals and and out of the reach of the poor. The list of other procedures is long. Stop fooling yourself and others with miss information. Lets put Australians first as we have to many sick and homeless citizens struggling to live in our now not so lucky country.

edward | 15 March 2019  

Thanks Fr Andrew a sensitive approach as usual. Those whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad'. The Liberals are driving me mad with their arrogant nonsense about Manus and Nauru. Fist Abbott claiming Nauru was a charming holiday destination (as if anyone would believe anything he said). Now Scomo bluffing us with scary bedtime stories of terrorists and criminals populating the prison hulks of Manus and Nauru. Are we still a nation of jailers? Shades of Port Arthur. Look at the bigger problem totally ignored by the blue bloods in Canberra. "There were nearly 10,000 Malaysians recorded as having overstayed visas in 2016-17, along with about 6500 Chinese nationals and 5170 from the United States. Countries outside the top 15 most likely to overstay represented nearly 18,000 in the category. About 3700 UK nationals overstayed, ahead of 2780 Indonesians and 2730 Indians." Tom McIlroy SMH July 18 2017. And these figures are out of date.

Francis Armstrong | 15 March 2019  

Congratulations Andrew, an excellent statement of the moral bankruptcy of our government. And how come if you fly into Australia seeking asylum you get treated differently to those arriving by boat. Do we need a "Stop the Planes" policy?

Brian Finlayson | 15 March 2019  

This clear delineation of Australia's non existing immigrant problem, cooked up for political advantage, is this day giving way to considering the huge waste of resources it requires, while ignoring the home grown threat of right wing extremism, and its prevention. How is the normalising of such murderous behaviour by the Cameron/Dutton nexus, the Trump/Pence cabal, and the Murdoch media to be assessed and contained ? We could start by redirecting " border protection " budgets to action on the well known and widely disseminated hatred of the extremists of the right. It is now all too obvious such vituperation is not " free speech", but an abuse of such a freedom and of society. This is an election imperative, but who will now unambigiously accept the political challenge? Who would have thought that Australian home grown terrorism , encouraged by US right wing extremism could be exported to New Zealand?

jpb | 16 March 2019  

In the light of the terrible tragedy that has occurred in New Zealand I fear that Scot Morrison and company have blood on their hands. You can’t have it both ways: fear monger ing to the electorate about the evils of asylum seekers and then surprise that this type of hate speech influences those with hatred in their hearts. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is despicable, and now the hate mongering of our politicians is bearing the most undesirable fruit. Thankfully, most Australians deplore the actions of this gunman, and many reject the politicians view of asylum seekers but I can’t help thinking that our Politicians and some people in our community have blood on their hands. Liliane

Liliane Price | 17 March 2019  

The criminalisation of desperate people seeking political asylum is the lowest of the low. The sooner we get rid of this mob of leaning lurchers the better. Anyways, we can’t afford them funnelling tax-payers money into all manner of dodgy black holes.

Val | 13 April 2019  

Similar Articles

Opt-out not the answer for organ donation

  • Sandi Parsons
  • 21 March 2019

The key deciding factor for both opt-in and opt-out systems requires that next-of-kin provide consent. Without this consent, organ donation will not proceed under either an opt-in or opt-out model. As such, education and awareness, and an understanding of organ donation as a gift, is the best way to raise organ donation rates.


'People as things': a new story after Christchurch

  • Michael McVeigh
  • 19 March 2019

In the wake of the Christchurch attacks, I’m not interested in learning how the person who killed those people was radicalised. It’s the oldest story in the world. It’s what happens when you decide the humanity of a group of people no longer matters. I’m tired of that story. I need a new one.