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Time for Labor to disown PNG solution

  • 28 February 2014

All the news out of Manus over the past week confirms Moira Rayner's and my own grave forebodings.

Morrison's initial statement on 17 February that detainees had broken out of the Australian-run detention centre overnight, and that one death had occurred outside the centre, were found to be false, a fact finally admitted by him on 24 February.

Three important pieces of independent reporting from persons connected with Immigration or the now-ended G4S management operation between 21 and 26 February paint a consistent, grim picture: of disturbances that G4S had predicted, if asylum seekers were given bad news on the failure to process their refugee applications; of G4S's failure to control the ensuing events; and of the PNG government failure to control its own police and public surrounding the centre.

These sources are: the transcript of former interpreter Azita Bokan's interview with Richard Glover, ABC Sydney on 21 February; Mark Davis' interview on SBS Dateline program on 25 February with former migration agent Liz Thompson, who denounces interview process on Manus as a 'farce' and 'charade'; and Tara Moss' compelling account on 26 February 'Manus Island — an insider's report' from a trusted G4S source.

Over the past week of Parliament, we have seen the strange and distressing spectacle of Labor timidly criticising the Government's handling of the issue. It would have been the perfect opportunity for Labor, proceeding from these very disturbing revelations, to decide and announce a change in policy: to say that Kevin Rudd's PNG solution had now been found unsustainable, that Australia cannot persist with a PNG-based deterrence system that leaves people to be killed in uncontrolled armed attacks on an Australian detention centre that cannot be protected by Australia, and that Australia cannot therefore meet its duty of care at Manus.

Labor could be saying, 'We would have preferred an orderly regional burden-sharing and processing solution, and as a step towards that we tried to mount a Malaysia solution, but we were blocked from that by the Opposition and Greens. We see now that the PNG solution is just too dangerous to support any longer. Manus must close, and detention and processing centres in Australia must reopen. The present numbers of detainees allow this to be done, and it should be done before more people die.'

This would be the moral policy for Labor at this point. Decent people in the community would support it. The tragic death of Reza Barati provides sufficient trigger for the policy