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Time to defuse Nauru and Manus Island time bombs

  • 16 August 2016


On the weekend, I joined Robert Manne, Tim Costello and John Menadue in calling for an end to the limbo imposed on proven refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. I think this can be done while keeping the boats stopped. I think it ought be done.

Appearing on the ABC 7.30 program last Thursday after The Guardian's release of 2000 incident reports from Nauru, Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, told presenter Leigh Sales, 'I would like to get people off Nauru tomorrow but I have got to do it in such a way that we don't restart boats.'

He went on to say, 'We have had discussions with a number of other countries, but what we're not going to do is enter into an arrangement that sends a green light to people smugglers.' Dutton appreciates that Nauru and Manus Island are ticking time bombs.

During the election campaign, Malcolm Turnbull said that we could not be misty eyed about the situation on these islands, a situation of Australia's making and a situation funded recurrently with the Australian cheque book. Now that the election is over, neither our politicians nor their strategic advisers can afford wilfully to close their eyes to the situation.

The majority of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island have now been proved to be refugees. They are not going to accept cheques to go back home and face renewed persecution. That's why they fled in the first place. Most of these people have had their lives on hold, in appalling circumstances, for over three years. It's time to act. Ongoing inaction will send a green light to desperate people to do desperate things.

While respecting those refugee advocates and their supporters who cannot countenance stopping the boats coming from Indonesia, I think it is time to see if we can design a way of getting the asylum seekers off Nauru and Manus Island 'in such a way that we don't restart boats', ensuring that we continue to send a red light to people smugglers in Java.

The precedent is the Howard government's successful plan to empty the Nauru and Manus Island processing centres while winding back its original Pacific Solution, ensuring the boats stayed stopped.

To set a new direction, we have first to put aside the undesirable and unworkable aspects of the present policy settings. Are not our military and intelligence services (in cooperation with Indonesian officials) sufficiently on