Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


We created the Manus Island danger

  • 20 February 2014

The connection between good intentions and the road to hell is a semi-permeable membrane. We want to 'stop the boats' — ostensibly, so desperate people stop drowning en route — so the Rudd Labor government decided to 'deter' those yet to come by punishing those who had already got here.

When it set up Manus and Nauru Islands to house the camps necessary to warehouse that next wave, off-shore, that government no doubt meant to capitalise on the Salvation Army's reputation for humble charitable interventions to soften any abreaction to its harsh decision, when it contracted them to provide 'humanitarian activities' to ease the suffering of the detained.

That reputation did not match the skills or expected achievements of the Army's workforce. It seems that the maligned, perhaps unfairly, security guards did a better job of communication and community-building than those temporary staff expected to achieve the impossible goal of keeping the peace.

It was tragic and avoidable that some of those whose refugee claims have still not even begun to be processed, would protest and damage property which was meant to improve their living conditions. If we deprive a man of hope, he often goes mad.

On Manus Island, local men, police and security guards have apparently been involved in a terrifying melee, in and out of the 'campus'. The asylum seekers were not armed, yet one is dead, one has been shot in the back, and 77 have (mostly head) injuries. They say that they fled for their lives when PNG police and locals came to 'teach them a lesson' after a few of them fled the wire fence between them and their local neighbours.

We cannot say precisely what happened, but an open inquiry is required. Manus Island is what it has to be: a warehouse for the unwanted. A concentration camp, in fact, but one in which, despite the Morrison wall of soundlessness, unlike its 19th and 20th century counterparts, atrocities cannot occur. Or so we believe, because they, their purpose, and their activities, cannot be entirely hid, thanks to journalism, activism, social media and mobile phones. 'Decent people' cannot do nothing about a wrong they witness.

That is why the Nauruan camp should be closed down — locals have decided to scrap the rule of law and deal with the criminal trials of last year's rioters by exiling the Supreme Court, expelling the Chief Magistrate and forcing the Attorney General to