Don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Boss of Australia has given us all the week off next week.
Oh, sorry, scratch that. He hasn’t given us the week off. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given the politicians of Canberra the week off. Parliament was meant to be returning to get on with things on Monday, November 27, but now they’re not. There’s nothing very urgent to attend to.
Same Sex Marriage can wait til the Senate gets its
stuff together. The Royal Commission into the Banks is languishing in the long grass. There’s a bit of confusion about which politicians are and aren’t actually Australians. So, let’s kick back, and have a slow slide into Summer, Aperol in hand.
We have a stellar idea about a place the Prime Minister – and other interested parties – can visit during his unexpected holiday. We hear it’s lovely at this time of year. It’s a little tropical retreat, called Manus Island. And it’s never boring.
You see, there’s some confusion about what’s going on over in Manus right now. You might have read about it. Depending on who you believe, there are either several hundred men living in chaotic, filthy and dangerous conditions on Manus right now, under fear for their lives. Or, there are a few whingers who are refusing to move out of perfectly lovely accommodation into some more perfectly lovely accommodation.
What’s all that got to do with us? Well, those men are asylum seekers who, in the first instance, were trying to make it to Australia from various war-torn nations, hoping to find a fresh start in a compassionate, multicultural nation. Australia responded by locked them up in a detention centre – at considerable cost – as part of the Pacific Solution, the “stop the boats” response that both sides of Parliament thought was a great idea a few years ago, but one that has become considerably on-the-nose since.
Listen: The situation on Manus Island, explained.
Now, Australia is closing the detention centre and kicking the 600-or-so refugees out to fend for themselves among the larger Papua New Guinean population. And the men? Well, they’re not Australia’s responsibility. Even though we’re still paying for their proposed “new” accommodation, which seems like a weird thing to do for people who you’re not responsible for, but whatever.
The reason Manus is the perfect holiday spot for Prime Minister Turnbull to visit next week is that he would be able to see for himself what’s going on. Because there’s a lot of conflicting reports about exactly that.
Tim Costello, the CEO of World Vision, and a man on the ground in Manus, insists what’s unfolding there now, as local police forcibly remove men from the detention centre, is horrific.
“Malcolm Turnbull is not a cruel man, he is not inhumane, but what we are witnessing here is both cruel and inhumane,” Mr Costello says. “I think personally he’d be appalled if he was seeing what we are witnessing.”
The United Nations has stepped in, giving us a little lecture about our responsibilities via their Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk: “UNHCR reminds Australia of its obligation to take full responsibility and provide effective protection, safety and lasting solutions for all refugees and asylum-seekers in cooperation with the Papua New Guinean authorities.”
The men themselves are insisting that what is happening to them right now is beyond decency. "They are destroying everything," Tweeted refugee Behrouz Bichani from inside the detention centre yesterday. "Shelters, tanks, beds and all of our belongings. They are very aggressive... we are under attack."
But Mr Turnbull, and his Immigration Minister Peter Dutton are having none of it. These men, says Dutton, are “like the tenant that won’t move out of the house when you’ve built a new house for them to move into."
Which is why it seems like getting on a plane and heading over to Manus Island would be the perfect use of this unexpected seven-day window of wide-open work space Mr Turnbull has just landed himself.
Just type Manus Island into your Google Maps and off you go, Sir. You can tell us all about what you find there when you get back to work.
Maybe bring us back a present. Like 600 desperate men.