We’ve voted on same sex marriage. So where’s our vote on Manus Island?

In less than two weeks, we will find out the result of the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

To be clear, we never wanted one in the first place. Ticking a box with a half-broken pen to indicate whether or not you believe that some relationships are more equal than others doesn’t feel especially dignified.

On an otherwise nondescript Monday in August, 2004, then Prime Minister John Howard amended the Australian Marriage Act to exclude same-sex couples. I don’t recall being consulted, and neither did the hundreds of thousands of people who just had one of the most significant life decisions made for them.

In fact, we were barely even notified.

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But, you see, in 2017, we do things differently. We spend $122 million in order to poll every Australian citizen over the age of 18 on whether one of our most oppressed and vulnerable minorities ought to be allowed to wear a band on their left ring finger.

This decision is not personal, we’re assured. It’s political. It’s about our national valuesThis issue is so complicated and threatening, that the government – our representatives – could not possibly make a decision of this magnitude on their own.

So we launched campaigns, we debated on The Project and the Today Show and Q&A. We talked and then yelled and talked again.

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We obliged – because this was a matter of national importance.

We opened our letter boxes, muttering to ourselves that this whole thing was absurd, and in one swift motion we signalled a tick. Because, in 2017, this is how we do things.

But today I checked my letter box, and there was no postal survey on Manus Island.

The island directly North of Sydney, on the East of Papua New Guinea, has housed an offshore detention network since 2014. When someone arrived on our doorstep, having fled their homes, terrified of war, famine, trauma or persecution, we not only turned them away, we imprisoned them.

LISTEN: CEO and Founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon Karapanagiotidis is an Australian to be proud of. Post continues below. 


A report put together by the United Nations clearly states that Australia’s policy of offshore processing and prolonged detention is “immensely harmful”.

We are – as a nation – responsible for serious abuses of human rights and, as the UN concluded, violating the rights of asylum seekers to be free from torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

At the time of the report, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, “I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations”.

But we were not sick of being lectured to.

We were, and continue to be, sick of being affiliated with crimes against humanity. We are sick of being deprived of knowledge when it comes to refugees and their experiences in detention. We are sick of politicians putting their own politics above the two greatest issues that face our time: the environment and human rights.

Since 2014, nine human beings have died in our offshore detention centres. One Iranian asylum seeker named Omid set himself on fire. He died soon after.

For years, we have watched horror and abuse unfold on a scale we cannot fully comprehend.

We have protested. We have written about it. We have produced podcasts about the atrocities taking place within these detention centres. We have contacted our politicians.

And yet, no matter how loud we yell, the government who represents us continues to violate the basic human rights of those who came to us for help.

We are expected to vote on who ought to have the right to marry, but not on who ought to have access to clean drinking water, food, and basic first aid.

In April of last year, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that their arrangement with Australia to detain asylum seekers was unconstitutional. By August, it was announced that Manus centre would officially close.

But we didn’t think all that much about where they would go.

Australia refused to resettle any of them.

A deal was established with the United States, whereby the Obama administration agreed to resettle 200 proven refugees. So far, only 25 have been successful.

The Turnbull government has, in recent weeks, rejected places offered in New Zealand.

The argument is that temporary housing has been set up in Lorengau, a city not far from Manus island. But, by all accounts, the sites are not ready.

Regional representative for the UNHCR, Nat Jit Lam, told ABC radio, “There was still major earthworks in progress… there was heavy machinery on the grounds as well, fences still being constructed.

“I would not be bringing any refugees to stay here, not in that state. It’s not ready.”

Thus, the detainees decided (if you can call it that) to stay.

But the Manus Island detention centre was completely shut down on October 31 – Tuesday of this week.

Never mind that there were still 600 people inside, with nowhere else to go.

There is no electricity, there is no water supply. The sewage system has been cut off, and all the toilets are full. There are men (all the current detainees are men) who are in desperate need of their medication.

One detainee, a Kurdish journalist from Iran named Behroux Boochani, says the men are dehydrated, hungry, anxious and are in constant fear of attack and disease.

Boochani wrote on Facebook, “It is a situation that the Australian government has created, forcing people into starvation and these harsh conditions by refusing to offer a safe place for resettlement.”

These individuals, sitting inside a terribly hot, dark, dirty room, with no access to toilets, water or food, are Australia’s responsibility – legally and ethically.

They are on an island, where the police and local people reportedly routinely beat them. Their lives are likely worse now, than the life they desperately sought to escape.

That is a reflection on us. They are suffering in a world of our own creation.

And if we vote on the right to love, regardless of gender, we ought to vote on the right to live – and the right to freedom, regardless of where you were born.

Here’s what you can do to help:

You can support organisations like Welcome to Australia and the ASRC.

You can also write to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and your local MP, letting them know that you want to live in a compassionate nation that welcomes people who are fleeing violence and persecution.

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Bring Them Here.

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