Australia had an offshore detention centre on Manus Island but in early 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea determined that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal1. As a consequence, the centre had to be closed. But what did the Australian government do? It simply cut off all food, water and medical assistance to the people in the centre, with the aim of forcing them out into other camps in the Manus community2. There are hundreds of these men in the centre, most of whom have been recognised as bona fide refugees, and they are in fear of the community, which seems to have a considerable amount of animosity toward them.
The Australian government has stated that it cannot guarantee the safety of the Manus detainees, and that it is not Australia’s problem, but that the responsibility lies with the government of Papua New Guinea3. They say this when it suits them.
On top of this, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern visits Australia to meet Turnbull in a few hours, and she has stated that she will make the Manus Island detainees a priority4. New Zealand has offered to take about 150 of them, but Dutton has refused to countenance that. This meeting in Sydney will be a test for Turnbull and it will determine whether he wants to help the detainees, or whether he is just as cruel and bloody minded as Dutton. Even if he does ‘allow’ some to go to New Zealand, that will not rid him of the problem, as the majority will still be cowering in their abandoned centre.
This is symptomatic of Turnbull’s inability to construct a government that functions without barstardry. Former Prime Minister John Howard asserted that the Liberal Party was a ‘broad church’. It is now a fractured church, and will eventually shatter. Given their performance since 2013, this can only benefit the nation. The Liberal’s much-loved neoliberal economic paradigm has failed, their social conservatism belongs in the 1970s, and their tub-thumping religiosity simply looks silly in the face of the overall decline in religion in the nation.
The Manus shambles is just another fiasco in the conga line of fiascos suffered by this government, all of which are of its own making.