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Nauru: Time for a bi-partisan solution to our national problem

Nauru: Time for a bi-partisan solution to our national problem

Friday 12 August, 2016
The problems on Nauru stretch far beyond the borders of each political party. After the revelations yesterday, it is now a national problem.
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At what point do we, as a nation, conclude that our silence has been taken as consent – consent to the systemic abuse of kids and the ongoing rape and humiliation of women? This is not a rhetorical question. It is one that demands closer examination because the treatment of women and children on Nauru is again making international headlines for the work that is being done in our name.

Would it be after the publication of the Senate Report into conditions on Nauru, the Moss Review, the most recent report by the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Untold Damage, or would it be after the publication of our report, Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned?

Or would it be after yesterday’s extraordinary revelations in The Guardian that put beyond doubt the brutality, cruelty, and illegality of the detention of women and children on Nauru?

The Guardian has forensically documented reports that range from a guard allegedly grabbing a boy and threatening to kill him once he is living in the community to guards allegedly slapping children in the face. In September 2014, a teacher reported that a classroom helper had requested a four-minute shower instead of a two-minute shower. “Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower.”

And then there’s this. According to a report from September 2014, a girl had sewn her lips together. A guard saw her and began laughing at her. In July that year a child under the age of 10 undressed and invited a group of adults to insert their fingers into her vagina; in February 2015 a young girl gestured to her vagina and said a male asylum seeker “cut her from under”.

These children and their mums and dads are kept on Nauru because it wins votes from both the Coalition and Labor. They are kept there in appalling conditions, often in fear of their lives, as an example to other refugees who may consider coming to Australia for help. They are like human shields protecting the Australian government – and presumably the Australian people – from the complexity of our human rights responsibilities.

And what was our new Prime Minister’s response to these shocking revelations of brutality?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government “continue[d] to support the Nauru government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees on Nauru … [the published material] will be carefully examined to see if there are any complaints there or issues there that were not properly addressed.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison, a former immigration minister, said incident reports were “not findings of fact” and reflected a reporting system that was established to “provide an opportunity to follow up and [provide] discussion both at the centre level and between governments.”

At the very least, both of these men know women and children on Nauru are assaulted, raped and humiliated. They know this because they have read the reports such as the Moss Review and the Senate Inquiry referred to above. They know none of the perpetrators have been prosecuted; indeed the Nauruan police have never prosecuted anyone for any sexual assaults against the women on the island.

They know the Border Force Act 2015 – introduced with the support of Labor – guarantees doctors, nurses and teachers will go to jail for two years if they report what is going on in the camps. Perhaps most importantly, they know they have no fear of a “Don Dale” exposé on Four Corners showing images and vision of this brutality because they have ensured no media get on the island – with the exceptions of Chris Kenny from News Limited and a film crew from Today Tonight.

Prime Minister Turnbull and the leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten will both rest easy in the knowledge that this current scandal will soon disappear as the Australian community moves on to the next story – Olympics, Census scandals or whatever tomorrow brings.

Be assured if either the Prime Minister or the leader of the Opposition thought this policy would lose them too many votes they would ditch it in a heartbeat.

This policy is not just cruel, it is also extremely expensive – and you and I are footing the bill for it – and it is being executed with breathtaking incompetence. But what would happen if enough of us stood up and said enough is enough, the detention of innocent women, kids and men must end. How would we remedy this situation?

With a very simple, common sense four point plan.

First, shut Manus Island and Nauru and bring these poor battered souls to Australia.

Secondly, redirect the massive resources currently being used to run these camps to Indonesia and elsewhere in our region and resource those nations to run UNHCR centres there with schools, medical support and processing of asylum claims.

Thirdly, increase our refugee intake to at least 30,000 per year and build to 50,000 over the next five years.

Finally, let us get serious about the business of peace building so people are not forced to flee their homes to escape persecution and war.

Believe it or not, we have a lot of the experience in that particular area.

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