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The Hate Boat

No Wimps Allowed - Scott Morrison Won't Let Facts or Candlelight Stand in his Way

This week we look at senate estimates, the facts are surrounding the riots on Manus Island, what happened when an asylum seeker wanted an abortion, and who's making money out of our asylum seeker problem.
February 26, 2014, 3:15am

Image by Ben Thomson

It's been a big week in boats with the aftermath of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati's death on Manus Island just over a week ago. This week's edition of The Hate Boat looks at what's been happening at Senate Estimates, what the facts are surrounding the riots on Manus Island, what happened when an asylum seeker wanted an abortion and who's making money out of our asylum seeker problem.

–Last week Scott Morrison addressed the media to deal with questions about the riots on Manus Island that left Reza Barati dead. In that briefing he said that the detainees had been injured outside the centre (therefore it's their own fault).

The Guardian has got hold of a section of the official report to the Immigration Department in which a guard describes what happened. He says that on the night of the riot 36 PNG mobile squad police, 10 dog squad officers, four dogs and 10 to 15 regular police turned up at the centre. A maintenance worker employed by G4S told police that it was their land, and they should do whatever was necessary if the detainees broke out of the centre. Later that night two of the dog squad police went inside the centre (they're not allowed to do that), and detainees freaked out and started throwing rocks at them. After that five of the detainees pushed down one of the fences which is when the conflict really got nasty. The report said that the riot started inside the centre, and the detainees were injured inside the centre.

All of these details, as well as the name of the man killed, were provided to the Minister the day after the riots. Yet instead of correcting the record immediately, he waited a week, putting out a statement at 9pm last Saturday night—a time when the newspapers had gone to print and there was no-one to report on it.  He waited four days to name Mr Barati.

The Greens and some Labor members are calling for Scott Morrison to be sacked. But the Prime Minister is standing by Mr Morrison who he says is strong and not a wimp. And the person who, on our behalf, deals with men, women and children who have travelled for months leaving everything they know and who have probably suffered all kinds of trauma can not be a wimp. A wimp would probably end up feeling sorry for them.

–Another report claims that the riots started after detainees were told that not only could they never settle in Australia, there was no prospect of them staying in PNG and no plans for a third country to take them.  So the question is: Where will they go now?

It seems that the PNG solution that the previous Government negotiated had a small flaw—PNG doesn't have refugee visas. There's no legal way for refugees to stay in PNG for good. It's not clear what will happen to them if their claims for asylum are approved—a migration agent working there says the only options are indefinite detention or go back to where you came from.

Even China is worried. Their Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Li Baodong, has said the Chinese Government is concerned about the way detainees are being treated. When China criticises you on human rights you know things have to be pretty bad. But they're also concerned about the thousands of people who now have nowhere to go, and whether they will be illegally repatriated to other countries. The Indonesians think the whole thing is a mess, and their Justice and Human Rights Minister has said that they simply can't follow what the Australian Government is doing.

–You might remember back when Tony Abbott was Health Minister he did everything in his power to stop the introduction of the abortion pill RU486 despite overwhelming support from women for the drug to be made available. When Labor tried to change the policy and approve the drug, he voted against it again. This time he failed, and RU486 is now available in Australia.

A woman who was sent to Nauru after reaching Australia by boat found out she was pregnant. She weighs just 35 kilos. Her and her husband described life in the detention centre in Nauru, with its 40 degree heat, not enough fans and two hour queues to get food as being unfit for a baby, and she decided she'd rather have an abortion. Problem is, that's illegal in Nauru. She was flown to Brisbane where doctors gave her drugs (according to a doctor the standard drug used in Australian hospitals is RU486) and the pregnancy was terminated.

The Prime Minister has not commented on whether he supports abortions when it's asylum seekers who get them.

–Opposition Senator Stephen Conroy last night questioned the head of Operation Sovereign Borders, Angus Campbell, during Senate Estimates. As he should have expected, he wasn't getting any answers to his questions. So, he accused Angus Campbell of a Government cover-up. Which you simply can't do! If you're not getting answers to your questions it's clearly because it's about operational matters and he should know that the Government uses that excuse to cover up what it's doing so why did he even bother asking about it in the first place?

The Government has jumped all over this, because as everyone knows, you cannot criticise the brave men and women of the military. But Senator Conroy says his criticism was directed at the Government, not the military.

–The company that was running the Manus Island detention centre, G4S, was criticised for allowing detainees to escape from the centre, as well as allowing detainees to be shot at and bashed and killed. Which is fair enough. They were also criticised this week because the guy who's been running the centre used to be an officer in the Sri Lankan army, the very thing that the large number of Tamil asylum seekers were trying to escape from. The Secretary of the Immigration Department could not even say whether the security guards who'd inflicted injuries on detainees had been sacked.

Luckily the G4S contract expires this Friday, and the new contract has been awarded to Transfield Services. Transfield “works closely with our clients, helping them to achieve their business outcomes through optimising the sustainable performance, integrity and output of their assets.”

The asset here being political support for the tough policies, the client being the Government and the business outcome being reelection.

Transfield already runs the Nauru detention centre, and does it very well apart from when it gets burnt to the ground. The combined value of the two contracts is $1.2 billion. Transfield shareholders should be thrilled – their shares have gone up 26 percent! And the company didn't even have to go through a tender process.

–Thousands of people in cities and towns across the country turned up to candlelight vigils in honour of the 23-year-old Iranian man killed at Manus Island and to call for the closure of the detention facility. Despite what some commentators claim, it wasn't a left wing anti-Government love in at all. One person who attended said it was the most mainstream protest she'd been to since the Iraq war. “I was pretty teary. It was beautiful to see so many people gather to express their grief and send love and condolences to refugees and their families. Such a relief to be surrounded be decent humans!”

–And, another boat has been towed back. A group of 26 people was discovered by Indonesians on a beach in Central Java. They'd been on their way to Australia but had been intercepted, their boat burnt and they'd been put in an orange lifeboat and sent back. It seems the boat hit a reef on the way in, and the asylum seekers had to get out and swim to the shore. They hadn't eaten for four days, and when they were discovered at least one of them had to be treated in hospital. Tony Abbott has now succeeded in turning back more boats in three months than John Howard managed in three years. And the Indonesian villagers are said to be thrilled with all the brand new $46,000 orange lifeboats that keep washing up on their shores.