Boochani regularly contributes to The Guardian and the Saturday Paper in Australia but said other publications supported the Australian government’s efforts to restrict information about its offshore detention regime.
“The Australian government couldn’t keep 2000 people, including children and women, in a harsh prison camps on Manus and Nauru without systematic censorship,” Boochani said.
“I have many experiences working with the media in Australia and also internationally over the past five years and I know that the government always tries to manage the information and censor the situation,” he said.
“But after five years I think they are defeated because international media and public opinion are aware completely of what the government has done on Manus and Nauru.”
Condemning a fact The Guardian reported that the award’s organisers paid tribute to Boochani’s “commitment to condemning a fact which has been intentionally kept out of the spotlight”.
The prize was a symbol of the struggle of the refugees who had spoken out from offshore detention as well as their advocates, human rights defenders and independent journalists who had covered their stories, the journalist said.
“I think it is very important because our work is acknowledged and recognised internationally.”
This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.
Lombrum naval base on Manus Island … a Google’s-eye view.
COMMENT:By Scott Waide
The global trade war between China and Western powers has reached new heights in the Pacific, and in particular in Papua New Guinea. As the government of Peter O’Neill courts China on the one side of the bargaining table, receiving, aid and other benefits, PNG’s traditional military partner, Australia, is growing anxious.
Australian media has reported that their government is planning to establish a military base on Manus Island to counter the growing Chinese influence in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.
The PNG government has been largely silent since Australia’s announcement.
Last night, when I contacted the Defence Minister, Solan Mirisim, he said the Papua New Guinea has been in negotiations with Australia for “a military base and a training facility on Manus”.
The plans by Australian has brought about concerns.
A former PNG Defence Force Commander, Major-General Jerry Singirok, says any decision by the Australians to place troops in Papua New Guinea must have wide consultation as well as debate in Parliament.
So far there has been none.
Retired Major-General Jerry Singirok … “threat of being smothered or over run by a behemoth of an economic and military power are real.” Image: My Land, My Country
Sovereign nation “Australia must be mindful that Papua New Guinea is a sovereign nation. There has to be wide public consultation as well as debate in parliament because this is a strategic decision.
“Australia has neglected this region for so long. This issue has to be approached with diplomacy.”
Australia’s choice of Manus is of strategic military importance. The maritime corridor between Guam to the north and Manus to the south was used by the Japanese in World War Two to reach the Pacific.
A possible Australian presence in Manus means they get to police the northern region. The move places Papua New Guinea in the centre of a global power struggle between the US and its allies and China.
For Papua New Guinea, things are a bit complicated. How does the government call China a threat and receive aid and development loans? And how does it support Australia’s military ambitions and still view China as a friend.
Another Former PNGDF Commander, feels Australia has to find a middle ground to deal with the trade war instead of placing military personnel in Papua New Guinea.
“China is not a threat,” says retired Commodore Peter Ilau, who also served as ambassador to Indonesia.
“We have to learn to work with China. We cannot respond with a show of military force,” he says.
Both former commanders agree that the threat of being smothered or over run by a behemoth of an economic and military power are real.
China’s economic influence in Papua New Guinea extends to nearly all sectors.
In the 13-year period between 2005 and 2018, China has spent close to 12 billion kina in investments and aid in Papua New Guinea. That is 3 billion kina short of Papua New Guinea’s annual budget of 15 billion.
Chinese money has been spent of monumental projects like buildings, transport infrastructure and energy projects in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.
But what concerns many in Papua New Guinea is debt to China driven by loans and obligations and the possible take over of state assets by a foreign power.
Lombrum naval base on Manus Island following World War Two in 1949. Image: Australian War Memorial
A legal advocacy group has told the UN Human Rights Council that more than 100 asylum seeker and refugee children are living without hope on Nauru.
The Human Rights Law Centre addressed the latest council session in Geneva.
The centre’s Daniel Webb told the council that despite the fact the Australian government was professing its committment to human rights in Geneva, it continued to indefinitely imprison 102 children in its offshore detention centre on Nauru.
“Imprisoned for fleeing the same atrocities our government comes here and condemns. And after five years of detention, these children have now lost hope.
“Some have stopped speaking. Some have stopped eating. A 10-year-old boy recently tried to kill himself.”
Webb said if the detention was not stopped there would be deaths.
He said even the government’s own medical advisers were warning that the situation was untenable.
“Yet the Australian government still refuses to free these kids, and is fighting case after case in our Federal Court to deny them access to urgent medical care. Mr President, we are talking about 102 children.”
Australia presented their concerns regarding human rights around the world at the same session but did not mention their detention camps on Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.
Papua New Guinea has been condemned for violent mob attacks on people accused of sorcery – especially women or girls, repeated assaults and robberies on refugees, failure to address police brutality and corruption in the latest country report by Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based rights watchdog flagged a Madang trial that began in March of 122 people accused of killing five men and two children suspected of witchcraft and serial attacks on women.
Almost 40 percent of the country’s 8 million people live in poverty, and the government is far too reliant on religious groups and non-government organisations to provide charitable services for the economic and social rights of citizens.
Among other key points of the chapter in its annual world report:
• The government has not taken sufficient steps to address gender inequality, violence, excessive use of force by police; • Rates of family and sexual violence are among the highest in the world, and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted; and • Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world.
‘Electoral violence’ Last August, Peter O’Neill was reelected as prime minister following an “election marred by widespread electoral irregularities and violence”, Human Rights Watch says.
“Soldiers and extra police were sent to the Highlands in response to fighting triggered by the election, where dozens of people, including police, had been killed in election-related violence.
“Refugees and asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island have suffered repeated violent attacks and robberies by locals, with inadequate hospital care on the island and no action by police.”
The watchdog says that more than three years after the 2013 Family Protection Act was adopted, Parliament in May finally passed regulations to implement the law, which criminalises domestic violence and allows victims to obtain protection orders.
However, police and prosecutors “rarely pursue investigations or criminal charges against people who commit family violence” — even in cases of attempted murder, serious injury, or repeated rape — and instead prefer to resolve such cases through mediation and/or payment of compensation.
Police often demand money (“for fuel”) from victims before acting, or simply ignore cases that occur in rural areas.
There is also a severe lack of services for people requiring assistance after having suffered family violence, such as safe houses, qualified counselors, case management, financial support, or legal aid, the report says.
Violent mobs Violent mobs attacked individuals accused of sorcery or witchcraft, particularly women and girls.
In March, a trial involving 122 defendants began in Madang. The defendants were charged in connection with the killing of five men and two children suspected of sorcery in 2014, Human Rights Watch says.
The prosecution alleged that the men raided a village in search of sorcerers to kill, armed with “bush knives, bows and arrows, hunting spears, [and] home-made and factory-made shotguns.”
No further details were available at time of the watchdog’s report regarding the trial’s progress.
Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world. Just over 50 percent of women and girls give birth in a health facility or with the help of a skilled birth attendant.
Although the PNG government supports universal access to contraception, two out of three women still cannot access contraception due to geographic, cultural, and economic barriers.
Abortion remains illegal in PNG, except when the mother’s life is at risk.
Police abuse rampant Police abuse remained rampant in Papua New Guinea, says Human Rights Watch.
In May, police detained and assaulted a doctor at a police roadblock on his way home in Port Moresby. The case triggered a public outcry, but no one had been charged for the offence at time of writing.
Few police are ever held to account for beating or torturing criminal suspects, but in December 2016, a mobile squad commander was charged with the murder of a street vendor, six months after the alleged offence occurred.
A court granted him bail in January 2017. In September, police charged a former police officer with the 2013 murder of two people in Central Province.
Despite the ombudsman and police announcing investigations into the 2016 police shooting of eight university students during a protest in Port Moresby, at time of writing no police had been charged or disciplined and neither body had issued a report.
About 770 male asylum seekers and refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Iran, live on Manus Island.
Another 35 or so have signed settlement papers to remain in PNG, although only four of these are working and financially independent.
Temporary living About 70 are temporarily living in Port Moresby. All were forcibly transferred to PNG by Australia since 2013, says Human Rights Watch.
Australia pays for their upkeep but refuses to resettle them, insisting refugees must settle in PNG or third countries, such as the United States.
Refugees and asylum seekers do not feel safe on Manus due to a spate of violent attacks by locals in the town of Lorengau.
Local youths attacked refugees and asylum seekers with bush knives, sticks, and rocks and robbed them of mobile phones and possessions.
Police failed to hold perpetrators to account.
In April, soldiers fired shots at the main regional processing center, injuring nine people including refugees and center staff.
An SBS graphic screen shot from a Pacific detention centres timeline video.
By Nick Baker of SBS News
The Australian government has been slammed for a lack of transparency amid news that the healthcare provider for refugees on Manus Island will wrap up its work today.
The International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) has been providing healthcare for refugees on Manus for several years but their contract is due to expire today.
However, despite the end date, the government did not publicly indicate a new provider was confirmed until last Friday. Although details remained scant.
In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs said it had “engaged a new health services provider from 1 May 2018 (and) IHMS will work with the new health service provider during a transition period”.
“Individuals will continue to have access to appropriate primary health services,” it said.
A spokesperson from IHMS confirmed the April 30 end date but said “it will, however, maintain a core group of staff in Manus and Port Moresby to support the transition to a new health service provider”.
New provider But neither the Department of Home Affairs or IHMS would say who the new provider would be, leaving open questions about the quality of the care.
Greens Senator Nick McKim said Australians were once again “in the dark” about the treatment of refugees on Manus.
McKim said getting information from the Department of Home Affairs was “like getting blood from a stone”.
“And of course that’s deliberate and part of the intent of establishing Australia’s offshore detention system in the first place – to drop a veil of secrecy over what’s happening in those places.”
He said although IHMS had a very checkered history, there was now a danger of gaps in health care over the coming months and beyond.
“Ultimately the risk is yet more people will come to harm … as a result of Peter Dutton’s negligence.”
McKim said the use of Manus and other offshore immigration detention facilities will go down as “one of the darkest chapters” in Australian history.
Harm ‘very rare’ “Because it’s very rare that in Australia’s history we’ve deliberately caused harm to innocent people and that’s exactly what Peter Dutton is doing.”
Refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia Graham Thom similarly expressed concerned around healthcare for those on Manus after today.
“Ever since the Australian government began shipping refugees out to detention centres on remote tropical islands, they have been trying to hide from the consequences of this cruel policy.”
“Withdrawing healthcare is Australia’s latest deplorable attempt to shift the responsibility for the suffering it has caused.”
“The health situation for refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea is already dire, but the end of the IHMS contract threatens to turn this into an all-out crisis.”
“The only way for Australia to ensure the health of the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus is to end offshore processing for good.”
Headline: Journalism educators protest over ‘targeting’ of Boochani on Manus
Manus Island was the unique setting for this Sydney Film Festival documentary collaboration between Iranian-Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani and a Dutch filmmaker using footage shot on a mobile phone. Video: Sydfilmfest
The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) has expressed its deep concern about reports that Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-Kurdish journalist and regular contributor to Australian publications, was arrested on Manus Island early last Thursday.
Behrouz Boochani … refugee journalist “targeted” by authorities on Manus Island. Image: Refugee Alternatives
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) chief executive, Paul Murphy, said Boochani appeared to have been deliberately targeted by Papua New Guinea (PNG) police in the crackdown on November 23 because he was well known as a journalist reporting from inside the detention centre.
“Behrouz has been one of the main sources of factual information about conditions inside the Manus Island detention centre for the past few years, and his reporting has been published in Australia and internationally,” Murphy said.
“His reporting in the finest traditions of journalism has been critical when the Australian and PNG governments have done everything they can to prevent media from having access to the asylum seekers on Manus Island.
“If, as the case appears to be, he has been targeted and arrested because of his profile and his role as a journalist in an attempt to silence him, this is an egregious attack on press freedom that cannot be let stand.”
Like MEAA, JERAA has called on the Australian and PNG governments to inform the public about his safety, and allow him to continue doing the journalistic work he has been for so many months.
Amnesty Award for journalism Just three weeks ago, Boochani was awarded the Amnesty International Australian Media Award for his journalism from Manus Island.
JERAA president, Matthew Ricketson, was a guest speaker at the awards in Sydney, and testified to the loud applause that greeted the award as well as the heartfelt admiration of his colleague at Guardian Australia, Ben Doherty, who accepted the award in Boochani’s absence.
Professor Ricketson said: “Behrouz Boochani’s reporting has been brave and inspiring, not least because he has been pursuing it while at the same time he has been detained indefinitely.
“Governments for nearly two decades now have been fighting determinedly to hide from public view – and the possibility of public empathy – what has been happening inside offshore detention centres.
“Boochani’s reporting is a vital counterweight to this campaign”.
Earlier this year, MEAA, the journalists’ union, co-ordinated an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, calling for him to be resettled in Australia. Dozens of high-profile journalists and writers co-signed the open letter.
Boochani’s work has been published in The Saturday Paper as well as Guardian Australia, while his film about life inside the Manus detention centre, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time has been screened at the Sydney and London film festivals. He tweets at @BehrouzBoochani
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) in condemning the reported arrest of Iranian-Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani by Papua New Guinea police earlier today.
The IFJ and MEAA have deplored the arrest as a targeted attack on press freedom by Papua New Guinea’s police.
A police operation was launched on Manus Island with PNG police and immigration officers entering the former Australian detention centre.
The centre was closed three weeks ago, but refugees have refused to leave, due to concerns over their safety.
Large numbers of officers, including the paramilitary police mobile squad unit entered the grounds and told the refugees they had an hour to leave. They tried to confiscate mobile phones and reportedly damaged personal belongings.
Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-Kurdish journalist, was arrested during the raid, with reports that officers were specifically looking for him.
Silencing a critic He was led away in handcuffs by two police officers.
Boochani has been in the detention centre on Manus Island since August 2013.
Boochani has been a main source of factual information about the conditions inside Manus Island detention centre, with his reports been published in Australia and internationally.
Earlier this year he was shortlisted in the journalism category for the 2017 Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards and just three weeks ago he was awarded the Amnesty International Australia Media Award for his journalism from Manus Island.
Earlier this year, MEAA and the IFJ launched a campaign with IFEX calling on the Australian government to resettle Boochani in Australia.
MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said: “If, as the case appears to be, he has been targeted and arrested because of his profile and his role as a journalist in an attempt to silence him, this is an egregious attack on press freedom that cannot be let stand.
“We call on the Australian and PNG governments to release him from custody, assure his safety, and not to hinder him from continuing to perform his role as a journalist.”
The IFJ said: “The arrest of Behrouz Boochani, if it is because of his work as journalist, is a blatant attack of press freedom and an attempt to silence a critical voice. We join MEAA in calling for the Australian and PNG governments to release him for custody immediately, and guarantee his safety.
“Journalists should never be stopped from doing their work.”
Headline: Chris Trotter: Catastrophic loss of trust over Canberra’s Manus provocation
OPINION:By Chris Trotter
You have to go a long way to find anything remotely resembling Australia’s current treatment of New Zealand.
For a supposedly friendly government to deliberately inject inflammatory disinformation into the political bloodstream of its supposedly closest neighbour is an extraordinarily provocative act. Not quite an act of war, but the sort of intervention that can all-too-easily provoke a catastrophic loss of trust.
It’s the sort of thing that the Soviets and the Americans used to do to one another all the time during the Cold War. Except, of course, those two superpowers were ideological and geopolitical rivals of the first order. It takes a real effort to re-cast the relationship between New Zealand and Australia in similar terms. Nevertheless, it’s an effort we are now obliged to make.
So, what is it that Australia has done? Essentially, its national security apparatus (presumably at the instigation of their political leaders) has released, mostly through media surrogates, a number of related stories calculated to inflame the prejudices of a certain type of New Zealander.
Like Australia, New Zealand harbours a frighteningly large number of racists. Politically-speaking, such people are easily aroused and have few qualms about setting-off ugly, racially-charged, debates on talkback radio, in the letters columns of the daily newspapers and across social media. These individuals are trouble enough when all they have to fight with are their own stereotypes and prejudices. Arm them with the carefully assembled disinformation of “fake news” and they instantly become quite dangerous.
Planting stories And yet, this is exactly what the Australian authorities have done. Planting stories in their own press (knowing they will be picked up almost immediately by our own) about at least four boatloads of illegal immigrants that have set out for New Zealand only to be intercepted and turned back by the ever-vigilant officers of the Royal Australian Navy and their Coast Guard comrades.
The purpose of this story (unsourced and lacking in detail, making it, almost certainly, fake news) was to paint New Zealand’s prime minister as an ill-informed and ungrateful diplomatic naïf: an inexperienced young idealist who doesn’t know which way is up when it comes to dealing with real-world problems.
This, alone, was an extraordinary intervention. To gauge how extraordinary, just turn it around. Imagine the reaction in Australia if some unnamed person in New Zealand’s national security apparatus leaked a memo to one of this country’s daily newspapers in which the negative diplomatic and economic consequences of being tainted by association with Australia’s flouting of international law is set forth in clinical detail. If the memo also contained a collection of highly critical assessments of Turnbull’s cabinet colleagues, allegedly passed-on by a number of unnamed western diplomats, then so much the better!
Canberra would not be impressed!
If the Australians had left it at just one intervention, then perhaps New Zealanders could simply have shrugged it off as yet another case of bad behaviour from the land of the under-arm bowlers. But when have the Aussies ever left it at “just one”?
Former guard’s ‘intervention’ The next intervention came in the form of “Ian” – formerly a guard (or so he said) at both the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres. For reasons it has yet to adequately explain, RNZ’s Checkpoint programme provided “Ian” with nearly ten, largely uninterrupted, minutes of air-time during which he poured-forth a stream of accusations and characterisations which, to put it mildly, painted the protesters occupying the decommissioned Manus Island facility in the most lurid and disquieting colours. The detainees were criminals, drug-dealers – paedophiles even! Not at all the sort of people New Zealanders would want in their country.
“Ian”, it turns out, is a “witness” well-known to the many Australian NGOs that have taken up the cause of the detainees on Manus and Nauru. They have noted the curious similarities between “Ian’s” supposedly personal observations and experiences, and the inflammatory talking-points constantly reiterated by Australia’s hard-line Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. A cynic might describe the grim “testimony” of “Ian” and Dutton as mutually reinforcing.
No matter. New Zealand’s racist, Islamophobic and militantly anti-immigrant community had been supplied with yet another truckload of Australian-manufactured ammunition.
Enough? Not hardly! Only on Friday morning New Zealanders were fed the shocking “news” that the protesting Manus Island detainees are harbouring within their ranks an unspecified number of men guilty of having debauched and prostituted local girls as young as 10 and 13!
Too much? Over the top? Redolent of the very worst instances of the murderous racial-incitement for which the Deep South of the United States was so rightly infamous? It sure is! Which is why we must hope that the internet does not operate on Manus Island. Because, if the local inhabitants were to read on-line that the detainees were responsible for prostituting their daughters, what might they NOT do?
Disinformation campaign One almost feels that the Australian spooks behind this extraordinary disinformation campaign would actually be delighted if the locals burned down the Manus Island detention centre with the protesting detainees inside it.
“This is what comes of 37-year-old Kiwi prime ministers meddling in matters they know nothing about!” That would be the consistent theme of the right-wing Australian media. It would not take long for the same line to be picked up here: first on social media, and then by more mainstream media outlets.
Right-wing outrage, mixed with a gleeful “we told you so!”, could not, however, be contained within the news media for very long. Inevitably, the more outré inhabitants of the Opposition’s back bench would take possession of the controversy, from there it would cascade down rapidly to Opposition politicians nearer the front.
Before her enemies could say: “It’s all your fault!”, Jacinda would find herself under withering political fire from both sides of the Tasman. Canberra would register her increasingly fragile government’s distress with grim satisfaction.
As the men and women responsible for organising “Operation Stardust” deleted its final folder, and fed the last incriminating document into the paper-shredder, one or two of them might even have voiced a judiciously muted “Mission Accomplished!”
This essay, by Chris Trotter, was originally posted on the Bowalley Road blog of Saturday, 18 November 2017, under the title: “Not quite an act of war: Analysing Australia’s push-back against Jacinda’s Manus Island outreach. It is republished by Asia Pacific Report with the permission of the author.
Headline: Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The case for diplomacy over refugees
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The case for diplomacy over refugees
Is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign over the Manus Island refugee situation causing serious damage to Trans-Tasman relations? And is it even in the best interests of refugees?
Yesterday I looked at the arguments for the New Zealand government taking a harder line on the refugee crisis – see: The case for less talk, more action on Manus Island refugees. But many are making the opposite case – warning that New Zealand should be more cautious and constructive in dealing with the issue. Below are the arguments for the New Zealand government backing away from its increasingly vocal and strident approach.
Warnings and threats from Australia
The Australian Government continues to push back at New Zealand’s diplomatic intervention over the Manus Island refugees and appears increasingly irritated by Ardern’s campaign to take 150 of the refugees (which was an offer originally made by her predecessor, John Key.)
The latest pushback is from Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who has talked frankly about the situation. He is reported saying that New Zealand is technically free to directly negotiate with Papua New Guinea so as to take some of the refugees, but this would come at the cost of a diminished relationship with his country. For the best report on this, see Stephen Dziedzic’s ABC article, Manus Island: Peter Dutton takes swipe at NZ’s offer of funding for services.
Dutton states that New Zealand “would have to think about their relationship with Australia and what impact it would have”, and “They’d have to think that through, and we’d have to think that through.”
Dutton was also disparaging about New Zealand’s announcement of aid money to help with the situation in Manus Island and Nauru: “Well, it’s a waste of money in my judgement, I mean give that money to another environment somewhere, to Indonesia for example”.
That article also reports that Dutton is heavily pushing the line that New Zealand is being hypocritical criticising Australia’s refugee policy while at the same time being the beneficiary of it: “He also took a thinly veiled swipe at New Zealand by arguing it benefited from Australia’s tough border protection policies without paying for them.”
The minister said: “We have stopped vessels on their way across the Torres Strait planning to track their way down the east coast of Australia to New Zealand… We have put many hundreds of millions of dollars into a defence effort to stop those vessels… We do that frankly without any financial assistance from New Zealand… If new boats arrive tomorrow those people aren’t going to Auckland, they’re going to Nauru.”
Australia use the media to retaliate
In speaking out for the abandoned refugees on Manus Island, and others in detention centres, New Zealand is going to have to endure some hostile and powerful retaliation from Australia. The Australian Government is clearly striking back by leaking information to the media in a bid to undermine Ardern’s position. The latest, today, involves allegations of sexual abuse involving some of the refugees – see Luke Malpass and Stacey Kirk’s news report, Australian intelligence leak on Manus Island details allegations of underage sex crimes.
The article states “It is understood the Turnbull Government is furious with what it views as Ardern’s ‘moral posturing and naivety’ on the matter.”
This all follows on from another news story, published earlier in the week in the Australian Courier Mail newspaper, supposedly informed by classified government information and purporting that there was increased “chatter” amongst people smugglers about sending boats of refugees to New Zealand. It was also alleged that at some stage Australia had intercepted four boats headed to New Zealand, with 164 people on board.
Small says there is no doubt tensions are rising: “Make no mistake. Behind the smiles and the Trans-Tasman handshakes, tensions are running high. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s increasingly insistent push for Australia to send 150 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru our way is facing an intensifying push-back.”
Unsurprisingly, the National Party is leading the charge against the coalition government’s refugee stance. Leader Bill English is scathing, suggesting Ardern is simply playing political games over the issue, rather than acting out of principle. He says: “The issue is to what extent is our Prime Minister making a showpiece out of this, knowing full well that the Australians are very unlikely to take up the offer” – see Jane Patterson’s National Party questions PM on Manus progress.
English is also quoted saying “We need a constructive relationship with Australia to help manage any potential for boat people to head to New Zealand and the way the Prime Minister’s making a show of trying to put pressure on them isn’t going to help that relationship” – see Jane Patterson’s PM denies NZ becoming a soft target for people smuggling.
What could the government stand to gain by its stance over the refugees? English says “I think it’s just part of trying to balance up with her own constituency signing the TPP. A lot of the people who supported the Prime Minister and the Labour Party were opposed to the TPP… This kind of talk, probably, about Manus Island probably makes them feel a bit better” – see Michael Daly’s PM’s Manus Island push a deflection from TPP – Bill English.
Similarly, in the latest Listener magazine Jane Clifton suggests that it was only after progress was made on the free trade agreement that “Ardern abruptly revisited her offer to take some Manus Island and Nauru detainees from Australia”. Together with her harder line on Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Clifton says that this is an attempt at distraction, essentially shouting “Look over here, human rights!” Clifton says that Ardern “was sending a message to CPTTP refuseniks at home: at least this PM is prepared to confront other leaders about uncomfortable issues, even at the expense of souring relations.”
National has continued to push the line that the coalition government is being juvenile and petty, with Judith Collins going on The AM Show this morning admonishing the prime minister, saying “It’s not student politics time. This is where she’s going to have to step up a bit. She is going to have to learn from Winston Peters that you actually do have to be a little bit more statesman-like when you’re overseas and representing New Zealand” – see Newshub’s Refugee deal isn’t ‘student politics’ – Judith Collins.
Mike Hosking has some similar views, arguing that New Zealand is doing itself no favours by getting offside with Australia: “By bugging Turnbull, by yapping at him over and over, we are looking dangerously like we want to score points. And as Winston Peters pointed out in one of his rare recent forays into the public arena, he quite rightly said our current relationship with our biggest trading partner is at a low ebb” – see: Yapping at Australia over and over will only make our relationship worse.
Hosking says the New Zealand government’s approach is unfortunately based on “guilt” and emotions, and “we are running the very real risk of getting up Australia’s nose. The more we push, the worse it gets, because it has a tinge of the embarrassment about it.”
Ardern has responded to questions about the state of the Trans-Tasman relationship, saying she still had a “strong” relationship with Turnbull and that the current differences wouldn’t do long-term damage: “New Zealand’s always been in a position of advocating for itself; for its position. That’s nothing new, we have a strong relationship… This relationship has such depth, that it rides above any political issue of the day, that continues to be the case” – see Laura Walters’ Jacinda Ardern says it’ll take more than Manus Island tensions to hurt the trans-Tasman relationship.
Direct intervention in PNG could make everything worse
How would Australia respond to New Zealand negotiating directly with Papua New Guinea, to take the refugees? According to Chris Trotter, Australia is not a country New Zealand should want to get offside with, as it is “a regime prepared to be almost unbelievably ruthless and brutal in the pursuit of its national objectives” – see: Australia: Seeing what we have to see. For example, he says that it’s “a nation able to break the New Zealand economy at will”.
And how would PNG respond to an approach from New Zealand? Trotter paints a picture: “The government of Papua-New Guinea is almost entirely in the thrall of the Australian Government – its former colonial master. Ostensibly a democracy, the country is, in fact, a corrupt kleptocracy whose senior ministers are pretty-much the bought-and-paid-for playthings of Canberra. Were we to ask Port Moresby if it was willing to allow New Zealand to take 150 detainees off their hands, its officials would simply pick up the phone and ask Canberra if that would be okay. Canberra would say ‘No!’ – and that would be that.”
There is also an argument that, by taking the refugees, New Zealand would undermine the success of Australia’s policy to discourage refugees and people smugglers from sending the boats. This argument is put well by David Farrar, who says that although the tough refugee policy might seem “nasty”, it has been incredibly effective in stopping the dangerous activity in which many people lose their lives on ill-advised boat journeys – see: The other side of Manus Island.
Here’s Farrar’s main point: “The former ‘kind’ policy saw hundreds drown at sea. I’m not sure there is any good way to die, but I am sure that a very bad way to die is in the middle of the ocean in a storm in an over-crowded boat. And many of those drowned were kids. So the ‘kind’ policy saw over 1,200 asylum seekers drown horribly at sea. The ‘nasty’ policy has seen that number reduce to zero. Not ten, Not five but zero. And it has been zero for four years in a row.”