Manus de­bate needs facts, not hys­te­ria

Herald Sun - - OPINION - RITA PANAHI RITA PANAHI IS A HER­ALD SUN COLUM­NIST rita.panahi@news.com.au @ri­ta­panahi

FEW is­sues po­larise more starkly than bor­der pro­tec­tion, de­spite the fact that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians agree we need strong poli­cies. While the vast ma­jor­ity, in­clud­ing the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties, favour cur­rent bor­der pro­tec­tion mea­sures, the Greens and a small but loud mi­nor­ity of ag­i­ta­tors shame­lessly en­gage in un­truths and hy­per­bole to push their open bor­ders agenda.

Refugee ad­vo­cates and their me­dia mouth­pieces are adept at dis­sem­i­nat­ing half-truths, fabri­ca­tions and lies to smear their po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents in a fu­tile at­tempt to change pub­lic opin­ion.

Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton has been la­belled a “Nazi”, “racist” and a “killer” and “tor­turer” with “blood on his hands”. But Aus­tralia is tar­nished by fools with short mem­o­ries who claim we are run­ning Nazi-style “con­cen­tra­tion camps” and “tor­tur­ing asy­lum seek­ers”.

They are now ac­cus­ing the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment of de­lib­er­ately en­gag­ing in a cam­paign to hurt, hu­mil­i­ate and even starve about 800 men on Manus Is­land. The same peo­ple who pre­tend to care about asy­lum seek­ers cheered poli­cies un­der which more than a thou­sand men, women and chil­dren drowned try­ing to reach our shores.

There is noth­ing com­pas­sion­ate about danger­ous poli­cies that lead to hun­dreds of deaths. Kevin Rudd’s dis­as­trous de­ci­sion to dis­man­tle John Howard’s tough poli­cies re­sulted in more than 50,000 ar­riv­ing by boat, com­pro­mis­ing the coun­try’s hu­man­i­tar­ian in­take.

It was Ju­lia Gil­lard who re­opened Manus Is­land in 2012, not Tony Ab­bott as many refugee ad­vo­cates seem to be­lieve, judg­ing by their fact-free so­cial me­dia rants. La­bor, be­lat­edly, joined the Coali­tion in back­ing tough poli­cies that close the door on hu­man traf­fick­ers and en­sure that Aus­tralia’s hu­man­i­tar­ian in­take ben­e­fits those in the great­est need, not eco­nomic mi­grants who can af­ford to pay thou­sands of dol­lars to peo­ple smug­glers.

It was Ab­bott who did what the com­men­tariat claimed was im­pos­si­ble and “stopped the boats”. Since then refugee ad­vo­cates have cam­paigned for the clo­sure of the Manus Is­land de­ten­tion cen­tre. They cheered when Pa­pua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the cen­tre must close.

Now, ac­tivists are de­mand­ing that the com­plex be re­opened and are en­cour­ag­ing asy­lum seek­ers to re­main in the cen­tre that was de­com­mis­sioned on Oc­to­ber 31 rather than move to al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion nearby.

Claims that the 580 men who have bar­ri­caded them­selves in the cen­tre have been aban­doned by the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment with­out food, run­ning wa­ter and elec­tric­ity are be­ing re­ported un­crit­i­cally by the usual me­dia sus­pects. Far Left ac­tivists GetUp! re­leased a video show­ing de­plorable con­di­tions in the cen­tre but Dut­ton claims the footage only shows that the men had de­lib­er­ately “trashed” it.

Life in PNG isn’t easy, not for asy­lum seek­ers nor for the lo­cals, but if you be­lieve refugee ac­tivists, the coun­try is un­fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion.

If that’s the case then the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of PNG should qual­ify for re­set­tle­ment in Aus­tralia.

Nauru was sim­i­larly mis­rep­re­sented by refugee ac­tivists who painted the tiny Mi­crone­sian na­tion as hell on earth.

PNG lo­cals have been treated shab­bily not just by some asy­lum seek­ers but also by their ad­vo­cates and ir­re­spon­si­ble Greens politi­cians who are openly en­cour­ag­ing the men at the cen­tre to defy lo­cal laws and stay in the cen­tre.

PNG po­lice have in­formed Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties of 161 of­fences, in­clud­ing sex­ual as­sault, as­sault and prop­erty dam­age, al­legedly com­mit­ted by asy­lum seek­ers since Oc­to­ber 2013. Some of the most dis­turb­ing al­le­ga­tions cen­tre on sex with un­der­age girls.

HERE are a few in­dis­putable facts that are of­ten lost in the hys­te­ria: far from be­ing aban­doned, ev­ery asy­lum seeker on Manus Is­land has ac­cess to ac­com­mo­da­tion with run­ning wa­ter, util­i­ties, food and a fort­nightly al­lowance.

Thanks to Aus­tralian tax­pay­ers, these men have a bet­ter stan­dard of liv­ing than some PNG lo­cals.

Nat­u­rally, that can breed re­sent­ment, as can the hor­rid way that some of the lo­cals have been treated — but to pre­tend that these men are starv­ing and have no other op­tion but to dig for wa­ter is plainly un­true.

Claims that the men fear for their lives and be­lieve they will be as­saulted as soon as they leave the cen­tre also ring false, given that many of them travel to a nearby vil­lage to shop, go to the beach and mix with lo­cals.

Aus­tralians should be proud of our gen­er­ous refugee pro­gram. Last year we granted 17,555 hu­man­i­tar­ian visas and we con­sis­tently rank as one of the top three re­set­tle­ment coun­tries in the world. To paint this com­pas­sion­ate coun­try as a cal­lous hu­man rights abuser is yet an­other out­ra­geous lie prop­a­gated by ac­tivists.

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