The truth about Manus

The Saturday Paper - - Letters & Editorial -

The 600 men on Manus Is­land are hav­ing their lives traded for 1505 votes north of Bris­bane. This is the sim­ple, bru­tal arith­metic of their ex­is­tence.

The cri­sis on Manus Is­land is not about drown­ings at sea. It is about Pauline Han­son and the mar­gin by which Peter Dut­ton holds the seat of Dick­son. It is about the 1505 peo­ple who rep­re­sent Dut­ton’s ten­u­ous grip on power.

Dut­ton can­not al­low the sit­u­a­tion on Manus to be re­solved, be­cause to do so would be to un­der­mine the crude im­age of au­thor­ity he de­rives from it. This is why New Zealand’s of­fer of asy­lum was so quickly re­jected.

It was no ac­ci­dent that Dut­ton crit­i­cised re­set­tle­ment in New Zealand two days be­fore Mal­colm Turnbull had a chance to dis­cuss it with Jacinda Ardern. It was a warn­ing to the prime min­is­ter: Don’t fix the prob­lem I have de­lib­er­ately cre­ated.

Dut­ton sounded as if he was back in op­po­si­tion. He said any re­set­tle­ment would be “a green light for peo­ple smug­glers”. La­bor’s sup­port for it was a “fold to in­ter­nal pres­sure once again”.

Dut­ton cares noth­ing for the men he is tor­tur­ing on Manus. He is the ar­chi­tect of their de­pri­va­tion. He is un­moved by their deaths, by their hunger and thirst and men­tal an­guish.

Dut­ton is a thug. Even in­side his party, he is called a “Joh-era wal­loper”. With the lives of in­no­cent men, he is say­ing to his elec­torate, “Pauline Han­son might be a bigot, but I am too. Trust me.”

The fear of refugees, cul­ti­vated by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments, used to have a broad po­lit­i­cal pur­pose. The logic said that if you could blame un­know­ing Hazaras for hospi­tal wait­ing queues or traf­fic in Western Syd­ney, you could fo­cus on bor­der se­cu­rity and ig­nore the is­sues that were your ac­tual re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Those ar­gu­ments no longer hold. Nor does the ar­gu­ment that says off­shore de­ten­tion stops drown­ings. It doesn’t. Boat turn­backs do, and they con­tinue to be used for this pur­pose.

The men on Manus Is­land are there for one rea­son: their tor­ture is Peter Dut­ton’s per­sonal brand. When the next fed­eral elec­tion is held, he will cam­paign on a plat­form of ru­ined lives.

That Dut­ton can refuse a so­lu­tion to the dis­as­ter on Manus Is­land for the sake of his seat says ev­ery­thing about the blood­less cyn­i­cism of his pol­i­tics. This is a poi­son. It is the most de­spi­ca­ble abuse of power in the name of power. Men are dead be­cause of it. This is Dut­ton’s fault. Any hu­mane per­son would be racing to rec­tify it.

Aus­tralia can never make right what it has done to the men Dut­ton has left be­hind on Manus. Their suf­fer­ing will out­last his ca­reer. But we can end this need­less abuse. We can bring these men here. Their lives are worth more than a few cruel votes in Queens­land.

Mal­colm Turnbull (02) 6277 7700

(02) 9327 3988

Bill Shorten

(02) 6277 4022

• (03) 9326 1300

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