Turnbull, Shorten, Marles, Albanese
on Manus and Nauru

John Kilcullen, May 2018

Labor and LNP politicians argue that if any of the detainees (former detainees) ever get to Australia, or to New Zealand, other people will drown. But, inconsistently, they will allow the detainees to go to a country at least as desirable as Australia and NZ, namely USA.

Labor claim that if they had been in government a 3rd-country settlement would have been found long ago. (Hypothetical, imaginary, history: IF we had been in charge, good things would have happened!). But if the detainees had got to NZ, Canada or USA after a short stay in humanely-administred detention in PNG or Nauru, wouldn’t that have led to drownings?

What is needed: The Manus-Nauru detainees should be given, as soon as possible, a definite date in the not too distant future by which they will no longer be in PNG or Nauru (unless they freely choose to stay), but in some country where they can make a living and live safely with their human rights respected. If third-country settlements cannot be found by then, they must come to Australia. Australia should exit the 1951 Refugee Convention and enter into a new agreement on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants with Indonesia and other countries in our region.

[A definite date in the not too distant future is no longer good enough. The situation has deteriorated so far that the only adequate response now is to bring them all here immediately.]

Number of people in offshore detention: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getfacts/statistics/operation-sovereign-borders-offshore-detention-statistics/

ACT Branch of the ALP has repeatedly called for the Manus and Nauru detention centres to be closed and detainees to be brought to Australia.
This is the resolution of the 2018 ACT Branch Conference: Resolution 6. (On official website, p.141).
See my message Email2LaborSenator

Turnbull at the Wayside Chapel, December 2016

Turnbull has acknowledged that Australia’s treatment of the Manus and Nauru detainees is “harsh… some would say… cruel”: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-turnbull-defends-harsh-boats-policy-as-necessary-20140507-zr66s.html. The justification he offers is charity or love:

“As you know we have secured an arrangement with the United States which would enable asylum seekers from Manus and Nauru to be resettled in the United States. So we make no apologies for keeping Australia’s borders secure. That is stopping the people smuggling, stopping the drownings at sea. Our policy is compassionate, it respects the sovereignty of Australia, and as far as the people at Manus and Nauru are concerned—the people that Kevin Rudd put there, remember that—we have secured an agreement with the United States to enable them to be resettled in the United States and of course we will continue to work on other options, because they can’t settle in Australia, because that would simply start the boats again, start the people smuggling again, start the drownings again, and I tell you there is no charity, there is no love, in families drowning at sea. That was the consequence of not maintaining the security of our borders. Now on that note I wish you a very happy Christmas and I’ll get back to serving out lunch”, at the Wayside Chapel, December 2016.

(Transcription from a webpage no longer available, http://www.msn.com/en-nz?refurl=%2fen-nz%2fnews%2fnational%2fmalcolm-turnbull-discusses-asylum-seeker-policies-during-wayside-visit%2fvp-BBxxt3w)

Criticism of Turnbull’s argument

Harsh treatment of detainees is not the only way to prevent drownings—asylum-seekers could be allowed to come by plane (on an asylum-seeker visa, http://rightnow.org.au/opinion-3/carrier-sanctions-stop-asylum-seekers-getting-planes/, http://www.mediterraneanhope.com/articoli/italy-opens-humanitarian-corridors-for-refugees-867), their applications could be processed in pathway countries, and there are other measures against people smuggling.

And it is wrong to treat some people cruelly to prevent other people from taking undue risks. The only ethical theory I know of that would support this calculus is Bentham’s version of Utilitarianism, “the greatest good of the greatest number” (Andrew Leigh invokes this slogan to justify the Labor Party’s support of offshore detention, http://www.andrewleigh.com/5944). The Benthamite adds up the benefits and harms to the various people affected and does whatever produces the greatest net good. People who study ethics generally agree that Bentham’s version of Utilitarianism is not a tenable analysis of morality. It has no place for principles, it ignores the distinction between persons, and consequently has no place for individual rights and no concept of justice. According to Waleed Aly, “the utilitarian politics behind our brutal asylum seeker policy strikes at the heart of our civilisation”. See also François Crépeau, UN special rapporteur on the rights of migrants, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/17/un-and-human-rights-groups-condemn-campaign-to-punish-manus-island-men.

The argument is obviously inconsistent with the “arrangement with the United States”—bringing detainees to Australia would not encourage boat journeys any more strongly than sending some to America will do. In many countries America is thought of as the golden land of opportunity, the place poor people wish they were in. Australia doesn’t have that mystique.

If preventing the Manus and Nauru detainees from settling in Australia or NZ or any other attractive first-world country were the only way of preventing drownings, the agreement with President Trump would have led to another surge of boats. America is the first-world country par excellence, a very attractive destination. Whatever is preventing any surge resulting from the American arrangement (that may include turn-backs we don’t hear about, or disruptive AFP operations, or Indonesian government action—whatever it is) would likewise prevent a surge if the detainees were all brought here.

Turnbull is a Catholic, who does “acts of charity”, e.g. serving Christmas lunch at the Wayside Chapel, giving $5 to a beggar. But he must want to re-write Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan should have said: “These risky journeys from Jerusalem to Jericho must stop. Let us detain survivors and make sure they never get to Jericho. There is no charity, no love, in letting people fall into the hands of robbers”. As for the inn-keeper, he would count as a people smuggler, facilitating attempts to get to Jericho.

Shorten on Insiders, 23 Jul 2017


CASSIDY: Kevin Rudd was back in the news this week and he once said of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru that they would never, ever, be resettled in Australia. Now he says that they should have been resettled in Australia, or New Zealand three years ago. Which one is the Labor policy?

SHORTEN: Well, we’ve made it clear that we’re not going to see the people smugglers back in business.

CASSIDY: Never, ever?

SHORTEN: We don’t want the people smugglers. -

CASSIDY: Is your policy that they would never, ever return to Australia?

SHORTEN: Let me explain our policy. That is part of it, yes, just to go to the short answer. But the longer explanation is this. 1,200 people that we know of drowned at sea. I don’t ever want to see that happen again. This is not a matter... and the Government would love us to...

CASSIDY - And that was under Labor’s watch?

SHORTEN: The Liberals could helped with the Malaysia Solution. That would have I suspect, prevented some of the deaths. Let’s call it as it is. But let’s be really straight. The Government want to say that Labor wants to see the people smugglers back. We absolutely don’t. I think it’s shameful that Dutton and the rest of the crew are trying to encourage the people smugglers by saying that Labor wants to see them back in business. We don’t. But what I do respect is the legitimate concerns, not just of former prime minister Rudd, but a lot of people, that this Government has been so derelict that there’s still a lot of people in these facilities in what is now seemingly indefinite detention. I, for one, want to see this Government succeed in its arrangement with the United States and I would like to see them do more to tie up arrangements with other nations. There’s got to be a way that we defeat the people smugglers, avoid the terrible deaths at sea without keeping people in indefinite detention.

CASSIDY: There are reports that there are moves afoot within the Labor Party to tackle this at the national conference and that they’ll want a softening of the “never, ever” policy.

SHORTEN: Well I know that the Labor Party as least as well as anyone else. And I respect the concern that people have about indefinite detention. But I also know that people never, ever want to see people drown at sea in the manner which happened courtesy of the criminal syndicates and people smugglers.

[Comment: The detainees were in indefinite detention from the beginning. No one has ever given them a date when their detention would end.]

Shorten on Q&A, 21 August, 2017


BILL SHORTEN There’s two competing priorities, but they shouldn’t be competing. One is we don’t want the people smugglers back in business. And despite the Government saying that they’re the only ones who don’t want them back in business, I don’t want them back in business, Labor doesn’t want them back in business, and I think most Australians don’t want them back in business. We don’t want to see drownings. But that cannot be an excuse for maintaining indefinite detention. I don’t accept that there’s a simple equation – that the only way you deter people smugglers is by having people in indefinite detention.

This may sound funny coming from the Labor guy about the Liberal guy, but I hope the Liberals pull off the deal with the United States and start resettling people. But I also think there needs to be a lifting of the veil of secrecy on the way that people are being treated, and I think the Government needs to turbo-charge its efforts with regional countries. I also think we need to re-engage with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, because, you know, we talk about the challenges we have here, but you look at the nations surrounding, for example, Syria and Iraq, they have millions of refugees, and I personally think it would be sensible if we provided some more support for your Jordans, for your Lebanons, for Turkey, who are dealing with a whole lot of refugees on a scale we can’t even begin to imagine.

TONY JONES OK, can I just interrupt there? It goes really to the question on what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was saying. You’ve talked about 100 days to do this, 100 days to do that. Would you commit to having everyone out of offshore detention within 100 days of being in government?

BILL SHORTEN I’d like to, but I don’t know if we can negotiate those regional arrangements within 100 days. And what I don’t want to do is make a promise we can’t keep. But what I’m making very clear here, and indeed a lot of other people are maybe watching this show, the Government is going to say a lot of things about Labor at the next election. We’re determined not to see the people smugglers back in business, and some people might say we don’t care about that, and maybe some people will say we don’t want to hear that. Well, that’s our view. We are determined to stop them. But having said that, I don’t accept that the necessary consequence of deterring the people smugglers is people in indefinite detention. I think a lot of Australians across the board are deeply uncomfortable where the status quo...

TONY JONES But you’ll make no commitments to doing something about that with any kind of time limit?

BILL SHORTEN Well, wait a second. You asked me about the first 100 days. I said we’d give it our best endeavours. But I don’t think you can simply negotiate regional arrangements within 100 days. We’re going to give it our best shot.

Marles on Insiders, 27 Aug 2017


UHLMANN: You’re in Papua New Guinea at the moment. Manus Island is actually a Labor Party creation, currently in its own form. Kevin Rudd did it in the 2013 election to end a problem that he had. By October 31, that centre will shut down. Where should those 700 people go?

MARLES: Well, those people need to be found resettlement options outside of Australia. It was the centrepiece of the arrangement that Kevin Rudd negotiated back in 2013, and I was indeed in this country at that time when those negotiations took place, that we took Australia off the table. It was a very critical part of defeating the business model of people smugglers around the world, but particularly in Jakarta and in Indonesia. It was absolutely essential that we ended that journey between Java and Christmas Island, which saw such a tragic loss of life. And indeed, it was the regional resettlement arrangement and what was done here that has been the single most important decision of any kind.....

UHLMANN: But there was no long-term plan, was there? Kevin Rudd is trying to say at the moment that after 12 months, things were supposed to be sorted. He was trying to solve a problem that was to the next election, and in fact, what happened next really wasn’t thought about very much.

MARLES: I disagree with that. I mean, You’re right in saying...

UHLMANN:.....So everyone would have been settled by now under Labor?

MARLES: Well, indeed everyone should have been settled by now, that’s absolutely the case. Look, the agreement was originally for 12 months. Having said that, it was absolutely imagined that it would be reviewed and if it needed to continue, it would. But the importance of that time frame is, as articulated back then, was that that was how long we thought it would take to get the bulk of those on Manus and Nauru resettled elsewhere in the world, or potentially here in PNG. Now, this Government, the Coalition Government, have patently failed to pursue third country resettlement options from the day they were elected.

UHLMANN: But sorry, the Labor Party commentates on this. This whole centre was the patent failure of the Labor Party to control the borders.

MARLES: Well, if we’re about to go into a historic discussion of why the journey happened between Java and Christmas Island, I think it’s unreasonable to sheet all of the blame home to one side. Am I willing to say that Labor at that point in time made some mistakes? Yes, I think we did and I’ve articulated that previously. But I also know this - we negotiated an arrangement with Malaysia that would have materially changed circumstances, by the Government’s own logic would have gone a long way to bringing an end to that journey yet the Coalition at the time opposed it. Something like 670 people perished at sea after the Coalition opposed the Malaysian arrangement in the Parliament. So if we want to an historic argument about where the blame lies for that period of time, we can do that. But what matters now is that we ultimately go forward and resolve this issue. Third country resettlement is a critical part of the solution. This is not an easy problem to resolve. And yes, turning back boats is a critical element of it and it’s to the Government’s credit that they have done that. But it alone is not enough. And in some respects, they’ve been something of a one trick pony. In those first couple of years, they were only focused on that and did not see the significance of finding third country resettlement options. They’ve negotiated the arrangement with the United States. That’s good. But all their eggs are in that basket and it’s not enough and they need to do more.

UHLMANN: But just briefly, it’s the Labor Party’s view that the people on Manus Island, who are now spread out through the PNG community. will never come to Australia?

MARLES: Look, it’s very important that Australia remains off the table. It is very important that those on Manus and Nauru not be resettled in Australia. It’s a difficult and hard decision to make, but the logic of it is critically important because it is what, more than anything else, has brought an end to the people smuggling model in Indonesia and we cannot allow that trade to start again. Because if it does, people will die. And knowing what we now know about how that trade proceeds, to be a party to seeing it restart, in my view, would be deeply immoral. So, it is very important that those on Manus and Nauru are not resettled in Australia. That does not mean that we don’t have an obligation to these people - we do. We need to find third country resettlement options and that’s what this Government has failed to do and that’s what it needs to continue to do beyond the arrangement with the United States, albeit, that is a start.

UHLMANN: Richard Marles, one last thing. The Government is now saying that people who came to Australia from the detention centres offshore will have their services removed from them in the community. About 100 people will be affected. What’s your view on that? These people are now living in Australia.

MARLES: Look, I’ve seen those reports this morning, Chris. I don’t know the details of their circumstances beyond what’s in those reports and one thing I’ve learnt in this area of policy is that the detail matters. The only observation I would make is this: people, be it in Australia or indeed on Manus and Nauru, Australia has an obligation to provide care. There is a duty of care which needs to be fulfilled in respect of those people and I think the Government needs to be very mindful in respect of how that duty of care is being fulfilled in respect of those who are referred to in the reports this morning.

Labor Senators do not support McKim motion, 10 August 2017

“That the Senate agrees that Australia’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are not safe and that every person who has sought asylum in Australia, and is currently in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, must be evacuated to Australia immediately.”

Labor Senators either left the chamber or voted No. http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/chamber/journals/5a307d0a-61ed-4744-879d-9f44d6b4d80f/toc_pdf/sen-jn.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf, p.1664

ACT Senator Gallagher voted No.

Chaotic debate: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Hansard/Hansard_Display?bid=chamber/hansards/d24ca78e-5af5-4c87-8715-9d4b6604d5f0/&sid=0074.

“Secret” delegation to Neumann, 11 August 2017


Andrew Giles MP and Senators Murray Watt, Jenny McAllister and Sue Lines. No ACT members.

Walking both sides of the street: supporting the leader’s position in public, but letting it be known that they don’t actually support it.

Labor voters want detainees brought to Australia

In a Morgan Poll on 17-19 Feb. 2017 the sample was asked: “Do you think asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru should be brought here to Australia or not?” http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7159-asylum-seekers-nauru-manus-island-february-2017-201702222052 Sixty-eight percent of Labor voters answered Yes.

There were similar results in public opinion samplings at the time of the last federal election:



On 3 May 2018 a Sky News ReachTel poll found that “Half of all Australian voters support a 90-day limit on holding asylum seekers in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru. Just 30 per cent of people were against the idea.... Support and disapproval levels for the 90-day limit were the same across Coalition and Labor voters”. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/aap/article-5684929/Voters-limits-offshore-detention.html

Richard Marles on Insiders, 29 April 2018

All Richard Marles can offer is imaginary history--”if we had been in charge, the detainees would have been settled long ago”. Who will believe that?


CASSIDY: Labor in the next couple or month -- of months or so will look at asylum seeker policy. There is a move on to commit an incoming Labor government to set a deadline to get people off Manus and Nauru, perhaps as tight as three months. Where do you stand?

MARLES [evades the question]: It is important we get people off Manus and Nauru. I have no doubt had we been elected in 2013 or 2016 you wouldn’t see people there now.

CASSIDY [follows the diversion]: Where would they be?

MARLES: They would be in third countries.

CASSIDY: How would you have done that? It’s not as if this government has not tried.

MARLES: It’s absolutely that this government took an age to do anything about it. I mean, literally for years they did not try. The American deal is an important deal, but it came at very late in the piece. That needed to be aggressively pursued around the world.

CASSIDY: What third countries would you have managed to persuade?

MARLES: [no answer, just a claim that some could have been found easily] In the context of an increasing humanitarian program, which is part of our policy to double it to the middle of the 2020s, in the context of increasing our equipment to the UNHCR which forms part of our policy, there are enormous opportunities to find arrangements with third countries to deal with the issue of people on Manus and Nauru. It wouldn’t require much wit to do that. What we’ve seen here is a government that is essentially a one-trick pony. They did turn-backs, stop the boats was their mantra. That’s all they’ve been about the process they have let people languish on Manus and Nauru, which is a disgrace.

CASSIDY [returns to his question]: Does it need a deadline?

MARLES: We need to get people off as quickly as possible.

CASSIDY: A deadline commits you to it, forces your hand.

MARLES: What you need is intent here. And we would demonstrate that intent and we would...

CASSIDY: So many things go by the wayside because of best intentions.

MARLES: But, there’s been no intent on the part of the Government since the time they were elected in 2013.

CASSIDY: This is about what Labor will do in office. Are you for or against the deadline?

MARLES: I mean, I’m happy for a deadline in terms of the beginning of action [not what a deadline means]. I think we need to be out and about seeking third country resettlements from the first week of being elected. The difficulty about establishing a deadline Barrie is this requires negotiations and you’re not completely in control of them. You need a posture, you need action immediately. This is not what the Government has demonstrated. It took them an age to come up with their American deal. All their eggs are in that one basket. What we also know about that arrangement, while it has the potential to solve have many of the cases on Manus and Nauru, it will not resolve all of them. Yet all of them need resolution.


Peter Dutton’s reply: “We continue to talk to third countries, but let me tell you, there are very few prospects, if any, on the horizon”


Shorten on Q&A, 11 June 2018


ASHTON TARBARD Mr Shorten, my question is simple, and that is, can you now, on national television, promise to put an end to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers in Australia? (CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

BILL SHORTEN I’ll tell you two things. One – and, you know, Ashton, you may or may not want to hear this, but I’m going to say it – what we’re not going to do is have the boats start again and see hundreds of people drown at sea. I think it is a...I think it is legitimate for people to want to come to this country. I support a refugee intake. I don’t think – and you’ve never seen me, and can trawl through, if you can be bothered, the last 20 years – I don’t think it’s bad of a person to want to come to this country. And I think it’s a very brave thing for someone to up sticks and leave their own country and where they come from. But what I can’t ignore is that when we have a policy which sees the people smugglers come across from Indonesia and 1,200 people drown, I’m not going to be...wash my hands of that and say, “I don’t care, it’s just what happens to you here.” [Notice the insulting tone directed at the questioner.]

But the second thing I’m going to say to you is I don’t believe the corollary of not having the people smugglers back in business is that you keep people in indefinite detention. [Without an end-date, it is indefinite] I do not believe that we should be using people on Manus and Nauru as political scoring points for a debate in Australia. I do think that a lot more should be done to regionally resettle people [See Marles, above]. I do think there should be independent oversight. I don’t believe that people’s medical treatment should be used as some sort of political plaything, and that if the doctors say that the medical treatment requires you come to Australia, well, that’s where you should go.

TONY JONES So, just to come back to his question, a very simple one... In fact, would you like to just ask it again? ‘Cause we still didn’t get an answer. (LAUGHTER)

BILL SHORTEN No, no, we heard it. You know that. Come on, let’s go.

ASHTON TARBARD Is that a yes?

TONY JONES Well, “Is that a yes?” is what he’s saying. Is that a promise to end indefinite detention?

BILL SHORTEN I do not believe we need to have indefinite detention. I do not believe that is necessary to deter the people smugglers.

TONY JONES So do you promise to end it? That’s the question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER Answer the question!

BILL SHORTEN Well... Hang on a second. The issue here, Tony, is this – I don’t have the regional resettlement agreements resolved. I do think the government should take a deal with New Zealand. I mean, I thought it was really cheap of the government to attack Labor for saying there should be a deal with New Zealand – they say that puts sugar back on the table for the people smugglers. Well, they’re doing a deal with the US – which, by the way, I support. So, yes, I do not believe that indefinite detention should be the case. I believe a Labor government can actually make sure that we don’t have to have people in Manus and Nauru because we will prioritise resettling people. (SCATTERED APPLAUSE)

Albanese interview, 10 July 2018

A straight repetition of the Marles-Shorten position.


Extract: Asked about human services spokeswoman Linda Burney’s call for a time limit on offshore detention, Albanese said he did not support a timeframe but he believed Australia could end “long-term indefinite detention” that has led to refugees taking their own lives and mental anguish.

He suggested making the program more humanitarian by increasing the refugee intake, working with the UNHCR, achieving faster third-party resettlement of refugees and offering permanent rather than temporary protection visas.

“The range of changes I’ve pointed out are there – but no change in terms of people who arrive by boat, they wouldn’t be settled in Australia,” he said.

“We’re the opposition”. Shorten on AM, 31 July 2018:


KIM LANDERS: Let’s turn to another policy issue: asylum seekers. You’ve said that you don’t believe in indefinite detention of asylum seekers, so what time limit would a Labor government be prepared to put on it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, what we would do is, in a positive sense, put more effort into renegotiating, to negotiating regional resettlement. And I can’t give an absolute time limit, obviously, from Opposition, but what I would say—

KIM LANDERS: So you can’t commit three months, six months a year?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, first of all, this is going to be a bigger issue than just one-word answers. We will stop the boats, and we share the view of the Government that this policy has been effective in deterring people-smugglers. But I also believe that we shouldn’t have what is emerging to be indefinite detention for people in these facilities. So our plan is to negotiate regional resettlement options with the countries in our region. Now, if you’re asking—

KIM LANDERS: So have you got some specific countries in mind?

BILL SHORTEN: I think there’s a range of countries within Asia, in the Asia-Pacific, who we could talk to, yes.


BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think there’s big economies right through the Asian continent, who would be, I think, worthwhile for us to talk to.

KIM LANDERS: Specifically, which countries?

BILL SHORTEN: [closes his eyes and imagines the map] Well, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, New Zealand.

KIM LANDERS: Have you reached out to any of those countries?

BILL SHORTEN: We’re the Opposition. We’re the Opposition — you know, really, what I would like to do is actually see the problem resolved, and I’ll say something this morning which might surprise some people listening: I’m pleased that the Turnbull Government’s been able to keep the negotiations with America on track. This issue should be above party politics, but what we’re seeing is a whole lot of debate, and I think that Australians actually expect their Government to deter the people-smugglers, but not keep people in indefinite detention.


My comment: “Indefinite” detention means detention without an end date. Someone sentenced for a serious crime to ten years with a non-parole of eight knows when at the latest their detention will end. Australia’s offshore detainees—who have never been accused or convicted of any crime and are not a danger to anyone—don’t know when or whether their detention will end. Not having a known end is what indefinite means. Politicians whose position clearly implies indefinite detention can’t deplore indefinite detention. “Never, ever will they come here”, plus “We can’t say when they will go elsewhere”, equals indefinite detention.