By Mark Jarratt*
Once again the much abused Australian taxpayers and citizenry will be obliged to shell out literally millions in cold hard cash to express ‘’in name only’’ contrition for the illegal and unconstitutional imprisonment of asylum seekers in the offshore Manus Island detention centre.
PNG’s Manus Island detention centre is a source of continuing national shame, along with the centre in Nauru, a remote neighbouring nation. To this shame has now been added some $90m in wasteful legal fees and compensation for the poor judgement and practices of our politicians and obedient if unprincipled bureaucrats.
Australian National Audit Office report 32 of 2016-17 (January 2017) found, in the measured language of the auditor, that support and welfare services contracts for the Manus Island and Nauru offshore detention centres has fallen well short of effective contract management practice, with substantial contract variations for over $1billion (yes, billion) awarded without documented assessment of value for money (https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance-audit/offshore-processing-centres-nauru-and-papua-new-guinea-contract-management).
Photo: Photo taken after a disturbance on Manus Island.
The ANAO findings are yet another example proving the current approach to asylum seekers is a costly and ineffective failure. This is one consequence of ‘’…acting in great haste to give effect to government policy decisions”. Act in haste, repent at leisure, while again displaying the morally bankrupt, punitive and totalitarian approach of both major political parties in their fight to the bottom on asylum seeker issues.
Elected ‘leaders’ have utterly compromised the standing of the Commonwealth as a model litigant by relentlessly persecuting asylum seekers, providing further evidence of their total contempt for accountability, and for justifying such persecution, by spinelessly settling cases at the very last minute before the first due hearing date.
If the Australian Government had any defensible case, given previous performance they would almost certainly use the full public-funded resources of the Commonwealth to argue aggressively in court. This is known as having “deep pockets” in legal circles, meaning the Commonwealth can keep fighting legal cases through the courts because its source of funding (taxation, fees, levies, charges, and duties) is effectively limitless.
Breathtaking disregard for due process and the rule of law is obviously expected and predictable in this area of relentless maladministration, with politicians whenever possible acting to deny asylum seekers rights of judicial review, causing delays and obstruction in the entire legal system by escalating cases to the High Court. This approach is compounded by the absurd legal fiction of excising Australia from its own migration zone, an indication that the proponents of such nonsense may not be fully acquainted with reality.
The reasoning, if any, supporting creation of overseas warehousing facilities for asylum seekers has never been clearly articulated. This very costly and inhumane policy seems based solely in the cowardly populist desire of politicians to save their skins and well paid positions by adopting extreme and ultimately unworkable policies proposed by the biased and ignorant, while simultaneously evading accountability. Such consistent misuse of public funds fails the national interest test.
Declining to debate the proponents of such draconian treatment of asylum seekers, and correct their ill informed narrow views, is a clear and continuing failure of leadership. There is significant scope for many if not most politicians to improve their understanding of the principles of political philosophy underpinning free democracies. Perhaps ethical training should be mandatory for politicians; it should certainly be mandatory before appointment to the ministry.
As noted by Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797), “when the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people.” And, “your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.
Reason for less power, not more
Recent proposals by the chief jailer, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, for yet more exclusive powers would further erode the already parlous and unconscionable state of asylum seeker public policy, if the arbitrary and capricious history of unilateral Ministerial decisions acting as judge, jury and executioner is any guide.
Establishment of the Australian Border Force in July 2015 as a paramilitary organisation with extensive powers under both immigration and customs law was a related worrying development. The Nazi SS also started as a private army, subject solely to political direction with no accountability – the record shows that approach did not end well.
Australia has more than enough space, and wealth, to promptly process asylum seekers without incarceration (and worse) in offshore detention centres, which are jails in all but the official doublespeak of media spin.
The latest spineless government legal surrender proves widespread concerns that the current asylum seeker policy approach is untenable: it is also further confirmation that our politicians suffer from tunnel vision and groupthink. The view of Albert Einstein is relevant “…insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
Both political parties should cease the grandstanding and the appalling waste of public funds on offshore detention, which is proven to damage asylum seekers and their jailers alike, while compromising the rule of law in the small destination countries of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Our politicians should now engage in reasoned debate about the self-created ‘’daily hot button” asylum seeker ‘’problem’’…if such objective and analytical deliberations are within their skills and capabilities.
Progress to date is not encouraging, but that is no justification to continue the current demonstrably failed, overly costly, inhumane, ineffective and punitive policies.
Mark Jarratt is a Director of Civil Liberties Australia, with decades of experience as a security professional in the government and private sectors.