Image for NATION: No roadmap on Manus for Turnbull

Peter Martin, Economics Editor, The Age: Federal budget 2016: Tax cuts. $80,000 is anything but average If Scott Morrison thinks that by offering tax cuts to Australians earning more than $80,000 he is helping average workers, he doesn’t know what average workers earn. Mercury: No tax relief for the 80 per cent of Tasmanian workers earning less than $80,000

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Rudely interrupting week two of the government’s election strategy of anti-Labor scare campaign, boat-building, vote-buying and Smart City thought bubbles, comes PNG’s High Court ruling that Australia’s offshore detention of asylum-seekers is illegal and unconstitutional.

The verdict exposes Australia to potential claims of more than $1 billion and prompts PM Peter O’Neill to close our Manus prison camp. Malcolm Turnbull’s masterful tactic is to seem surprised.

O’Neill is fighting for survival. Manus Island is no vote-winner in PNG. Rather it is seen for what it is: a stop-gap for Australia’s ad-hoc asylum-seeker politics, a moral and administrative liability, especially when PNG is expected to resettle “genuine refugees.”

Only eight refugees have been resettled despite promises the process would be complete mid-2014. 

Last month, O’NeilL used his Press Club address to explain that PNG did not have the resources for resettlement. Australia gives $557 million per year in aid but in ways which preserve a status quo of exploitation and subordination rather than assisting O’Neill with any reform campaign.

PNG needs funding targeted to help fight corruption.  Australia says this is an “internal matter.” Meanwhile Australian timber companies acquire vast tracts of land. PNG could go bankrupt in June.

Australia is as deaf to O’Neill’s appeals as it is to its real role and responsibility in PNG generally. News of the possibility of Manus closing prompts a welter of press speculation betraying a dearth of empathy; an indifference to human suffering. No-one asks what we are doing wrong.

Will Manus inmates bunk down with the Kiwis of Christmas Island, whose past criminal convictions allow us, we claim, to hold them, without charge, prior to deportation? This would blend two policy catastrophes into a total disaster.

Will its 850 inmates now go to Nauru, where detainees swallow razor-blades and washing powder, a hell-hole where even teenagers and children are so depressed they contemplate suicide?

On Wednesday, Omid, a twenty-three year old Iranian man burns himself to death in front of his wife and a UN inspector. Three years on Nauru has led to his taking his own life.

...a cruel parody of liberation?

Will Manus Detention Centre be flung open in a cruel parody of liberation? Asylum-seekers who can make the long trek from the prison to Manus proper will then be free to bond with Manus society and people including former guards who have vowed to kill some of them. PNG says no. The Immigration Minister pretends this is an option.

Immigration Minister Dutton who leads the Liberal Party’s Delcons, a right-wing rump, quasi-cargo-cult whose deluded members prepare daily for Tony Abbott’s return, volunteers another view. Everything is under control.

Dutton mutters that a bad Manus “outcome” was expected all along. Doing nothing about it, whilst doing everything to appear caught on the hop by it, are parts of his cunning plan. He picked up the legal vibe from PNG a year ago, he reckons. He just did nothing. His PM is left to plead ignorance.

Commentators pounce on the disunity. Staffers toil to spin Turnbull’s bewilderment into a strength only to cast him as a Big Bwana waiting patronisingly above the fray for poor benighted, basket-case PNG to come to its senses. Accept our “help.” Obey our wishes. Take out our trash.

Manus was always illegal - ever since Kevin Rudd dreamed up the crafty dodge of sweeping our maritime refugee problem under someone else’s woven organic floor covering. It has no right to be open.

When Australian legislation had to be doctored ahead of a challenge to our own High Court to permit off-shore detention to continue, it was inevitable that other judiciaries would follow suit.

Rudd’s 2013 deal with PNG was only ever a cynical political strategy, devised on the eve of a federal election, aimed at blocking a key Coalition line of attack. In this, and only in this, did it succeed.

It was wrong, then and he knew it. It was unconstitutional, illegal and immoral. Both major parties knew it. They knew, too that Manus was never intended to be a “processing facility,” it was set up to be a hell-hole, a place of punishment.

Nevertheless, our PM now claims PNG’s High Court ruling is unexpected. He has no idea what to do next. Luckily, he quickly adds, it is a PNG issue. Yet even Blind Freddy can see that it is our problem.

...detainees’ lives matter…

There is no recognition from the PM that because PNG has ruled our camps unlawful, that Australia is at fault; or that detainees’ lives matter more than political point-scoring.

We made Manus Island Detention Centre; we own it. We invest heavily in it. It costs $400,000 per person per year to maintain refugees on Manus or Nauru; twice the cost of settlement on the mainland, yet the PM pretends it’s none of our responsibility.

The “matter is for PNG initially, but the ruling was under consideration at home and Australia would support PNG in figuring out a solution.”

Money won’t fix this problem. Amend the PNG constitution? No innovation here.

In 2014, PNG already unsuccessfully tried to change its constitution to make Australia’s Manus Island prison camp legal. Not that the PM chooses to reflect. He’s lost, he admits disarmingly, as if we are to be comforted by his ownership of his own moral and legal abyss.

“I can’t provide a definitive road map from here, but today ... we’re getting briefed on it,” Turnbull tells reporters on Wednesday. Contradicting him, Dutton claims to have “anticipated” the ruling.

Dutton can, of course, offer no evidence of anticipation or plan, despite asserting that his department has been slaving away for a year in anticipation of “an adverse legal outcome”. His protestation sits oddly with his government’s shocked reaction and its lack of any plan.

...“become misty-eyed”...

Redefining the phrase “going on the offensive,” a hairy-chested Turnbull quickly warns the nation that it is rash to “become misty-eyed” over immigration policy or any other gross breaches of human rights necessary to the politics of exclusion. Victims of our brutality simply don’t count.

How this plays out at home is all that matters. PNG may be a basket case. Manus may be closing down. But asylum seekers must suffer. Turnbull betrays his calculated inhumanity.

“They will not come to Australia - that is absolutely clear and the PNG Government knows that,” The PM is seeking what scribes call his Tampa moment but, in 2016, he looks desperate; unconscionably, cruelly, grandstanding. He’s the lost the plot - if the Liberals ever got the plot.

The Liberals mistook Labor’s off-shore plan from its inception. The Houston-Aristotle-L’Estrange 2012 report on asylum seekers to PM Gillard, recommended offshore processing only as a first step towards setting up a broader, permanent regional solution to refugees and asylum-seekers.

After nearly three years in power, the Liberals still don’t get it. The Cambodian solution, a $55 million, unworkable parody is a fitting tribute to the failure of their asylum seeker policy.

Not to be outdone, Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles declares that “offshore processing has been the single most important policy that any Australian government has made”.

Marles reaches a new depth even for the “asylum-seeker debate” which is not a debate but an agreement to blame the victim; to treat the suffering of hapless victims of ever-widening political persecution and instability with cruel contempt. It is also an outrageous claim.

...slow bicycle race of bipartisan immigration policy…

What place does Marles afford to policies such as votes for women or the eight hour day? The slow bicycle race of bipartisan immigration policy totters toward its inevitable forced dismount.

Still urging war on the poor, the needy and the alienated at home, George Brandis, Liberal Party guru on NeoCon human rights, a revision which includes the right to defame and hate speech, attacks Labor for its plan to leave Tim Wilson’s role of Freedom Commissioner unfilled. Outrageously, Labor plans to restore the Disability Commissioner to a full-time gig.

“It shows how little Labor cares about our fundamental political freedoms, including freedom of speech, opinion, religion, association and freedom of the press, that it is once again proposing to abandon this role.”

Not abandoned, however, are all those many Australians who live in cities. The PM opines that no Australian citizen should live within thirty minutes of his or her job. Not only is it astonishingly platitudinous, no practical suggestion is provided as to how we rebuild our cities to resemble his ideal or who will pay. Clearly we are expected to live inside Turnbull’s thought bubble.

“Value capture,” private-public partnerships and other trendy phrases are airily presented as solutions to funding. The government will commit $50 million to the wankfest - a tenth of the amount it will waste on its marriage equality plebiscite, rather than put it through parliament. 

“Smart Cities” allows Turnbull to talk to himself in public again.  Because his real area of expertise is airy generalisation and vacuous speculation, Turnbull is in his element. He may waffle on so much that someone, somewhere, will think it’s a real policy. Even if it is only George Brandis.

...a corruption scandal-ridden firm…

Yet the government’s investment in the Smart Cities thought bubble is piffling in contrast to the week’s economic master-stroke which startles the Japanese to whom Tony Abbott had made captain’s call assurances. French submarines, built in South Australia by DCNS, a corruption scandal-ridden firm will be our saviour.

In February, France opened a probe into the alleged bribery of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak by the firm to win a contract for two submarines.

Our own Sam Costello, a former senior government adviser who enjoyed privileged access to the navy’s submarine project joined DCNS in January 2015 prompting criticism from at least one well-placed defence source.

At least the new boats will save a couple of marginal seats in the rust-belt of South Australia. Brian Toohey in the AFR estimates that it will cost $20 billion extra to build the subs in Australia.

Factor in the $35 billion already committed for nine new frigates and it is clear that the coalition is committing to spend over a hundred billion on war toys without once deigning to explain where the money is coming from.

All up it is calculated that the government has committed to spending an astronomical $1 trillion dollars on defence over the next twenty years. You would have to spend 10 million dollars every day for 273 years to spend $1 trillion. In this context, splashing $50 billion submarines is a bargain buy.

$50 billion is a lot to pay for a couple of seats, even if one is Christopher Pyne’s. With bipartisan support, Turnbull is committing bulk public funding to defence at the cost of investment in real infrastructure such as schools or hospitals, or renewable energy, each of more enduring benefit.

...a paltry $150 million a year…

Why subsidise submarines and not cars? All it would have taken is for GMH to stay in Australia would have been a paltry $150 million a year, according to Mike Devereux, former GM Australia MD.

The logic of lavish defence spending contradicts the government’s NeoCon decision to cut off the auto industry from all subsidy or support. Why not subsidise an industry which employs vastly more Australians? Whilst the Liberals’ political bleeding may be staunched in a few seats in South Australia, the situation is grim in Victoria.

Victoria faces rising unemployment because of Abbott and Hockey’s decision to deprive car-makers of subsidies. Thousands more workers will be out of jobs in car making and ship building in Victoria than in South Australia as a result of this government’s selective free-market ideology.

Scott Morrison will blow hard on his expenditure on defence in his Budget speech next week. He will rave on about keeping us safe and all the other cheap rhetorical tricks governments use to induce compliance and conformity. Millions will be spent on advertising to show that we must spend every waking moment in fear of invasion or terror attack. He will not show us the real equation.

The Treasurer will not list all the opportunities Australia will forgo, including the capacity to behave like a mature global citizen prepared to offer real foreign aid to neighbours like Indonesia, the Pacific Islands or PNG, nations whose plight it ill-becomes us to treat with contempt, whose suffering it is not in our national interest to ignore.

Peter Martin, Economics Editor, The Age: Federal budget 2016: Tax cuts. $80,000 is anything but average If Scott Morrison thinks that by offering tax cuts to Australians earning more than $80,000 he is helping average workers, he doesn’t know what average workers earn. Mercury: No tax relief for the 80 per cent of Tasmanian workers earning less than $80,000

Guardian: Corporate wrongdoing now endemic in Australia, report shows

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Read for yourself CommSec’s State of the States Report where Tassie rates bottom of the pile ...

• John Hawkins in Comments: The Shortfin Barracuda Submarine is still only a concept, there are no detailed design drawings, no detailed contracts and no reason to hold the French to a bill of $50 billion. This is a political gamble to win seats in South Australia. The Pyne SA Liberals must be booted out on their arse. Why was a fraction of this enormous sum of money now to be spent on unproductive killing machines not spent saving the car industry in South Australia? If you are going to vote for a dog vote for a real one. Vote Scruffy: HERE

• Luigi in Comments: I was one of the apparent big majority of Australians who saw Malcolm’s ascension as a blessed salvation from Abbottonian Stupidity.  But where are Malcolm’s policies?  Where is the vision?  Where are we headed?  I’m tired of being told to be excited about nothing. So far I have heard nothing but echoes of the old Stupidity due - we’re told - to Malcolm’s loyalty to undertakings he gave to Abbott’s sidekicks that he would hold faith with the Stupidity. For me, the Budget Tuesday night will be the decider. I don’t want middle-class handouts.  I’d better see some vision; I’d better hear a plan for the future; I’d better hear something other than just the squawking of an albatross around Malcolm’s neck. For me, it’s crunch time now.

New Matilda: Agile Government: Turnbull Has Notched 17 Backflips In Seven Months Another Nauru refugee sets herself on fire

SCAPEGOATING Minister Dutton says it’s all the refugee advocates fault ...

Guardian: Peter Dutton accuses refugee advocates of encouraging suicide on Nauru