The truth about Manus
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.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 11, 2017 as "The truth about Manus". Subscribe here.