This election campaign has seen the Coalition blustering that its harsh policies are stopping the people smugglers and deaths at sea, Labor trying to ignore the issue, and the Daily Telegraph running front page headlines such as “The boats are back”.
But standing in defiance for more than 100 days is a group of refugees and asylum seekers protesting inside the Nauru detention centre.
Through low-resolution photos and shaky video footage, images of the protesters have reached the world, despite intimidation from guards and new fences built to keep cameras out.
Children hold up pictures of sad faces behind bars and banners read: “We have been in detention since 1000 days ago” and “Don't stop the boats by processing us to death on Nauru and Manus”.
There have been numerous suicide attempts, some successful. Iranian refugee Omid died after he self immolated on April 27 in front of UNHCR inspectors. His last words: “This is how tired we are. This action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it anymore.”
Asylum seekers wear “Omid” T-shirts as their protests continue.
There have also been protests in Manus Island detention centre, as the Australian government continues to defy a Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling that the detention centre be shut down.
Turnbull on Q&A
One of the asylum seekers in Manus Island detention centre, Iranian Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, sent a video question to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on ABC's Q&A. “I am a refugee who fled injustice, discrimination and persecution … why am I still in this illegal prison after three years?”
Turnbull first said he knew nothing of Boochani and his personal case. This is hard to believe, as Boochani has been quoted across Australia's media in the last month, including when he climbed a tree in Manus Island detention centre on April 24 for several hours in protest.
Turnbull ignored the guts of the question, refusing to answer why people who have fled “injustice, discrimination and persecution” are held in illegal prisons. Manus Island refugees now refer to themselves as political prisoners — one prominent banner reads “Free the political prisoners of Australia”.
Q&A host Tony Jones never challenged Turnbull on the question of keeping people without charge or trial in a detention centre that has being ruled unlawful. Instead he allowed Turnbull free reign to regurgitate the Liberals' “tough” policies that have “stopped the boats”, “people smugglers” and “deaths at sea” for more than 600 days.
Jones never questioned why the boats have stopped and never interceded that the reason might be that the Australian navy is intercepting and turning them back towards the country they fled.
A Current Affair
Jones is not the only one who is soft on the bipartisan refugee policy. You only have to look at what was said, or more importantly was not said, on the report of a visit by A Current Affair to Nauru.
Presenter Caroline Marcus wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph titled “Why are activists so afraid of the truth on Nauru”. She claimed refugees “are well-fed, most live in relative comfort and they're free to move around as they please.”
She said the protests were potentially “volatile”, even though there is video and photographic evidence of assaults on asylum seekers by detention centre guards.
But this was not worth putting into Caroline Marcus' report.
Nor was there any mention of the government-commissioned Moss report, which detailed sexual assaults and well-documented assaults on children at school — at least one every 13 days.
Instead it showed government-supplied toasters, locals saying refugees are welcome and a smug Nauruan prime minister. It would be interesting to see what ACA left on the cutting room floor.
It is quite telling that the Nauruan government allowed them to film on the island, while refusing to let any other journalists into Nauru. The government claims they are only denying “a select few Australian activist-journalists who spread these lies and promote unrest”. This would be anyone to the left of ACA.
Abuse and violence
This is part of the reason why the documentary Chasing Asylum had to be created from secretly filmed footage in Nauru to expose the abuse and violence happening there.
It is also interesting they allowed ACA to do a report on Nauru only weeks after Chasing Asylum started screening.
There have been other damning reports of the abuses in offshore detention released during the election campaign, such as the Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned report on women in Nauru by Pamela Curr, Wendy Bacon and others, which details numerous sexual assaults.
Or whistleblower Paul Stevenson, a trauma expert of 43 years, who said the conditions on Nauru are “the worst I have ever seen”. He has presented thousands of pages of incident reports detailing cases of self-harm, often several in one day, and sexual assault and violence by guards towards asylum seekers.
Coalition rhetoric is that they stopped the boats, but Labor increased them. Labor's response has been to try to avoid the issue. At their national election launch they did not mention refugees once, although Labor leader Bill Shorten has made it crystal clear his policy is the same as the Coalition's.
Prominent Labor frontbench MP Anthony Albanese sent out a letter aimed at young people in his Grayndler electorate. It included the story of how he helped set up a community media station, what Labor will do about the housing affordability crisis and support for equal marriage. But there is not one word about refugees, despite a survey of 3369 people under 25 finding it is the most important issue for young people this election.
In the face of this bipartisan cruelty, protests to demand an end to detention have happened all over the world.
Activists in London from the International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention occupied the Australian Embassy with a boat and read testimonies from asylum seekers in detention centres.
Several hundred people marched through Brisbane on June 18. More than 1200 people protested in Melbourne. Founder of Doctors for Refugees Dr Barri Phataford, speaking at the Melbourne rally, said: “Doctors are almost unanimous around the country in their condemnation of this policy”.
There were rallies in regional areas such as Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, where Grandmothers Against Detention held a rally in the face of heckling from far-right group True Blue Crew.
More than 1500 people filled Sydney's Town Hall. Socialist Alliance lead NSW Senate candidate and Aboriginal activist Uncle Ken Canning spoke at the rally: “We were made refugees in our own country … this is why we side with the refugees being persecuted by this murderous government”.
Both the Coalition and Labor have given every indication that whichever way the election goes they will continue their bipartisan policy of supporting indefinite offshore detention. But the movement continues to grow.