Gellibrand MP Tim Watts has lashed out at the “humanitarian crisis” on Manus Island, bu stopped short of calling for the detainees to be brought to Australia.
Tensions continue to rise after PNG police stormed the detention centre for a second day, attempting to forcibly round up about 100 men reportedly still refusing to leave the centre despite essential services being cut off weeks ago.
Video footage emerged on Friday of police using long batons to force the men to submit to their eviction from the centre, a day after they first moved in and began herding the men away.
The electorate of Gellibrand in Melbourne’s inner-west homes a large number of asylum seekers and refugees seeking to build a new life in Australia.
Mr Watts has remained a long-term supporter of offshore detention and processing, reintroduced by the Gillard Labor government in 2012, and a “third country solution” to deter people smuggling.
But he is critical of the government’s handling of the hundreds of detainees – the majority found to be genuine refugees – still languishing in detention on Naura and Manus Island.
He said the “revolting spectacle” unfolding this week is a humanitarian crisis of the government’s creation.
“It is a product of sustained incompetence and malevolence from this government in response to asylum seekers. We are all shamed by it.”
Mr Watts said any competent government of good faith could have resettled the refugees on Manus Island in a third country years ago.
Mr Watts also argues the Turnbull government had an obligation to ensure the health, welfare and security of the detainees once it became clear the detention centre would need to be closed.
“The government must immediately ensure this now,” he said. “It must also pursue the long standing offer of permanent resettlement it has received from the New Zealand government as a matter of urgency.”
Mr Watts said the displacement of more than 65 million people worldwide due to conflict and persecution is “a complex and difficult international challenge” about which people can and will disagree.
“That’s why I paid my own way to meet with refugees living in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar earlier this year and to discuss the policy context with the UNHCR and refugee groups in these countries,” he said.
“It’s also why I’ve been working to build consensus in the Parliament and civil society for the expansion of Australia’s refugee intake via community sponsorship. I always welcome discussion on this issue with my constituents.”
Greens senator Janet Rice said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton could learn a thing or two about peaceful and non-violent protest, despite the men having their human rights trampled and facing prolonged violence.
“The danger is not over for them. Their accommodation in Lorengau is not finished and the town is not safe, with a number of detainees being stabbed and requiring medical evacuation.
“These men remain Australia’s responsibility and they should be brought here immediately.”
Ms Rice said the western suburbs benefits from and celebrates an amazingly diverse society, enriched by the contributions of refugees and migrants from around the world.
“These men seeking asylum who have been locked up for over five years on Manus Island would settle very easily into and enrich our Australian community.”
Footscray-based organisation Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is meanwhile demanding the Australian and Papua New Guinean authorities allow medical professionals immediate access to the men to deal with the mental and physical health emergency.
Chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis said people seeking asylum currently have little hope for their future.
“We simply cannot continue to expose these people to further indignity in mandatory detention. They have suffered enough”.