It is a bad news day when the ALP finds itself backed into such a corner that it reprises the excesses of Howard's Pacific Solution. It is reported we are also dissembling before UN bodies tasked with monitoring human rights violations, which is also out of the Howard/Downer/Ruddock game book.
I was involved in the aid component of the Pacific Solution and it was the most corrosive experience of my career. I recently commented on an article by Robert Manne, who has advocated Manus Island be revisited as an offshore detention facility, as follows:
" I was involved in the first wave of the Pacific Solution, which offered aid 'incentives' to GoPNG to re-activate the military base at Manus as a detention centre.
I visited said centre and was tasked to explore Manus Island for community based activities in health & education that AusAID could support as a way of oiling the wheels of the Provincial Govt. Aid to these areas had not been considered until the centre opened. The whole approach was under the table and pretty tacky. I was far from comfortable with the strategy.
There were other sleights of hand in terms of expenditures kept off the books of costs that were facility-related. The aging facility is by the water, with a respectable mess for support staff and visitors, with conditions for the asylum seekers marginal at best in an extremely hot & humid place.
Manus is a relatively poor province of PNG, with high levels of youth unemployment. Doubtless the centre will be refurbished and substantial resources will be applied to its operation. This in itself can cause problems with surrounding peoples who are somewhat disadvantaged."
The Manus component of the Pacific Solution was marginally better than Nauru because the PNG Government is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, but the same issues that saw East Timor reject the concept of housing a regional detention facility also apply to Manus. The detainees will be housed in tiny 'dongas' and fed in open mess facilities. The place is hot, humid and malaria prone. It is a debilitating situation behind wire - why do we insist on treating people with claims to refugee status like prisoners of war?