Reza Barati's Death Demands A Real Inquiry


UPDATED THURSDAY: After passing the Senate, a parliamentary inquiry into the Manus Island violence will now begin on 1 April.

The Federal Government’s offshore detention policy was designed to break people and now, regrettably, it has done just that.

Just over two weeks ago, a young man named Reza Barati was killed while in the Australian Government’s care. He travelled from his home in Iran and came to our shores, asking the government for protection. Unfortunately, as a nation, Australia failed Reza Barati in the worst possible way.

The details of what happened in the Manus Island detention camp on 17 February are still sketchy, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear: the Coalition doesn’t want the truth to come out.

The government has initiated a review into itself and the Immigration Minister will choose which parts of it will be released publically and which parts will be kept secret.

The government’s review is being headed by a man named Robert Cornall who, as revealed by New Matilda last week, has very concerning opinions about Reza Barati’s home country, Iran.

It is also concerning that in the past Cornall has held witness interviews in intimidating circumstances with Immigration Department officials in the room.

It seems the Abbott Government will go to any length to guarantee a favourable report that will absolve them of responsibility. The Greens, on the other hand, will keep fighting to expose the truth.

Today the Senate will vote to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry, which will be the only genuinely independent investigation into the death of Reza Barati. The Greens’ inquiry will have the power to call witnesses, including staff who were working on the island that night, and it will give them the legal protection that they need to tell their stories.

Crucially, refugees who were there will also be able to make submissions and give their own evidence to the inquiry.

The people that the government has locked up on Nauru and Manus Island are some of the most vulnerable in the world. Far from protecting them, Australia is putting them in serious danger.

The core responsibility that Australia undertook when it signed the Refugee Convention was that we won’t bring further harm to refugees. That cannot be guaranteed as long as we are sending people to Manus Island and Nauru.

The extremism of Tony Abbott and the cruelty of Scott Morrison are genuinely concerning. Abbott has said he doesn’t want a wimp for an Immigration Minister; what he has got instead is a bully who rushed to incorrectly blame an innocent, vulnerable young man for his own death.

There are only two possible reasons for the Abbott Government’s insufficient response to the attacks on the Manus Island centre: either the government doesn’t care or, privately, they believe that this is just another part of their hardline deterrence policy.

Clearly, neither of those options are acceptable. The Manus Island detention camp must be closed down but, in the short term, the government must at least commit to not sending any more people there.

There is a legal challenge against the detention centre underway in Papua New Guinea and there is a growing movement in Australia demanding that the centre be shut down. The Manus Island gulag is untenable and the government is in a desperate race against time. Tony Abbott wants to break these people’s spirits before the shocking truth is revealed and he is forced to shut the centre down.

I believe that the majority of Australians are caring people who have been fundamentally let down by the toxic debate about refugees from our political leaders. If the media were to be let into the centres and they were able to show people the truth, there would be no question that this cruelty has gone too far.

Recently, large groups of unaccompanied children have been sent to the horrendous detention camp on Nauru, which sits in the middle of an old phosphate mine. There is no playground in the compound, there is no school and children are forced to spend hours lining up in the hot sun just to get food.

When I went to the centre in December, one child said to me, ''Sometimes I think we’re treated like animals, but then I realise animals have a better life than we do in this place”. This government's policies are creating the next generation of damaged children.

The horrors of offshore detention are becoming clear and, in the years to come, many Australians will feel deep regret for the loss of Reza Barati’s life and for the conditions that we are forcing these children to live in.

What happened on Manus Island is a part of the cruel and damaging policy of the Abbott regime, which is now in a desperate fight to cover-up the truth.

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