This unfolding story is worth watching as it appears to have the cold hand of Peter Dutton all over it.
The government of Nauru has blocked the ABC from covering the Pacific Islands Forum, refusing to issue its journalists visas because of allegations of bias and false reporting.
The Nauruan government have, however, said that “at least one Australian TV outlet” would be allowed to cover the forum, to be held in the first week of September ; I may be way off here but I’m seeing Foxtel/SKY as probably getting a guernsey.
Nauru is almost entirely dependent on Australian aid for its ongoing economic survival [and to maintain the lavish lifestyle of its politicians and their hangers on]. So, the continued existence of the detention centre on that island is central to their political and personal interests. In round figures it costs $400,000 a year to maintain each detainee in the offshore detention centres and the last thing that the Nauruan government want to see is the resettlement of the asylum seekers and closure of this camp.
Save the Children and Unicef found that Australian taxpayers had spent as much as $9.6 billion on offshore detention since 2013 – Australian government figures are a bit rubbery on this – while a Parliamentary Library report released in 2016 found Manus Island alone had cost taxpayers about $2 billion since it was reopened. Manus of course is no longer a detention centre following a PNG Supreme Court ruling that such detention of non-citizens who had not committed any crime was constitutionally illegal. Like a scene form Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch, our minister for Home Affairs has decreed that nobody is now detained on Manus (or Nauru for that matter) they’re just not allowed to leave … as I’ve noted elsewhere, Peter Dutton’s version of the Eagles’ Hotel California : ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’.
What the ABC have done to encourage this visa ban is quite horrendous, they have reported the news factually, impartially and without bias and that infuriates not only the Nauruan officials but also, it seems, the current Australian government. In March the ABC reported what a senior United Nations official had said after inspecting the detention centre : he called for the Australian Government to reconsider its offshore detention policy as concerns about detainees’ mental and physical well being were growing. Indrika Ratwatte, the Asia Pacific director for the UNHCR, described the conditions as “shocking”. “We must make every effort to get refugees out of this situation” the ABC reported him as saying.
What you may say is wrong with reporting what a UN official has to say about a detention centre funded by the Australian taxpayer on a remote Pacific island ? Well, in case you haven’t noticed over the past five years this whole thing is shrouded in secrecy and when you are the only news outlet prepared to report factually, in this brave new world of alternative facts, you leave yourself open to attacks from those who not only oppose public broadcasting, but who also will not tolerate criticism or analysis of government policies.
Don’t for a moment confuse this media ban with stopping the boats ; one is a policy and one is a wedge, you decide. This is all about petty politics within the coalition and the hatred many of them hold for public broadcasting and in particular the ABC coupled with some vested interests on Nauru who would never bite the hand that feeds them.
With a Nauruan official having come out and said that “ … no representative from the [ABC] will be granted a visa to enter Nauru under any circumstances,” you would expect an immediate reaction from our prime minister defending free speech and the right of Australia to decide on which of its media outlets should be able to report on this important regional forum. Whilst there has been outrage from the Australian parliamentary press gallery, from our prime minister just a wishy-washy statement to the effect that Nauru retains the right to decide who should report on this forum and the manner in which they should report : ‘it’s a question of sovereignty don’tcha know’.
Following our prime minister going to water on this, can we now expect our Foreign Minister or the Minister for Communications or our Minister for Home Affairs to come out strongly and support our ABC and Australia’s right not to be dictated to by a foreign government ? You would have to tune into radio 2GB or SkyNews for the answer to that, but don’t hold your breath.