Evidence of media manipulation surrounds Manus refugee story
19 December 2017
BEN ROBINSON-DRAWBRIDGE | RNZ Pacific | Extract
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WELLINGTON - Few reporters have been able or allowed to report on what has really been happening on Manus Island.
Secrecy law prevents the dissemination of official information from Australia's refugee detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Leaked intelligence, claims from politicians, advocates and the refugees themselves have formed the basis of many reports in this vacuum.
Among those who are not sure what to believe are New Zealand MPs.
The government's offer to resettle 150 refugees from offshore detention has repeatedly been knocked back by Australia.
The offer was examined this month during a meeting of the parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade.
Civil servants were also quizzed by MPs, including Gerry Brownlee, on the veracity of media reports that featured leaked intelligence cables.
"Clearly from media reports anyway, and I guess the word 'clearly' is wrong when you talk about media reports... even if the 150 places were taken up, Australia is still left with a problem. And the backgrounds of some of those people, if you can believe the media, are quite interesting," said Mr Brownlee.
His "interesting backgrounds" comment came from a media report of alleged criminal activity by Manus Island refugees that surfaced in an intelligence cable obtained by the Australian Financial Review.
"Intelligence advice sent to Canberra from Port Moresby last month describes shocking behaviour from residents at the now-closed Australian Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island.
"In addition to broader allegations of drug taking and dealing (marijuana), there were overarching community concerns regarding allegations that some residents were engaged in sexual activities with underage girls."
Political scientist Binoy Kampmark from Melbourne's RMIT University said given the secrecy law, it was possible the leak had been authorised by the Australian government.
"The Australian approach has been to try to maintain total secrecy under the Australian Border Force Act. So it's interesting that suddenly there have been these tactical leaks, that seem to be tactical, that come out showing the disposition of the refugees," said Dr Kampmark, who has written extensively about Australian refugee policy.
"It's an attempt to change New Zealand opinion. An attempt to also to undermine the Ardern government," he said.
Anti-whistle blower provisions in the act did not stop two men, who claimed to be former guards at the Manus Island detention centre, from talking to RNZ's Checkpoint last month, including a New Zealander known as Ian.
"You've got some 161 offences which have been reported by the Papua New Guinea authorities to the Australian authorities since October. Do we want these kinds of people in New Zealand? I most certainly do not," said Ian.
Ian might have been doing the rounds of the Australian shock jocks, according to refugee advocate Ian Rintoul.
"It's interesting that he repeats the figures coming out of the immigration department in Australia. So the figure about 161 incidents that have been reported, there's no details about what those figures represent," said Mr Rintoul.
"Because Wilson, the security company, has not had the authority inside the detention centre since it was declared unlawful in 2016, it is quite common for the PNG police to lay charges against people inside the detention centre as a mechanism of behavioural control, over incidents of scuffles with guards, complaints about food. They've been arrested, taken to the police station, when the bail money is paid, it's forgotten," he said.
"These figures are thrown around to create a picture of criminality."
Dr Kampmark said the vilification of refugees in the media by guards could be politically motivated.
"There is a close working relationship between the Australian government and the contractors who work on these facilities," said Dr Kampmark.
"What has happened subsequently over the years have been testimony and accounts that seem remarkably cultivated to fit a particular purpose," he said.
"The point is to undermine and sow the seeds of discord. The slant is to demonstrate them (refugees) to be innately rotten, so that New Zealand should not touch them with a 20 foot barge pole."
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