News.com.au: Corinne Grant: ‘If you knew what was happening to these people, no-one in Australia would allow it to continue’
A TEACHER who blew the lid off the alleged appalling treatment of detainees in Nauru has been supported by comedian Corinne Grant in a stunning exchange on the ABC’s live Q & A program on Monday night.
Ms Grant was joined on the panel by communications minister Mitch Fifield, academic Erin Watson-Lynn, Opposition health minister Catherine King and Spikedmagazine editor Brendan O’Neill, to discuss offshore detention and free speech, among other things.
A video question from teacher and whistleblower Tracey Donohue about the alleged mistreatment of detainees on the offshore detention centre in Nauru drew mixed responses from the panel.
“I witnessed death threats made to my students by local guards,” Ms Donohue said.
“I watched a very large guard lift and throw a student with force into the ground and a metal rail. I witnessed the daily verbal abuse and taunts that my students endured. I witnessed the appalling treatment of rape victims. And I witnessed countless injuries sustained by refugees and asylum seekers from assaults in the community.
“The Government has again attempted to absolve itself of responsibility by claiming that the wellbeing and safety of those on Nauru is a matter for the Government of Nauru. What do you think is the responsibility that the Australian Government has for the refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru?”
Mr Fifield said Nauru was “a sovereign state” and that Australians “have to recognise that the laws of that country operate and we have to abide by them”.
“But the laws of that country are harsh, as harsh as Australia’s are, when there are cases of abuse, when there are cases of assault,” Mr Fifield said.
“And it is important that mandatory reporting of incidents have to be done and they have to be fully investigated. Peter Dutton, when there was the public release of some of those incident reports, made clear that his department was going to identify those that had already been addressed and assessed, those that had not and also he made clear that there are some incident reports which are without foundation.”
Q & A host Tony Jones put it to Mr Fifield that he was “saying it is not the Australian Government’s responsibility to do anything about (abuse in detention), but it is the responsibility to investigate these incidents”.
Mr Fifield: “Well, it is a shared responsibility.”
Mr Jones: “So it is a shared responsibility? So we have some responsibility for what happens on Nauru — is that right?”
Mr Fifield: “Well ... There wouldn’t be incident reports filed if they weren’t for the purpose of being investigated.”
Mr Jones asked Mr Fifield if he acknowledged the possibility “there could be something systemically wrong with the offshore detention centre where the sort of incidents mentioned there happened to young children”
Mr Fifield: “Look, I don’t think there is anything systematically wrong with the system of offshore detention.”
Ms Donohue sent a message via Facebook to the program during the live broadcast. It read:
“A cooperative regional approach. Nauru was only ever meant on a temporary solution, hence plastic tents. It was never envisaged people would be living in those conditions for three years.”
Mr Fifield said immigration minister Peter Dutton “has made it abundantly clear that he is working hard on looking for countries where these people can be settled”.
Comedian, writer and “almost” lawyer, Corinne Grant responded with shocking facts about the treatment of detainees in offshore detention.
“There are 1313 men, women and children in detention as we speak,” she said.
“One of those is an interpreter who interpreted for Australians in Afghanistan. Because of that, he watched the Taliban murder his children.
“Instead of thanking him, we have locked him up on Manus. Tracey (Donohue), what she told us about what she saw in that detention centre, exposes her to two years in jail under the Act. And the ... legislation makes it impossible for doctors and people working in centres to report what they’ve seeing and not fall (foul) of the Australian Border Force.
Mr Fifield: “That’s not true.”
Ms Grant: “It is true. Mitch, read the legislation. The people who represent the peak body organisations are not covered by the Whistleblower Act. That’s why doctors for refugees are forced to take the Government to the High Court. If you genuinely knew what was happening to these people, no-one in Australia would allow it to continue to happen. Every one of those 1313 people would be brought to this country immediately if we really knew what was happening to them.”
Mr O’Neill criticised Ms Grant’s position and insinuated she was a hypocrite after earlier championing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to offend, insult or humiliate a person on the grounds of race.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, Corrine, but you can’t spend 20 minutes defending censorship and then stand up for freedom of speech,” he said.
Mr O’Neill has previously written that he wanted section 18C torn up because it “invites the state to police thought and speech”.
He reiterated that sentiment on Monday’s program. “I love hearing hate speech because it reminds me I live in a free society and because it allows me as someone who has been an anti-racist campaigner since I was 18 years old, to challenge those ideas,” Mr O’Neill said.
“This is the real problem with section 18C, it disempowers anti-racists by robbing us of the right to see racism, to know it, to understand it and to confront it in public. Instead, it entrusts the authorities to hide that racism away on our behalf which means we never have a reckoning with it. I’m opposed to anti-racist censorship precisely because I’m anti-racist. I want the opportunity to know where these people are, know what they think and challenge them in the public realm.”
Ms Watson-Lynn said anyone who had been discriminated against wouldn’t “enjoy hearing hate speech”.
“It’s not a pleasant experience to hear something like that,” she said.
“But ... in the society we live in we should have the freedom to be able to say things, whether it’s good or bad.
Mr Fifield said 18C was not necessary to protect vulnerable people.
“I don’t think any law can change the way people think and no law can stop people from being dopes,” he said.
“The law can give people a degree of comfort but the greatest defence we have against racism is ensuring that we have a society that is tolerant, that we debate, we debunk and argue fiercely against those ideas that are reprehensible.
“I think the culture we have in our nation is our greatest defence. I’ve got to say, as a member of the Government, while I appreciate many of the worthy arguments that some of my colleagues put forward in relation to 18C, it’s not something we have an intention to change.
“We have many higher legislative priorities and I say that particularly as the manager of Government Business in the Senate.”