Culture

Charlie Pickering Skewers Government Secrecy Around Offshore Detention As Undemocratic And Hypocritical

"More people have walked on the moon than journalists have walked on the grounds of these detention centres."

In the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cycle that is the #auspol hashtag, it’s easy to forget about the thousands of asylum seekers who — despite increasing evidence of human rights abuse — are still being held in appalling, abusive and often fatal conditions in Australia’s offshore detention facilities.

It’s especially easy to forget because we have no real way of hearing about them.

In last night’s The Weekly, Charlie Pickering reminded his viewers that in a lead-up to an election, it’s important for citizens who value democracy to be informed. “Yet there’s one issue that’s been in the news for over a decade, cost us over $1 billion last year, and about which we’re not even allowed to ask questions. Questions like: that offshore detention thing. Is it going… well?”

After an alarming and confronting montage detailing that well, nope, it isn’t, Pickering outlines the various laws and processes that have been in place since the Howard government — but have escalated dramatically during Abbott and Scott Morrison’s wilfully obfuscating years — to stop reporters reporting on the questionable successes, and often fatal failures, of Australia’s offshore detention policy. The Abbott government’s Border Force Bill, for instance, contain secrecy laws that threaten two years imprisonment for doctors and teachers who report on abuses incurred within the facilities (which, as Pickering points out, is more time than Australian journalist Peter Greste spent behind bars after being arrested for his news reports in Egypt). Meanwhile, Nauru have hiked up the costs of their media visas to $8000 — a tall enough barrier for entry in itself, to say nothing of the Abbott government’s routine rejection of their requests.

“In fact,” Pickering notes, “more people have walked on the moon than journalists have walked on the grounds of these detention centres.”

As the then-Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said in 2012: “Imagine the reaction, for instance, had the Howard government sought to gag naval personnel after ‘children overboard’. But the principle of free speech badly needs reaffirmation now, because of the current government’s attempts to bully critics into silence.”

“Good point,” says Pickering. “If only the Prime Minister would listen.”