Politics

This Government Official Joked About Torture While Discussing Australia’s Asylum Seeker Policy

This guy gets paid $600k a year to make jokes about torture.

In the latest example of Australia failing to show any empathy for asylum seekers, the public servant responsible for implementing Australia’s immigration policy has today joked about the conditions asylum seekers are forced to live in thanks to our federal government.

Michael Pezzullo, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, made the comments during Senate estimates earlier today.

“I reject any assertion that this department’s been torturing anyone,” he said, after Greens Senator Nick McKim described conditions on Manus Island as torture. “The only torture I’m aware of is sometimes when we have to appear here.”

“Here”, in this case, is the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs — a body meant to hold Pezzullo accountable. Apparently he thinks merely doing his job (for which, FYI, taxpayers pay him more than $600,000 annually) is more torturous than being illegally detained on an island in conditions that have driven multiple people to suicide and drawn the criticism of human rights bodies worldwide.

As in, a United Nations report found parts of Australia’s offshore detention policy to be in contravention of the UN Convention Against Torture. The UN slammed our human rights record as “off the charts” bad as recently as last week. This is not new, niche, or controversial.

As Senator McKim, who tweeted criticism of Pezzullo earlier today, put it to Junkee, “men, women and children have suffered for years in offshore detention – they have been deprived of their liberty and subjected to terrible harm to send a message to other people.”

“That fits squarely within the definition of torture under international law, as the UN has found. For anyone to laugh and joke about this demonstrates how Labor and the Liberals jointly supporting torture has infected senior levels of the public service.”

Pezzullo’s jokes came as further concerning details emerged about the impending closure of the Manus Island detention centre. Today, department officials confirmed that water and electricity will be shut off at the Manus Island centre on October 31, and the centre will subsequently be handed over to the PNG military, who have previously attacked asylum seekers.

While other accommodation and medical care elsewhere in PNG is being arranged for the centre’s hundreds of remaining residents, these residents have previously refused to leave the centre due to concerns about violence from locals. Questions still remain about the safety of these asylum seekers going forward, as well as long term plans to provide them with medical care and support.

Given that Pezzullo’s in charge of this policy, it seems like a particularly appalling time to be making the jokes he made today. We’d love to have him explain himself, but the Department of Immigration did not return our request for comment.