The Senate has set up an inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, to report by late March next year.
The inquiry, supported by Labor, Greens and several crossbenchers (the three from the Nick Xenophon Team, Derryn Hinch, and Jacqui Lambie) was carried 35-27 and will be done by the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs reference committee. The committee’s membership has not been settled yet.
The investigation will put additional pressure on the government to find a way to resettle the refugees from the two places. It already has the problem that the Papua New Guinea government is to close the Manus Island centre after it was declared unconstitutional.
The government has said it will not bring any of the people from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia, or let them go to New Zealand, but is not having any success in finding third countries to take them, apart from a deal with Cambodia that turned into a fiasco.
The terms of reference say the inquiry is to look at “the serious allegation of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers” on Nauru and any similar allegations about Manus Island.
It will consider the factors that have contributed to the alleged abuse and self-harm, how notifications are investigated, and the obligations of the Australian government and contractors in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers.
The provision of support services for those abused or neglected will be under scrutiny, and the role an independent children’s advocate could play.
The attempt to negotiate third-country resettlement will be examined, as will what more could be done to expedite this.
At the end of July there were 411 people – including 49 children – at the Nauru centre, and 833 men at the Manus Island centre.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra