A question from a Manus Island detainee to Monday night’s Q&A panel about his fate in detention sparked a clash between two Liberal and Labor senators with each blaming the others’ government for the current crisis.
The program heated up after Aziz Muhamat, who has been stuck on Manus Island for more than four years, asked the panel via video: “How long will Australia keep us here in danger?”
Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz reiterated the Government’s catchcry that it had stopped the boats.
“People said it couldn’t happen. We did stop the drownings at sea and the deaths at sea and it was because of the determined action of the Government, which I am very pleased to be part of,” he said.
But Tasmanian Labor Senator Lisa Singh said the Government had other options to send detainees to New Zealand, but refused to take the country up on its offer.
Addressing Mr Muhamat, she said: “It is shameful the Australian Government has treated you this way.”
“That you have been left languishing for years on end indefinitely in detention on Manus Island. And we’re talking about not just you, but some 2,000 men, women and children that have been treated appallingly by this Australian Government,” she said.
Senator Abetz then interrupted, saying the Labor government had started it.
Senator Singh went on to say Manus Island detainees were suffering from mental illness and Australia was known as a country that treated refugees badly.
“That’s just false,” Senator Abetz responded.
Host Tony Jones asked Senator Singh if she was ashamed of the Labor government that began the offshore detention system in the first place.
She said the current situation was not the intention, and there were plans to process detainees, which the Liberal Government was not doing.
“Let’s face it. You have options on the table and the government is refusing to take them up. What does that say about our government?” Senator Singh said.
Senator Abetz said such a statement was “highly offensive” and that no government wanted this type of situation.
Former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, said it was time to evacuate the detainees because it was becoming unsafe and Australia needed to “bring these men home”.
“In my view, we need to bring them to Australia,” she said.
“It’s a difficult decision for both political parties, but I think the inhumanity has reached a level where we, as a nation, we have to respond. We’re ashamed of this policy. It’s not Australian, it’s in serious breach of our international obligations.”
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Woman brought to tears after panellist ignores question
Audience member Zahra Bilal was brought to tears when one of the panellists refused to acknowledge her question about US President Donald Trump’s tweets and how they could promote hate crimes against Muslims.
Her question comes after Mr Trump was criticised for retweeting videos posted by far-right group British First, which the group said showed a “Muslim migrant” beating up a “Dutch boy”.
Dutch police said two teens were arrested in relation to the incident but there was no indication that the arrested teenagers were immigrants, or Muslims.
Senator Abetz said he had a problem with how Mr Trump tweeted and investigative reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald, Kate McClymont, said it was shocking Mr Trump had not checked his facts.
But director of policy at the Institute of Public Affairs, Simon Breheny, said he did not understand why the panel was bothering to talk about Mr Trump’s tweets.
“Frankly, I would much rather talk about the $1.5 trillion tax package that’s passed the US Senate that’s being debated,” he said.
Jones pointed out that was not the question asked and Mr Breheny said: “I’m saying it’s extraordinary the one thing we’re plucking out of the US when it comes to news and current affairs is what [Mr Trump] is tweeting.”
When Jones asked Mr Breheny to respond to the question again, he launched into talking about Mr Trump’s tax proposal, again ignoring the question.
He was accused by fellow panellists of being “flippant” on the issue and Ms Bilal teared up and said it was a struggle living in a society where people did not feel welcomed.
“You think the people around you are going to be there and stick by your side and when you hear about people getting, international people who are supposed to be there to speak about you, it’s difficult to then have to justify yourself to the people who you thought were standing behind you,” she said.