Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison poses for photographs on the Christmas Island jetty on Christmas Island. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison poses for photographs on the Christmas Island jetty on Christmas Island. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch

Hey PM, why won’t you set foot on Manus Island?

PRIME Minister Scott Morrison made history this week as the first in his role to set foot on Christmas Island.

So why won't he do the same on Manus and Nauru?

In a media stunt reportedly costing taxpayers $60,000 in flights alone, the PM led journalists and camera crews through a pristine detention facility.

The centre will chew up a further $1.4 billion over the next four years.

But while Morrison posed next to shiny, unused medical equipment in a centre that was completely empty, people in the Manus Island town of Lorengau called out for him to pay them a visit too.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister David Coleman tour the medical facilities at the North West Point Detention Centre on Christmas Island on Wednesday. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister David Coleman tour the medical facilities at the North West Point Detention Centre on Christmas Island on Wednesday. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch

 

Unfortunately, the situation there doesn't look quite as good on camera.

"We are having social problems right now and it is something the Australian Government should look into," one local, who asked not to be named for fear of losing his job, said.

The man also said outbreaks of violence, suicide, mental health issues and social unrest among refugees were a concern to the Manus community.

"It would be good for the Prime Minister to come over and assist the situation and maybe do something to help," he said.

"Manus is a small island. To process the refugees here would be okay, but to provide a place for them to stay and to live; I don't think that is a good idea."

When I raised these concerns with the Prime Minister's office, I did not receive a response.

Others, like Provincial Health Authority director for curative health services Dr Otto Numan, have complained about a drain on local health services on Manus.

Numan says even simple painkillers like paracetamol were sometimes unavailable on the island.

In a report by Amnesty International last year, a photograph shows medical equipment stored in an old toilet cubicle at the Lorengau General Hospital.

A bathroom being used as a storage space at the Lorengau General Hospital, taken in October 2017. Picture: Supplied by Amnesty International
A bathroom being used as a storage space at the Lorengau General Hospital, taken in October 2017. Picture: Supplied by Amnesty International

The facility was described in the report as "poor" and "under-resourced". And I know this to be true because I was born there.

Compared with the state-of-the-art detention centre that the Prime Minister, in the words of Bill Shorten, "frolicked" around on Christmas Island, the reality of Manus is far less dignified.

Of course Morrison had to reassure Australians that Christmas Island was "up to the job", when other offshore facilities clearly are not. Is it any surprise he spent thousands showing it off?

Some have called Morrison's trip a stunt; an attempt to reheat debate about border protection and mimic the Tampa strategy that helped John Howard win the 2001 election. But I think it was more of a hurried crack at getting eyes off Manus and Nauru, where the veil that once obscured offshore processing has started to become very, very thin.

In the messy aftermath of the Paladin saga and medevac bill, the Government needed to be seen taking back some control. Unfortunately, this clunky show of command comes at a cost of $1.4 billion for a facility we can't be sure will ever be fully used.

And whether Morrison likes it or not, the curtains that concealed Manus and Nauru will continue to lift.

 

Scott Morrison posing for photographs on the Christmas Island jetty. The PM announced refugees eligible for medical evacuation will be processed at the North West Point detention centre if they are approved for medical transfer. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Scott Morrison posing for photographs on the Christmas Island jetty. The PM announced refugees eligible for medical evacuation will be processed at the North West Point detention centre if they are approved for medical transfer. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

 

This may have been fuelled by recent events, but it really started back in 2016 when the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court declared refugee detention unconstitutional, and the Australian Government's high-security camp in Lombrum closed and the refugees were moved into the township.

Free to come and go from these "not-detention" centres, refugees mingle with locals and have improved access to mobile phones.

But even with these "improvements", everyone is sick of the arrangements, literally and figuratively.

According to Numan, a number of refugee patients transferred to the hospital no longer want to co-operate with doctors, saying they "just want to get to Australia".

Locals too, complain that they have been forced to share their tiny, under-resourced island without a say in the matter. We see videos of security guards on strike and pictures of sick refugees on medical stretchers who have self-harmed.

Dr Antony Faa left Australia to work at Lorengau General Hospital in 1993. Picture: Supplied by Marian Faa
Dr Antony Faa left Australia to work at Lorengau General Hospital in 1993. Picture: Supplied by Marian Faa

 

As the media peers deeper into Manus, there's a photograph from my childhood that stands out as ironic.

It's a going away cake, baked for my mother and father the week before they left Australia to work at the Lorengau hospital in 1993.

In sloppy letters piped out in icing, the cake reads: "Where the hell is Manus Island?"

It's this message that, years later, the logic of offshore processing was based on: no one knew where Manus and Nauru were, so we couldn't see or imagine what was happening there. But that logic no longer exists.

With the federal election looming and refugees already a seemingly impossible topic for the Coalition, I cannot imagine how much Scott Morrison would love a piece of that cake.

Unfortunately for our PM, the locals who want their little island back to normal, and the refugees who wish they never ended up there at all, there will never be one like it again.