Turnbull visit: important test for Bill English

Tomorrow Bill English has his first pyjama party with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull in Queenstown.

This style of diplomacy has been going on for a number of years.

Whether it’s morning-after kayaking on Sydney harbour or taking in our own Southern Alps, the annual Prime Ministerial sleepover says a lot about the relationship between New Zealand and Australia.

That relationship is almost unique for neighbouring countries – close enough culturally and historically to share a lot in common, but far enough away geographically to never have come into real conflict over borders or resources.

The relationship is built on shared values.

They include a strong sense of internationalism, of doing our bit in the world, whether that’s in foreign conflicts, peacekeeping or overseas aid. And they include a commitment to honesty and giving people a fair go.

As anyone who can remember a childhood game of truth or dare will know, late at night on sleepovers is when a new level of honesty comes out.

It’s when the relationship deepens –  when we share secrets and tell the truth.

And that’s what we need from English and Turnbull at Friday’s soiree, because right now the Australian Government is betraying our shared values.

What has emerged in Australia in recent years would have been difficult to imagine just a decade or two ago.

On Nauru and Manus Island, over 2,000 refugees and people seeking asylum have been forcibly detained in conditions that Amnesty International has found amounts to the legal definition of torture – not a statement we make lightly.

In a tacit admission of guilt, when the Australian Government recently signed on to the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, they wrote in a carve-out for their refugee ‘processing centres’ on Nauru and Manus Island, knowing they would not pass international scrutiny.

Things are so bad, so hopeless, that after three years of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment on Manus Island, 21-year old Iranian refugee Loghman Sawari recently fled in a bid for asylum in Fiji.

Sadly, he was forcibly returned to Papua New Guinea to languish there some more.

This is not compassion. This is not a fair go. Continue reading

  • Grant Bayldon is executive director of Amnesty International NZ.

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