The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, agrees with other human rights bodies that an Australian royal commission can investigate matters in Nauru for which Australia is internationally responsible. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP
Ben Doherty and Paul Farrell
The Australian royal commission investigating institutional responses to child abuse has the power to examine allegations of abuse of asylum seeker and refugee children on Nauru, a consortium of human rights groups has said.
The publication of the Nauru files by Guardian Australia has revealed widespread and systemic abuse within the detention centre on the island, with children disproportionately represented among reports of physical and sexual abuse, privation, self-harm and suicide attempts.
See: Nauru Is. A Living Nightmare for Migrants, A Disgrace for Australia
The Australian government has consistently argued the detention regime is a matter for the Nauruan government.
The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, told ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday that the most serious claims in the Nauru files would be examined by his department but ultimate responsibility lay with Nauru.
Comparing Nauru to Guantánamo Bay is ridiculous, says Australian immigration minister
Peter Dutton plays down abuse allegations and says that as Nauru is not part of Australia they are an issue for the government there
“Nauru is not part of Australia so this is an issue for the Nauruan government,” he said.
Previously the royal commission had ruled it could not investigate events in another country, but on Friday a coalition of human rights groups publicly released legal advice it had previously provided to the commission arguing that the abuse within the Australian-run centre on Nauru fell within the commission’s jurisdiction.
The advice, prepared by barristers Kristen Walker QC and Simona Gory for the Human Rights Law Centre, was provided to the royal commission in July last year.
It argued that the Royal Commissions Act gave commissions the power to conduct extraterritorial investigations so long as they pertained to government.
“It is our view that the commission has jurisdiction to investigate the response of the commonwealth and its Australian contractors to allegations of child sex abuse at the centre,” they said.
The executive director of the law centre, Hugh de Kretser, said although the commission was doing vital work to prevent child abuse in Australia “at the very same time, the Australian government is warehousing children offshore in conditions that allow child abuse to thrive”.
“The advice says that while the royal commission can’t obviously go to Nauru and exercise coercive powers ... it can look at the response of the Australian government and its contractors to child sexual abuse,” he said.
Marc Purcell, from the Council for International Development, urged the commission to accept the advice. “There is commonwealth responsibility for the harm being caused to people on Nauru and children,” he said.
The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, said an Australian royal commission could investigate “matters in which Australia is internationally responsible”.
She said the commission should be extended to examine how Australia has managed the entire Nauru offshore processing regime.
“It is not good enough to say this is for another sovereign nation,” she said.
Hmmm. I wonder how that will go down in the halls of Parliament House? I think it's extremely important to investigate the deplorable conditions in Nauru, but I fear the Australian government may find a sudden shortfall in its finances requiring the shutting down of the Commission.
The government does not want the facts to be dragged out in court for days and weeks. It does not want to be held legally and financially responsible for the horrors that are occurring there. And it has no plan B for dealing with migrants. For Australia to suddenly open its borders to rampant immigration like some European countries, would be cultural suicide, and that may be OK with Europeans, but it is not acceptable to Aussies.