POLITICS

Malcolm Turnbull Defends Nauru As He Is Confronted By Despair

The PM says Australia's immigration policies are "compassionate and strong".

18/10/2016 10:18 AM AEDT | Updated 18/10/2016 10:39 AM AEDT
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Andrew Meares/Fairfax Media
PM: "I just can't, obviously, engage on this particular case."

CANBERRA – Confronted by the voice of a despairing teenage girl asking for the freedom to go to school, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could say little.

In an interview smuggled out of the Pacific island of Nauru, a place described by Amnesty International Monday as an "open-air prison," 17-year-old Shamim said she just wanted to "study good and have a good time and healthy and safety and happy".

But, as originally aired on the ABC's Four Corners, Shamim is among children too scared to go to school on Nauru because of violence and sexual harassment by locals angered by the presence of refugees and asylum seekers.

Knives are pulled on the students.

"We just want to make good friends and have a good times like you, like everyone in other countries have in their home, sweet home, and staying there and studying and playing. Everything," Shamim pleaded.

"I just want to be the same person like everyone."

Turnbull's response? "I just can't, obviously, engage on this particular case."


"We've heard from this young lady and it is, it is a... It is a very sad story that she tells," the Prime Minister told RN Breakfast on Tuesday.

"But, you know, there are 1,200 people, many of them young women too, no doubt, from whom we can never hear, because they drowned at sea under the Labor Party's reckless failure to keep our borders safe."

The Prime Minister said Australia is supporting the Nauru Government's policing and security measures, but he's defended Australia's offshore immigration policies as "compassionate and strong" as he flatly rejected a new Amnesty report alleging the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru "amount to torture".

"I reject that claim totally ... it is, it is, it is absolutely false," Turnbull told ABC radio on Tuesday.

"The Australian government's commitment is compassionate and strong."

The Prime Minister said the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton wanted to debate the issue live on the flag ship program, but the offer was "rejected".

Four Corner's executive producer Sally Neighbour said the program does not do live interviews.

The Prime Minister did not address current conditions on Nauru as he defended the government's tough immigration policies.

"What we've been able to do is to stop the boats, no deaths at sea," he said. "We've closed 17 detention centres."

"We've reduced the children in detention from almost 2000 when we came into office to zero."

The Amnesty report adds to a similar report released in August and includes interviews with more than 100 people including former and current detainees.

It outlines more allegations of abuse in what Amnesty says is a "system of deliberate cruelty."

The secretary of the Immigration Department, Mike Pezzullo dismissed the report when quizzed about it in a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday night.

"It doesn't surprise me, Senator, because I've seen Amnesty International reports that say similar things," Pezzullo told the committee.

"I refute categorically, both on behalf of my own department and by way of explaining government policy in this regard, that it's not the Australian Government's position, nor the position of this department, that we flout any laws, international or otherwise."

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