A senior Australian public servant made a joke about torture and refugees

Michael Pezzullo. Image: Parliamentary broadcast

A senior public servant joked today that the only torture associated with detainees on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea was when he has to appear before parliamentary inquiries.

Michael Pezzullo, who heads the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, was replying in a Senate estimates committee hearing to questioning from Greens Senator Nick McKim.

Pezzullo was being asked about the closure of the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea on October 31 and reports that 600 detainees would refuse to move out.

Services, including power and drinking water, will be cut off from the centre sometime on the last day of this month. The centre will be returned to the PNG government as a navy base and the centre detainees moved to other accommodation.

Senator McKim repeatedly asked what would happen to the 600 or so who have refused to move.

Pezzullo: “Firstly, they are not meant to be there, they are not meant to be on a military base on the morning on November 1. And secondly, the maintenance of public order and the issue of trespass and the rest of it are matter for Papua New Guinea.”

Senator McKim: “Don’t you think you are risking a human rights disaster here and a mass loss of life?”

Pezzullo: “No, I think that’s rather colourful appreciation of the situation. I don’t think it will entail a mass loss of life… PNG is thinking very carefully about how it might deal with what is a regrettable attitude… fuelled by troublesome outsiders who are encouraging these poor soul…”

Senator McKim: “Please, just spare us the fake sympathy. You have been torturing them for four and half years.”

Pezzullo: “I reject any assertion that this department is torturing anyone. The only torture I am aware of is sometimes when we have to appear here…”

Pezzullo smiled.

Senator McKim: “I don’t think torture is a laughing matter.”

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