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Journalist first to report from Nauru

Monday 2 November 2015 | Published in Regional


MELBOURNE – Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has been unable to rule out his department’s involvement in the approval of a Nauruan visa for an Australian journalist.

The Australian associate editor and political commentator Chris Kenny travelled to the island nation earlier this month, becoming the first foreign reporter to visit within 18 months.

Kenny has spoken about why he thought he gained approval for a visa – the cost of which rose to $8000 in January last year – citing his public support for strong border protection measures.

There has been media speculation as to whether the Australian government intervened in the process and Dutton was unable to quash reports when asked.

He told the ABC that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection would have offered assistance, if it was seen to be appropriate.

“I’m not sure what assistance, if any, was provided,” he said.

He said if undertaken, any intervention would have been above board.

“We have scores of people who answer journalists’ queries each and every day,” he said.

“We facilitate information to those people. We’ve done it in relation to questions that we answer regularly about operations on Nauru and Manus, so I wouldn’t see anything inappropriate in that at all.”

- Chris Kenny wrote the following comment piece in The Australian on October 26:

“Silly me, with so many accusations and allegations coming out of Nauru over the past couple of years, I thought any journalist who had a chance of getting in might give it a go.

“Given my background in foreign affairs and well known support for strong border protection policies – most journalists campaign against them – it occurred to me that if the government of Nauru was going to let any journalist in, someone like me might stand a chance.

“After all, I had seen much of the media coverage, often hysterical or, at the very least, credulous. But if even half of it were true, someone needed to take a look.

“In September, the ABC’s 7.30 reported a rape claim that came from Nauru via refugee advocates. ‘These two women are just the latest victims of sexual assault on Nauru,” said the introduction, referring to a ‘recent cycle of violence’.

“Reporter Hayden Cooper went on in his report to say ‘Najma’s’ case was not isolated. ‘In detention and in the community, the rape and sexual assault of asylum-seekers and refugees in Nauru is not uncommon’. All this was information taken from afar; at face value.

“The ABC wasn’t in Nauru, of course, because of the Nauruan government’s effective ban. But it ran footage supplied through the refugee advocate network.

“This included footage which might raise questions about plausibility from a properly sceptical journalist.

“The alleged rape victim apparently had used two phones in the minutes after her ordeal – one to ring the police and one to film herself ringing police; highly prescient given her situation.

“This was one case I was able to ask the Police Commissioner, President and Justice Minister about when I was in Nauru. The commissioner, Cory Caleb, said the investigation was complete and it was found to have been a set-up. ‘In reality, nothing happened,’ he said. The politicians too, spoke of fabrication.

“Now, in cases like this no one’s perspective can be definitive. And just because one case might have been concocted or exaggerated it should not have a bearing on any other complaint.

“But these perspectives and the investigations of the police are highly relevant in a situation where refugees and activists are constantly attempting to undermine the offshore processing regime in Nauru.

“And the veracity of rape and assault allegations is crucial when it comes to relations between refugees and Nauruans. Social cohesion on this tiny island is at stake. The locals don’t mince words – they say some people are telling “lies” about them.

“In this context I came to be in Nauru, primarily focused on meeting refugees and asylum-seekers and visiting the processing centres, to see for myself what conditions were like and share as many honest perspectives as possible with people in Australia.

“Like most Australians I support secure borders and strong policies but like the overwhelming majority of us, I’m sure, I abhor the thought anyone would be mistreated in our nation’s name.

“So given that the case of
‘Abyan’ – another alleged rape victim who was flown to Australia for an abortion but flown back when she baulked at the procedure – unfolded as I was flying to Nauru, and it was revealed she was back on the island, it would have been unthinkable that any responsible journalist fortunate enough to be there would not try to find her and seek her version of events.

“It was a difficult and fraught assignment but I was pleased to speak with Abyan and relay to the public her version of events and her wishes.

“Yet the abuse from the sewer of Twitter, refugee advocates and other journalists tells me they are uninterested in facts.

“It is all about sanctimony and shouting down perceived media or political opponents or apparent ideological enemies. Abyan is just a vehicle for their moral posturing.

“It was pretty low rent. Next time I think I’ll forget about going to Nauru. Media types don’t seem to care that kids are not going to school, refugees are getting jobs and starting businesses, or locals are dealing with an asbestos threat.

“There’s more interest in the advocate’s lies about me, presumably designed to undercut any conclusions I might draw, or just out of sheer rage that I got in.

“It is probably better to do what the ABC does and just run the lines from refugee advocates.

“I could pontificate and invent events from 4000km away, and that way, perhaps win a Walkley (journalism award) too.”

- PNC sources