Here is what we know. Manus Island is being used as a place to put people who have arrived in Australia without proper papers - ''illegally'' is the adverb used by the government. They are supervised in enclosed compounds while their claims for refugee status are being investigated.

Here is what we know. On the night of February 16, some of these people, impatient at the slow progress of their claims, broke out of the compound but were recaptured and taken to local police stations. We have been told that the ''breakout'' involved minor damage to the compound and its perimeter; we have not been told whether those who left the compound did any damage to property outside.

Here is what we know. The following night, some people entered the compound and attacked those inside. The attack involved weapons which inflicted injuries to the head and body necessitating hospital treatment. At least 77 people suffered injuries; one person was killed and one was shot by a large-calibre bullet of the type used by PNG special forces. There are no reports of injuries other than those suffered by the refugees.

In the days following, there have been numerous charges that this was an attack on defenceless people. It would be possible to quote from many of the reports from journalists and those who were victims of the attacks. I choose just one, a refugee from Lebanon, quoted in the Fairfax press: ''Tonight polices and g4s attack us again. Many peoples in the yard. Injure please we need one to help us. May be till morning they will kill us. We are human or animls.''

There is something pathetic about that plea for help, made all the more powerful by its very incoherence. It is the kind of thing we might have expected from some semi-starved inmate of a concentration camp 70 years ago, a message on flimsy paper floated hopefully on the wind into an uncaring world.

But this is not Poland 1944; this is from a person under the protection of the Australian government in 2014. It is the cry of a man thousands of kilometres from home, separated from everything he knows, under attack by people who are paid to protect him. Paid by the Australian taxpayer to protect him.

It does not matter whether Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard may be blamed because they set up Manus in the first place. It is of little comfort to those under attack by sticks and stones that the present government can boast to the Australian people that its policy is working because no boats have come in the last two months.

What happened on Manus last week is a stain on Australia. These innocent people were under our protection when they were attacked. Australia has put them at risk of death and suffering in a desperately poor and struggling country in which, we are told, corruption is rife. However, unlike Malaysia, it is a signatory to some convention or other that guarantees the rights of refugees.

There is a warning in all this. What is happening on Manus - and Nauru, which does not even have a proper court system - is done in our name, and 20 or 30 years from now, we will look back on these years as a blot on the good name of Australia; there will be apologies and court cases and days of remembrance; it will be in the schoolbooks as a warning to the young.

In America one of the biggest slurs you can utter is to say a person's grandparent was one of those who supported the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era. In 1954, at the height of that disgrace, less than 30 per cent of Americans were opposed to what was happening. At the same time, citizens of countries in Europe were putting their hands on their hearts and saying they did not know what the governments they had elected with massive majorities had been doing in their name 10 years earlier.

Let us not, then, take comfort in the electoral outcomes of election in September or polls that show 60 per cent of our fellow citizens support what is happening on Manus Island.

Twenty years from now, we won't be able to say that we didn't know; despite the best efforts of the authorities there are enough voices on the ABC and SBS and Fairfax telling us.

And for goodness sake, if you support Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott and what they are doing in our name, keep it to yourself.

Think of your grandchildren. Think of the shame if in the future there is some evidence that you supported attacks on defenceless people conveniently corralled so that they could not escape their attackers.