Shaminda Kanapathi is a Tamil from Sri Lanka who suffered dreadfully under the Australian-run immigration detention program in Papua New Guinea.
While he now lives safely and productively near Finland's capital of Helsinki, he is a prime example of why a parliamentary inquiry into this program on both the Australian mainland and offshore is needed urgently.
Support for such an inquiry, albeit with less powers than a royal commission, was formalised as ALP policy at the national conference in Brisbane in August.
It is now more pressing than ever, given the latest revelations about the inhumane treatment of refugees in PNG's capital of Port Moresby and the Australian government's claim that it is no longer responsible for their welfare.
In 2013, Shaminda fled his country, terrified to learn he was suspected of supporting the militants whose revolt had been ended by a brutal government crackdown. Yet he was not involved in such activities, nor did he live in the Tamil north where the civil war had raged.
He flew to south-east Asia and after months in limbo bought passage on a boat bound for Australia.
Instead of reaching the mainland, the asylum seekers, who hailed from a range of perilous places - Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East - made Christmas Island and were placed in the purpose-built detention centre.
For Shaminda, things got progressively worse. Under the so-called "PNG Solution", whose impacts linger today, he was transferred to distant Manus Island, joining asylum seekers whom successive Australian governments had ruled would be "processed" offshore in order to stop them claiming sanctuary on the mainland.
The years passed slowly and badly, marked by suicides, violence from guards, poor health and minimal care.
During this time Reza Barati, a young Iranian Kurd, was beaten to death by guards and other contractors during a violent rampage inside the centre. In August 2023, the Australian government and the security firm G4S confidentially settled civil proceedings with Barati's parents.
Four years into his incarceration, a period in which Australia continued to breach the UN's refugee conventions, Shaminda met Canberra-based Dr Tim McKenna who chairs our Vincentian Refugee Network.
They would later meet several times, including in Port Moresby to where the refugees had been relocated. Around 70 remain there, now a decade after then-PM Kevin Rudd introduced the "stop the boats" ban on people seeking legal asylum in Australia.
The living conditions of these refugees highlights the need for a parliamentary inquiry and the St Vincent de Paul Society eagerly awaits notice of when the proceedings will commence. The sooner the better, we believe, and preferably before the end of this year.
Learning the whole truth about the way refugees and asylum seekers have been, and continue to be, treated under Australia's offshore detention regime will provide an insight into a secretive administrative world, one marked by terms such as "on water matters", along with neglect and cruelty, and the mismanagement of huge amounts of public money.
The parliamentary inquiry will have no shortage of material to consider. One item would be the governance of offshore refugee arrangements, following the revelations that Home Affairs, while under Mike Pezzullo's leadership as secretary, allegedly approved contracts with companies linked to bribery investigations.
Labor has appointed Dennis Richardson, a former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence, to investigate. We suggest Mr Richardson's inquiry should be extended to include current contracts in PNG as well as shining a light on the previous government's murky deal to "resettle" refugees.
There should be prompt action to address continuing injustices, including bringing the people still held in PNG to Australia where they can receive urgent medical treatment and proper care in our community.
Again, this accords with Labor policy, which states that Australia retains an obligation to support people sent there by us against their will, whatever doubtful (and still secret) agreements the previous government made in late 2021.
- Mark Gaetani is the national president of St Vincent de Paul Society.