It's time to shame our Australian cousins by dispatching a naval vessel to Manus Island to rescue the 600 or so refugees trapped on Australia's very own Devil's Island.

As I write this, the Australian Government were preparing to turn off the water and electricity supply to the Manus Island detention centre to the north of the Papua New Guinea mainland after a ruling from the PNG Supreme Court last year that it was "illegal and unconstitutional".

The refugees and asylum seekers have been told to either go back home, settle in PNG where they're unwelcome, or be shifted to a similar style detention centre on Nauru Island.

Greens Senator Nick McKim says the Government will attempt to "starve out" those who refuse to move starting yesterday. The Australians aim to drive refuseniks from the existing "illegal" facilities into new transit centres which critics say are incomplete and not large enough to house everyone.


Elaine Pearson, the Australian director at Human Rights Watch, says: "Australia is walking away and leaving the PNG government in charge so when things go wrong, then PNG will get the blame."

She says paying PNG to run the camp "doesn't absolve Australia of its responsibilities to these men".

The Manus Island detention centre was reopened in November 2012 by Julia Gillard's Labour Government in an attempt to dissuade asylum seekers from trying to sail to Australia. Within months, a United Nations report found that every Manus Island detainee was displaying signs of anxiety and depression.

Despite growing disquiet about the appalling conditions, successive governments refused to permit any of the detainees to ever settle in Australia. Earlier this year, the Government settled a class action brought by 1923 past and present Manus Island detainees agreeing to pay more than NZ$78 million in compensation for illegal detention and mistreatment on the island since 2012, but denying any liability.

Nevertheless, the victims, however cashed up they now are, remain in limbo. The PNG government says that any who want to stay can, but it's up to Australia to take responsibility for the vast majority who don't.

Which brings us back to where I came in. Shaming Australia. In 2013, at the height of the hysteria about armadas of refugees poised to invade Australian - and New Zealand - shores, John Key offered to help by taking 150 refugees a year from Manus and/or Nauru camps. The Aussies rejected the offer for fear it would reactivate the Indonesian people smugglers providing the boats.

A year ago, following an Amnesty International report describing the Australian policy as "a deliberate and systematic regime of neglect and cruelty" the then Labour leader, Andrew Little, called on the Government to pressure the Australian Government by causing them "international embarrassment" over the crisis.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw joined in, accusing the Government of "a lack of spine" in its approach to Australia. Last month, new Labour leader and now Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern told the Australians that a Labour Government would repeat Key's offer and "would want to look at" upping the numbers.

With Australia now trying to walk away from this nightmare of its own making, it's time to carry out Andrew Little's suggestion. Last year, after the leaking of a UN refugee agency report describing Manus as a "maximum security prison", and reporting that in the Nauru Island camp, "post traumatic distress disorder and depression have reached epidemic proportions", I suggested it was time to revive the Tampa spirit and rescue these refugees. Since then the situation has only got worse.

In 2001, when the Australians refused entry to 433 refugees rescued from a distressed fishing boat by the Norwegian freighter Tampa, the Clark Government made us all feel good by offering a home to 133 of them - mostly boys. We made them citizens, encouraged family members to join them, and shared the pride when they graduated as doctors, nurses and the like.

That time, the Australians were only too happy to see them depart. But the Manus Island detainees are trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare where the Australians don't want them in Australia or New Zealand for fear of encouraging others.

So they're forced to rot in tropical purgatory. It's inhuman, and who better to resolve it by a bit of gunboat diplomacy, than their best mates.