Madeline Gleeson’s 'Offshore' Wins Literary Prize

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Kaldor Centre Senior Research Associate Madeline Gleeson has taken out the prestigious 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for non-fiction for her book Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru.

Released to acclaim by NewSouth Publishing, Offshore is a searing account of what has happened on the Pacific island nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island since Australia began its most recent offshore processing regime for asylum seekers in 2012. 

Offshore was also shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and long-listed for the Walkley awards.

“I’m honoured even to have been considered alongside the other exceptional shortlisted authors,” Gleeson said. 

The other finalists for the Non-Fiction award, announced on Tuesday 31 January at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens, were: Songs of a War Boy by Deng Adut with Ben Mckelvey; The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke; The Killing Season Uncut by Sarah Ferguson with Patricia Drum; Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood; and The Fighter by Arnold Zable.

When Offshore was short-listed, the VPLA judges wrote: “This compelling book is essential reading as Australia grapples with one of the most conflicting moral and political issues of our time: how we respond to people seeking asylum in our country. Madeline Gleeson presents a comprehensive view of the first three years of Australia’s offshore processing policies and practices from 2012. She draws on official statements, media reports, parliamentary inquiries, and interviews with those who’ve seen or experienced the brutal human cost first-hand. The damaging effects of Australia’s offshore processing are made clear in this important book that informs, but also asks questions that still demand answers.”

Gleeson said she was heartened that this account of Australia’s extraordinary policy of offshore detention, and its human consequences, has made an impression. 

"I'm honoured and also heartened that this account of Australia’s extraordinary policy of offshore detention, and its human consequences, has made an impression, and I hope this prize will lead more people to explore the book and this defining issue for themselves," Gleeson said. 

"This is an area of policy and public debate that has been mired in a destructive and seemingly intractable divide between so called ‘idealists’ on one side and pragmatists on the other. We have to find some common ground between the two. Practical and realistic answers are obviously needed, but we can’t abandon all principle in the process. There have to be lines that we, as a society, agree cannot be crossed. It is a matter of deciding: what sort of people do we want to be? What sort of world do we want to live in?"

Gleeson researched and wrote Offshore as part of her work at the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, the world’s first and only research centre dedicated to the study of international refugee law. The Centre was founded at UNSW in October 2013 to undertake rigorous research and contribute to public policy involving the most pressing displacement issues in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

The Kaldor Centre’s most recent report, Where to from here, turns from what has gone wrong, to what we can do better. The report is based on the discussions of an expert roundtable convened by Gleeson to discuss durable solutions to the complex challenges of refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific region, including the future for offshore processing.

Kathy Bail, chief executive of UNSW Press, said: “Part of our mission at UNSW is to stimulate and inform public debate on challenging contemporary issues. Madeline Gleeson’s forensic book Offshore is a significant contribution.”