The Four Corners revelations about treatment of children in Northern Territory detention centres understandably elicited massive community outrage. While condemnation has been almost universal, some have also been quick to point out that the violent mistreatment is not dissimilar to the abuse experienced by refugees in offshore detention.
I have been pretty consistent in my criticism of our shameful refugee policy and I agree this is a valid point when viewed at an academic level. But I am slightly uncomfortable with how some of these arguments are being made while the shock is so raw.
This could have a hint of using the plight of children for political mileage (albeit usually very worthy political mileage) and that sort of strategy is normally the preserve of the Christensons and Duttons of this world. I don’t think many refugee advocates want to likened to human caricatures like these.
I am honestly quite conflicted over this, as refugee advocates have an important point to make. Unfortunately they usually have significant difficulty getting traction with the electorate when highlighting the suffering and abuse in detention centres. But right now a public spotlight is on Australia’s detention facilities. The plight of refugees is relevant to this conversation, but it can't be used to hijack the discussion.
Desperate and real as the refugees' plight is, their supporters need to choose their words with care. And timing is often just as important as the words chosen. Nothing should be said right now that (even unintentionally) downplays the horrific treatment of these vulnerable children.