Can we at least stop pretending that the secrecy around our abuse of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru has had anything to do with security?
The images of refugee children on the US border separated from their families and being kept in cages were powerful and resonated around the world. Credit to the American people, their outrage forced the hand of the Trump administration, which backtracked quickly on the family separations. Admittedly their hostile refugee policy still remains deeply problematic to almost anyone with a shred of empathy for people with different coloured skin, but it was good to see that a nation’s outrage can force a policy reversal from a government that wants to be seen as tough on immigration.
Contrast that to Australia where after many years, our refugees continue to languish (at the cost of billions of dollars to the taxpayer) on Manus Island and Nauru. Many are separated from their families, but the public largely seems not to care. Many are also suffering physical and mental illnesses that the facilities they are kept in are not equipped to deal with. I have lost count of the number who have committed suicide, yet still the Australian public seems unmoved for the most part.
Where is the outrage about their fates?
It is kept at bay, by the shroud of secrecy maintained by the government and complicit commercial media outlets. And the rationale is very obvious. If we saw in depth coverage and images of the despair and hardship the refugees experience whilst we hold them in detention, I believe most Australians would be horrified, forcing the government to act.
But we are denied that coverage. Information about the detention camps is a closely guarded secret, backed by draconian whistle-blower laws, until the scandal-plagued Borderfarce needs to release some curated images for PR. Then suddenly security is less important and a chosen sycophantic faux-journalist goes for a quick tour and comes back with the kind of glowing review that would make you consider the detention facilities for your next holiday. This controlled access is compounded an Orwellian narrative that Trump would be proud of (remember he said to Turnbull, “You are worse than us,” and it wasn’t an insult), warning us the dangers these poor souls supposedly hold for our very way of life.
Perhaps concerned that Australians might be shaken from their complacency about what is being committed in their name, the Ogre for Immigration, was back to his dog-whistling self, warning us that a single act of compassion would set back years of progress (what progress?) in border control.
There is nothing new or original about Dutton appealing to our fears of immigration (even though only the tiny minority of immigrants come by boat), but at least this time he was willing to admit that he acts with compassion. Something that has been abundantly obvious to most of us, but which he has yet be held to account for.
His time will come though. He is an obstacle to a more humane society and probably guilty of breaching international law. Just like everyone else who stands against history, he will be remembered as an embarrassment in years to come.