A Day of Shame in the Land of No Fair Go

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How can Malcolm Turnbull's Government continue to ignore the arguments against its cruel, repressive and racist policies toward Australia’s most dispossessed and needy, asks Bruce Haigh.

Forget pride, achievement, nationalism and the inevitable mindless jingoism normally associated with Australia Day, Stan Grant has put paid to that.

If there was any lack of understanding on the part of white middle class and red neck Australians as to why emotion amongst Aboriginal people ran from uneasy to downright hostile toward Australia Day, Grant has spelt it out and left no one in any doubt.

The Australian Dream was built on racism, according to Grant and, in my opinion he is right. Grant gave us the appalling statistics on Aboriginal mortality and disproportionate incarceration, including children, in relation to the general population. Well done Stan; that was an address requiring moral courage of a type not often seen in this country, where spin and sweeping under the carpet is the norm.

What Grant did not address – and it was not in his brief to do so – was the raw and savage racism underpinning Australia’s refugee "policies". Howard set the tone with his smug and manipulative, "We will decide who comes here" statement and his gross "Children Overboard" lie (subsequently compounded by his "Weapons of Mass Destruction" lie — along with Abbott, he proved himself an astute and inveterate liar) both predicated on a deniable and yet deeply held visceral racism. This played out with the extraordinarily lengthy and cruel periods of detention of asylum seekers in desert detention facilities overseen by his weak, yet ambitious and status seeking minister of immigration, Philip Ruddock. He set the bench mark for the appalling behaviour of subsequent ministers in that portfolio.

A theme of this year’s Australia Day was "A fair go for all" — quite at odds with the reality of being incarcerated.

Asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru are part of the unsustainable and ostrich like policy of deterrence, implemented under the malicious doctrine of "No Advantage". There are better ways of handling this compelling human need. As Grant and other prominent Australians have said: "We are better than this". The racism woven through refugee "policy" makes a farce of the Australian Dream.

A refugee under the protection of the Australian Government, even though they deny responsibility for her welfare, is raped on Nauru. Her name is Abyan, a young 23-year-old Somali woman, already suffering serious physical and mental health issues. The current minister for immigration, Peter Dutton, said after she was flown to Australia for an abortion following a public outcry, that officers’ from his department assess that in fact she did not want one. People following the case were aghast.

Kellie Tranter, a human rights lawyer in NSW, requested relevant documents under a Freedom of Information request. She received this information in December 2015. The redacted documents show that officers from the department "believe" Abyan wanted to prolong her stay in Australia in order that lawyers can get onto her case.

Tranter’s research establishes that Abyan wants to delay the abortion until she is fit enough to have one. She is smart and self aware enough to know that she is neither mentally or physically in any shape to have an abortion. The minister is aware of this but deliberately lied to the Australian people about the facts of the case and in so doing maligns and humiliates Abyan.

How low can you go? Australia let us rejoice.

In October 2014, the then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, with his characteristic smirk, informed the Australian public that nine workers on Nauru from the world wide charity, Save the Children, had been "coaching" asylum seekers to fabricate claims of abuse in order to "embarrass" the Abbott Government — a state of affairs which that government was able to achieve without help from anyone else.

Morrison had them expelled. A subsequent inquiry found that Morrison had acted without any basis in fact and that the workers should be compensated.

It was an egregious case of bullying. Morrison lied. He is not fit to be a minister, particularly treasurer. How can he be trusted to tell the truth in that key and vital portfolio?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has a problem on his hands. Two of his senior ministers have been identified as lying in relation to issues of fundamental rights and information relating to the abuse of those rights. As Stan Grant has said, these issues go to the core of whom we are and who we believe ourselves to be as a nation.

Many prominent Australians have tried to change the "policies" of successive governments toward the deliberate cruelty directed at asylum seekers, particularly those men, women and children being left to rot in detention. Claims made on Australia Day about Australia being the nation of the fair go are self-serving propaganda.

In August 2014, prominent Australian Janet Holmes à Court AC, delivered the Sandy Duncanson Social Justice Lecture under the title: 'Asylum Seekers: How did we come to this?'. 

In seeking an answer to that question, Holmes à Court notes that we are treating asylum seekers as less than human; that they are

"... left to rot, unseen and unheard, in an isolated cesspit somewhere in Nauru’s jungle."  

She says:

"Rather than 'No Advantage', the government’s own business model relies on its capacity to inflict maximum mental and physical disadvantage.”

In other words, giving asylum seekers a fair go.

She asks: how did we allow this to happen? How is it that we put up with the daily mistreatment of poor souls in our midst? It is because we believe in the equality of all men, women and children and because we honour our international undertakings toward the disposed and downtrodden, much as the white South African government did under the policy of apartheid toward black citizens?

We are no better.

Holmes à Court says maybe we didn’t arrive here; like Grant, she says maybe we’ve always been here, although Grant doesn’t use the word "maybe".

She notes that

"...for as long as we continue to slaughter one another, there will be refugees and asylum seekers... When an enlightened and compassionate PM does emerge, there is bound to be a royal commission, an apology and compensation paid .... And what will we say? We didn’t know or we did know, but did nothing. Does this sound familiar?"

And this from one of Australia’s most respected businesswomen and philanthropists. 

How can the Government continue to ignore the arguments against its cruel, repressive and racist policies toward Australia’s most dispossessed and needy?

The ball is in your court Malcolm; show us what you are made of.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceHaigh2.

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