Frydenberg and the Manus concentration camps

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(Image Margaret Sinclair via With Open Arms / Facebook)

The dehumanising brutality shown towards the Manus Island refugees by the Turnbull Government would have seen Frydenberg’s mother barred from entering Australia in 1950, writes John Passant.

IT LOOKS as if Section 44 might claim another victim, the Minister for Energy and the Environment, Josh Frydenberg

Frydenberg's mother was born in Hungary in 1943 and arrived in Australia in 1950 as a refugee from war, fascism and communism.

If anything highlights the ridiculous nature of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution it is the possibility that Frydenberg is Hungarian and hence ineligible to be a member of Parliament. A Jewish person fleeing Nazi and Stalinist persecution found a new life and had a son in Australia — a son who might be shunted from the Parliament. 

And why? Because in 1993 the new conservative government in Hungary granted citizenship to all those born in the country between 1941 and 1945 who had been denied it, such as Jews. They also granted citizenship by descent to the children of Hungarian citizens.

There is something else very important in all of this. IA's Michelle Pini eloquently captured it in the heading to her article on Friday which read: 'Manus refugees left to rot as son-of-a-refugee Frydenberg whines about s44'.

Frydenberg’s mother escaped the extermination camps of the fascists only to see her son be part of a government which runs concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru.

In 2016, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court ordered the closure of the specific concentration camp on Manus Island because it breached PNG’s Constitution by imprisoning people who had committed no crime. The gaolers in Canberra, Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull, have used that order as an opportunity to torture the 600 asylum seeker and refugee inmates further, for the base political motive of improving the Coalition Government’s very low support.

The PNG and Australian governments have cut off food, water, electricity and medications to the detention centre to try and force the refugees to leave and move to unfinished accommodation in the main town on the Island, Lorengau. As the locals are hostile towards them, the asylum seekers fear for their safety if they are moved.

The PNG and Australian governments are trying to starve them out. The PNG police and armed forces are preventing any food supplies getting in.

This is a siege.

Food is not the Turnbull Government’s only weapon. Men with diabetes have no insulin, men with epilepsy no anti-seizure medications and those with mental health problems – the majority – no medicines to deal with their insomnia, anxiety and depression.

This has nothing to do with complying with the PNG Supreme Court ruling. That is just the excuse. It is about brutalising a group of men who have been mistreated for years. This brutality is part of a bigger strategy — to get the asylum seekers to go back to the hellholes from which they fled.

The same approach, in 1950, would have seen Frydenberg’s mother barred from entering Australia. It is disgraceful, despicable and dehumanising.

The other part of the strategy underpinning this brutality is the supposed electoral support it will garner for the Coalition Government. With Turnbull and crew in terminal turmoil, the leadership team hope this brutalising of "the other" will swing support back to them.

Also, Dutton might very well see the situation on Manus Island as a stepping stone to rolling Turnbull as Prime Minister. His thinking might go something like this: I am the real tough man in the Government, the only one fit to lead. The hard Right support me. The conservative Right is coming around. The rump liberals will lose the next election. Only I can win. And I might even keep my seat.

Dutton is, in his own mind, the white knight who can save the Coalition Government.

He should be in gaol for his crimes against humanity. Actually, we should be yelling that and much more at him. 

Nick McKim captured the feelings of many Australians when he said:

'My response to Peter Dutton is that he is a racist, a proven liar, a fascist and a serial human rights abuser, and I'm prepared to stake my political credibility anytime against the credibility of a monster like Peter Dutton.'

Dutton is not a fascist — he is a reactionary but he is not smashing all opposition to the government. He is concentrating more power in his own hands to expand his brutality onshore as well as offshore, but none of this makes him a fascist. Although I understand McKim’s rage – and while the rest of what he says is true – Dutton is not Hitler or Mussolini.

I think Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt was closer to the mark when he called Dutton a terrorist — a person prepared to kill people for political gain.

The odds look pretty good that Dutton will lose his marginal seat at the next election — even if he does roll Turnbull and become Prime Minister. If he does challenge the leadership and become PM, he will have to attack workers and the poor as well as refugees and hence expose his ruling class brutality and – not to forget – his incompetence, to all of us.

Malcolm Turnbull called the questioning of Frydenberg’s electoral legitimacy a "witch-hunt". This has more to do with his own political preservation. If Frydenberg is booted, Turnbull’s cobbled "majority" becomes a potential minority.

As many readers will know, I think Section 44 is a racist provision and the Left should not be celebrating its victims, even if they are reactionaries. The way to defeat reaction and conservatism is not through Constitutional technicalities but through struggle — especially class struggle.  

As for witch-hunts, I think ACTU Secretary Sally McManus summed it up best with this Facebook comment:

‘Turnbull has unbelievably condemned witch-hunts as unAustralian. What a total hypocrite. The Abbott-Turnbull Government have used every arm of the state to conduct a three year and ongoing witch-hunt of unions. A two year Royal Commission, tapping union leaders phones, interrogations, multiple police raids, the ABCC, the ROC and their friends in parts of the media. They are experts in witch hunts.’

What can we do to save those on Manus Island? Peter Hartcher in the Canberra Times says nothing will change this Government and Opposition from their bipartisan course of concentration camps and torturing refugee — his is the language of apologia or defeat.

We should be realistic and demand the impossible. Part of being realistic means learning from history. Protest movements only win when they radicalise. I think the time has come for the refugee movement to mobilise tens of thousands to shut down the centres of the big cities. That is what happened on a smaller scale in Sydney and Melbourne on Saturday as refugee activists shut down main roads for a short time.

Manus Island shows us there can be no "business as usual" anymore. Shut down the cities to shut down the concentration camps. Bring them here.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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