Peter Dutton's 'super ministry': Extending the scope for abuse of power

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(Generalissimo Dutton by @Biggy1883)

The announcement of a new Peter Dutton-led "super ministry" will extend the scope of government sanctioned abuse of power, so far perpetrated against refugees, to all Australians, writes Sarah Smith.

ON 19 JULY 2013, four years ago today, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called a press conference and addressed the nation.

He announced that asylum seekers who came to Australia by boat would no longer be eligible to settle in Australia.

This was swiftly condemned by the United Nations and, in the subsequent four years, we have seen extensive evidence of a deliberate campaign of harm and dehumanisation of those Australia has transferred to offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru.

A Dateline documentary in March 2014 aired shocking footage, accompanied by allegations from a former Manus staff member of unsanitary living conditions, degradation by the Australian G4S security staff and sexual abuse.

These claims were echoed by other former staff members and, emboldened by each other's bravery, some even speak publicly now on the matter — risking a two-year gaol term introduced by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton to deter people from revealing abuse to the public.

More than three years later, The Guardian provided evidence that, after this footage came to light, the conditions the men on Manus were subjected to were deliberately made harsher under the instruction of the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Similarly, The Guardian published The Nauru Files — a cache of 2000 leaked reports detailing systematic dehumanisation, abuse and neglect of asylum seekers transferred to Nauru by Australia.

While this was happening, visas in Australia were being systematically cancelled. Residency and citizenship were being revoked, and people were being taken into onshore immigration detention to await forcible deportation.

Now, people are facing being forced to return to countries of which they have no recollection, nor family and friends, because of the directives issued by Peter Dutton.

Parents and children are being separated.

The elderly and infirm are struggling to survive the harsh conditions of immigration detention as their health rapidly deteriorates. 

Husbands and wives are being split apart as Minister Dutton exercises his "ministerial discretion".

Refugee advocates have long-warned that what the Government sees fit to do to refugees, they are capable of doing to Australians. Still, we were not joined in the streets by millions protesting the detention and deportation of people who – just like them – called Australia home.

The protests numbered only in the thousands and, when this was seen to be insufficient to sway the government to end their inhumane policies, the numbers did not grow.

So perhaps it is fitting that on this, the four year anniversary of a decision that has caused suicides, deaths from medical negligence, physical and psychological impairment, and has been described as "inhuman" by the United Nations, we are now party to a new decision.

A decision that will affect all of us and, if it doesn't personally cost us our liberty or our lives, has the potential to do so for our families, our friends, our teachers, our students, our neighbours and our colleagues.

On Monday, 17 July 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made an announcement.

Australia would now be party to new security measures, designed to combat "terrorism" and protect our borders under a new "super ministry".

The press conference was held with a backdrop of Australian Defence Force (ADF) Special Operations Command members in full camouflage, wearing gas masks and brandishing automatic weapons.

This was met with disbelief, ridicule and then, slowly, people started to realise its potential implications as experts warned of the dangers.

On the eve of the anniversary of Kevin Rudd's 2013 asylum seeker announcement, Malcolm Turnbull declared that Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton would be handling this new "super portfolio". The ministry will comprise the Australian Border Force (ABF), the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Peter Dutton, who flew a pregnant rape victim back to Nauru in the middle of the night without allowing her to receive counselling or speak with an interpreter.

Peter Dutton, who has protected three alleged rapists since 2015.

Peter Dutton, who has ensured conditions in detention are so harsh people would rather burn to death than endure them indefinitely.

Peter Dutton, who ensures that every life that is lived at his mercy, is rendered simply an existence, underscored by the dull ache of dread that encompasses both day and night.

Peter Dutton is the man who now has the power to affect the lives of every single person in this country — as, and when, he wishes.

At the end of the day, Australia, you've had fair warning.

You saw that people were being locked up and held indefinitely without having committed a crime. You did nothing to stop this.

People were being beaten, raped and tortured. People were being murdered, committing suicide and dying from medical negligence under the care of the Australian Government.

Still, you did nothing — and spoke instead with your votes and your silence.

Now, Australia, your government has the power to do to every single citizen of this country what it has been doing for years to refugees.

Don't say you weren't warned. Lawyers, politicians, journalists, the United Nations, Amnesty International, refugee advocates, and the refugees themselves have given you four years notice and four years of evidence that this day was coming.

Now, when your day comes and you, your parent, your child, your sibling, your friend, or your neighbour is indefinitely detained, tortured, raped, or murdered, don't complain.

You've had four years to do that.

Sarah Smith is a refugee advocate for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.

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