Politics

The concentration camps of Turnbull and Trump

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Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons.

Ripping kids out of the arms of their mothers and putting them in cages is not an aberration — it is business as usual for Western "civilisation".  

The whole history of capitalism has been the history of slavery, dispossession and genocide. That history has included stealing children from their parents.

In Australia, for example, settler colonial capitalism killed up to 700,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in its first 120 years. Part of that genocide was removing kids from their communities.

The genocide continues today, including removing Indigenous children from their families. Between the 1890s and 1970s, many many Aboriginal children were stolen. Yet today, despite the 'Bringing Them Home Report' in 1997 describing the forced removal of Aboriginal children as genocide, the number of Indigenous kids in out of home care is six times higher than when the Report was handed down.

The locking up and abuse of Indigenous detainees – like young Dylan Voller in Don Dale Detention Centre – shows the ongoing "logic" of colonial settler capitalism in Australia, as do incredibly high imprisonment rates and the ten-year life expectancy gap, to name but a few indicators of ongoing genocide.

It is not only Aboriginal kids who are feeling the sharpened knife of a racist state’s paternalism and "caring", otherwise known as theft. About 142 refugee and asylum seeker children are imprisoned indefinitely on Australia’s concentration camp of Nauru. 

Some of these children are suicidal because of their treatment. The Government’s policies have driven 12 adults on Manus and Nauru to suicide. This is a deliberate policy by "our" governments, past and present, designed not to "stop the boats", but to win votes or stem the flow of votes to the other side. The brutalising of children and adults has worked electorally.

That explains why Peter Dutton said:

"Australians must guard against compassion for refugees." 

Compassion is evil? That sums up Dutton’s Australia.

Donald Trump famously told Malcolm Turnbull that the Australian Government’s brutalising of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore concentration camps was 

“ … a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.”

In May, through his Attorney General, the U.S. President tried to trump Turnbull with a policy that removed refugee and asylum seeker children from their parents. I say tried to because, in the face of outrage and protests across the U.S. to this approach – an approach which has resulted in more than 2,000 children being stolen from their parents – Trump appeared to back down and has reversed the separation policy.

But the back-down hasn't stopped the deliberate cruelty. All Trump has done is adopt the Australian model but instead of offshore concentration camps, he is planning to use the military to set them up on U.S. soil. He wants offshore centres (Guantanamo Bay writ large) but has not yet had time to organise that with a compliant state or states in the region. Trump could soon find his Nauru or Manus Island.

It appears the most effective political product Australia has exported is our cruel refugee and asylum seeker policy. Conservatives, reactionaries and even fascists are echoing the tropes from their soul mates here in Australia about "stopping the boats", "saving" lives, stopping "illegals", jumping the queue and so on.

Australian readers have seen it all before and now the conservatives, reactionaries and fascists, as part of the othering faction, are repeating these lies ad nauseam in Europe and the U.S. to gain power. This othering is helping fascists into government in Europe or improving their position electorally. 

Just as worryingly, in the UK a few Sundays ago, 20,000 people protested for the release from gaol of the fascist and anti-immigrant Tommy Robinson.

In some of those countries, social democratic parties are also joining the othering faction, as Labor has done here in Australia. It was Keating Labor that set up the first onshore concentration camp ("detention" centre) in 1994. It has been downhill ever since, with Labor as desperate for an othering solution as the Coalition was. Labor’s othering policies laid the groundwork for the ongoing race to the bottom in mistreating refugees and asylum seekers.

This process of othering – the enemy is within or threatening to come in – is part of Australia’s history since 1788. The eternal other is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, Islamophobia as part of othering is now also rife in Australia. According to the reactionary and perhaps proto-fascist group, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, we are in danger of being "swamped by Muslims" — 20 years ago, her "dangerous" other was Asians.

The target might change depending on the particular circumstances, but anyone who is not part of the white Anglo-Saxon ideal is a threat to these politicians and sections of Australian society. For class-based society, however, this exclusion can include Anglo-Saxons as part of their target. One of the targets of the Turnbull Government is unions. The Liberals and Nationals attempt to target unions, using the same techniques as they use against refugees and asylum seekers. This includes potential gaol for unionists for undertaking legitimate union activities.

That is why the approach of John Setka, secretary of the Victorian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), to support Bill Shorten and prevent discussion of the refugee issue at the recent Victorian Labor Party conference was so disappointing. To paraphrase German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, first they came for the refugees and I did nothing. Then they came for the unions.

This othering of the "outsider" has a particular appeal during times of economic stress and tends to gather together two different stands in society: middle-class businesses doing it tough and less class-conscious workers and the lumpenproletariat — for example, low-level criminals and some despairing unemployed people. Hanson represents that middle-class base; the lumpen thugs find an outlet in various clubs and groups. If or when these two merge ...

How then can we end these concentration camps for refugees and asylum seekers? How can we roll back reaction and destroy the seeds of fascism? A good first step would be smashing the concentration camps, and bringing the refugees and asylum seekers here.

For years now there has been a good campaign for refugees, including to close down the "detention" centres. Some even argue to bring them here. Every Palm Sunday, tens of thousands march for humane treatment of asylum seekers. Yet the 25 to 30 per cent of Australians who strongly support refugees and asylum seekers have not changed the othering refugee policies of successive Labor and Liberal governments. 

Nice walks once a year and polite discussions with those who run the concentration camps are not going to stop the cruel inhumane policies of the Liberals or Labor. We need to reclaim civil disobedience if we want to win freedom for refugees and asylum seekers. We need to shut down our cities to bring them here.

Break the rules to change the rules.

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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