You know you should review your position on asylum seekers when the conservative Australian Medical Association accuses you of 'state-sanctioned' child abuse (1).
Australia's Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton appeared on Radio National's Breakfast show on 22 February 2016(2), following the release of Baby Asha from Lady Cilento Children's Hospital into community detention. Medical staff at the hospital refused to release the baby if she was to be sent to Nauru because it wasn't a suitable environment. This sparked 10 days of protests, a 24/7 vigil at the hospital and hashtags that trended globally: #BabyAsha #LadyCilento. The AMA supported the doctors' stance, as did a number of state Premiers.
Moments into the interview, Dutton reiterated the Abbott mantra of 'Stop the Boats' and stated that he wanted to be the Minister to Get Children Out of Detention. Then get them out. It's not hard.
Dutton managed to justify his cruelty, at least in his own mind. And cruelty it is. The UN has stated that Australia's treatment of asylum seekers, and in particular the detention of children, violates the Convention Against Torture(4).
Imagine that. Australia torturing children. Australians all let us rejoice ...
The national anthem goes on:
For those who've come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share ... now that's a bit awkward.
Even more awkward is that Amnesty International has state that Australia is acting illegally by forcing refugees to return to countries where they are in danger(5). Kind of ironic then, that Australia is so hung up on branding asylum seekers who arrive by boat as illegals. Amnesty has also found that Australia is a leading example of what not to do. Australia's boat turn-back policy has encouraged other nations to do the same, endangering the lives of asylum seekers around the world. It makes a mockery of the hand-wringing claims by the LNP that they are saving lives.
But I digress. Back to the RN Breakfast interview.
Dutton justified the government's cruelty by claiming that people smugglers could use Australian hospitals as a formula for asylum seekers to be released into the community. 'These are ruthless, organised criminals we're dealing with', said the Minister for Getting Children Out of Detention. Clearly treating the electorate like fools by conflating asylum seekers with people smugglers and then exaggerating the threat posed to Australia by said smugglers.
Dutton appealed to emotion by stating that there were 1,200 people who 'went to the bottom of the ocean when Labor lost control of the borders'. Dutton went on to state that there were 'many children within the 1,200' and he wasn't 'going to allow 'new families to be put in that perilous position'.
Again conflation of two issues: deaths and Labor. While trying to sound like he has compassion for the lives of asylum seekers, he is happy to bribe asylum seekers to return to their country of origin, to return to the threats faced there as long as they aren't here. As long as Australia doesn't have to share its wealth and good fortune with the less fortunate. Failing that, he will send them to Nauru. Dutton then made statements regarding what might happen if there are 'security issues, domestic violence issues, criminal activity issues' against the father. Wait! What? If there already were these issues, the father wouldn't be here, so why in the world would he mention these things if he isn't trying to demonise the father and whip up fear and anger against the family. Can he sink any lower? Well, yes, challenge accepted!
Dutton alleged that Asha's mother deliberately poured boiling water on her while in Nauru, in order to be repatriated to Australia for treatment. Medical documents from Lady Cilento hospital showed that the injuries were accidental(6), proving that Dutton lied for his own perverse benefit. Dutton is devoid of moral values and compassion; lying in order to slander a family who sought protection in Australia. The strong persecuting the weak. The insolent oppressor abusing the vulnerable.
Dutton wants to make things so bad for refugees that they'd rather go home than remain in Australia. Instead of refugees being literally caught between the devil and deep blue sea, Dutton would rather they stay with the devil; amid war, persecution, rape, hopelessness, disappearances.
A despicable position for any politician to take.
Even more despicable Dutton then accused some of those who oppose him of using this opportunity to 'lift their own media profiles'. According to Dutton, this is 'shameful'. Yes, indeed. Using abused children and vulnerable adults to further ones career is extremely shameful. And the Liberal Party has been doing this for years. Demonising asylum seekers, linking them to terrorists. Instilling fear and racism and Islamophobia into the population, to then milk the fruits of that for political gain.
In the Radio National interview with Fran Kelly, Dutton was asked to respond to the statement by Professor Bryan Owler, National President of the AMA, that indefinite detention was akin to child abuse. Dutton deflected this by pointing to 14,000 refugees languishing in Indonesia and 1,200 who drowned at sea 'under Labor'. Both serious issues, but complete distractions from the question. Children being abused by government policy? Ooh, look - something is happening over there ... ooh, look - something else is happening somewhere else. Distraction. Dutton didn't answer the question other than distorting the issue and again conflation other issues with the subject at hand. Child abuse is child abuse, whether there are 14,000 refugees in Indonesia or 1,200 who've tragically drowned.
To use those lives and deaths to justify child abuse sets a new standard in opprobrium.
Dutton boasted that he has reduced the number of children in detention to less than 75. This could be admirable if they were going to be granted permanent resettlement, but since the Labor-led government of Kevin Rudd in 2013, it has been government policy to not offer permanent settlement to any refugee arriving by boat(7).
Dutton, Turnbull, the LNP government are using asylum seekers as human scarecrows to ward off any other would be boat arrival.
Disappointingly, the feckless leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten was silent for much of the 10 day vigil for Baby Asha. Eventually he simply requested Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ensure that the government is 'following correct procedures'(8). Gutless.
At least the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, also from the Labor Party showed true leadership and guts by demanding the government release baby Asha and stop playing politics with people's lives(9). Conversely, and tellingly, the leader of the Queensland LNP, Lawrence Springborg demanded that if Baby Asha is healthy enough she should be discharged and 'cared for in accordance with the laws of the land'(10) - which could mean sending her back to Nauru. Springborg showed himself to be all legality and no morality.
After the 10 day protest, Dutton relented and released Baby Asha and her family into community detention. While this appears a small victory for the Lady Cilento staff and the protestors, it is hardly reassuring because Dutton emphasised that the family will eventually be returned to Nauru.
New Zealand offered to take 267 asylum seekers in Australia who were part of a High Court case(11), yet the government has refused. Dutton, in true Liberal Party form, blames Julia Gillard for this. Apparently it was her deal with New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, that provided a back-door way of gaining access to Australia. If this is the case and the government is genuinely concerned about the fate of the asylum seekers as well as concerned about keeping them out of Australia then surely it wouldn't take much to write a clause in the agreement to ensure they don't come to Australia once resettled in New Zealand. Instead, the government would rather the asylum seekers are punished, either returning them to the harsh realities of their country of origin or resettling them in a developing country or in countries committing human rights abuses, such as Cambodia, Philippines and Malaysia.
This was made clear by Dutton when he went on to state that it (resettlement in New Zealand) would encourage people smuggling by providing asylum seekers with a 'legitimate outcome'. Apparently, the Immigration Minister can't possibly allow a 'legitimate outcome' - implying that his solution is an 'illegitimate outcome'. So the people suffer while the Australian government uses people smuggling as a distraction and excuse for the abuse of innocent and vulnerable people in the name of politics.
Dutton's modus operandi was painfully transparent: raise the threat level, denounce the detractors and state that it is only the Liberal Party who can keep the country safe.
Herman Goering would have been proud:
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
Recently, a psychiatrist likened the electorate's view on Australia's detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island to Nazi Germany(12). The message that the Liberal Party conveys to the electorate is not just following the Nazi recipe espoused by Goering, but is having the same outcome: 'public numbing and indifference towards state abuses'. Even more telling of the Liberal Party's fascist approach to refugees is the threat to jail whistle-blowers who report on conditions in the detention centres(13). This includes doctors, teachers and aid workers. How does that national anthem go again?
Australians all let us rejoice
For we are young and free
For we are young and gagged?
Patriotism. The conservative parties seem to be trying to out do each other with how patriotic they are. Former Prime Minister Abbott couldn't seem to surround himself with enough flags when delivering or defending soul-destroying policies. Australia Day and Anzac Day have both been hijacked by radical right-wing into being a celebration of White Australia, where racism and vilification are the ordre du jour.
Malcolm X's words come to mind: 'You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it'.
Dutton couldn't help but go into election-mode fear-mongering by trying to scare us with the prospect of a 'Union dominated government'. This apparently requires the current coalition government to 'work harder to keep our country safe and out of the hands of these Union bosses'. Oooohh ... scary. The only scary thing is a country devoid of Unions and controlled by business interests whose only priority is the bottom line. Workers be damned. Any worker who votes for a party that is so proudly and vocally anti-Union is committing industrial relations suicide. Business bosses aren't interested in the rights of workers, only the Unions are.
Back to the issue at hand. According to Dutton, the government is dealing with the refugee issue in a 'firm and compassionate way'. Maybe spend some time in a detention centre on Manus Island, Christmas Island or Nauru and then explain how compassionate it is.
Failing that, have a listen to the AMA. At least they're not the biased, bleeding-heart refugee advocates. If the AMA is calling it child abuse, if the UN is calling it torture, then stop the distractions, stop the diversions, stop the lies and stop the demonisation!
1. The Guardian, Helen Davidson, 'Prolonged detention is 'state-sanctioned child abuse', says head of doctors' group', 21 February 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/feb/21/prolonged-detention-is-state-sanctioned-child-abuse-says-head-of-doctors-group. Accessed 22 February 2016.
2. ABC Radio National, RN Breakfast, Fran Kelly, 'Interview - Peter Dutton on the release of Baby Asha', 22 February 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/peter-dutton-on-the-release-of-baby-asha/7188402. Accessed 22 February 2016.
3. Newsweek, Mirren Gidda, 'Baby Asha will be sent back to Nauru detention camp, says Australian Immigration Minister', 22 February 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/australia-immigration-policy-nauru-baby-asha-428920. Accessed 22 February 2016.
4. Human Rights Law Centre, 'UN finds Australia's treatment of asylum seekers violates the Convention Against Torture', 9 March 2015, http://hrlc.org.au/un-finds-australias-treatment-of-asylum-seekers-violates-the-convention-against-torture. Accessed 22 February 2016.
5. The Guardian, Ben Doherty and Calla Wahlquist, 'Australia among 30 countries illegally forcing return of refugees, Amnesty says', 24 February 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/feb/24/australia-among-30-countries-illegally-forcing-return-of-refugees-amnesty-says. Accessed 24 February 2016.
6. Brisbane Times, Nicole Hasham, 'Peter Dutton accused of 'dirty politics' after report suggested mother deliberately burnt baby Asha', 23 February 2016, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/peter-dutton-accused-of-dirty-politics-after-report-suggested-mother-deliberately-burnt-baby-asha-20160222-gn0wif.html. Accessed 23 February 2016.
7. ABC, 'Asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat to be resettled in Papua New Guinea', 20 July 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-19/manus-island-detention-centre-to-be-expanded-under-rudd27s-asy/4830778. Accessed 22 February 2016.
8. ABC, 'Baby Asha: Protesters vow to put bodies on the line to prevent baby's offshore removal', 21 February 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-21/protesters-vow-to-block-cars-if-baby-asha-is-deported/7187278. Accessed 22 February 2016.
9. Brisbane Times, Amy Remeikis, 'Peter Dutton 'playing politics' on Asha: Annastacia Palaszczuk', 22 February 2016, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/peter-dutton-playing-politics-on-asha-annastacia-palaszczuk-20160222-gn03kx.html. Accessed 22 February 2016.
10. Queensland Times, Kim Stephens, 'Springborg: Hospital should release refugee baby Asha', 15 February 2016, http://www.qt.com.au/news/springborg-hospital-should-release-refugee-baby-as/2931228. Accessed 22 February 2016.
11. The Guardian, Daniel Hurst and Ben Doherty, 'High court upholds Australia's right to detain asylum seekers offshore', 3 February 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/feb/03/high-court-upholds-australias-right-to-detain-asylum-seekers-offshore. Accessed 22 February 2016.
12. Brisbane Times, Nicole Hasham, 'Psychiatrist likens immigration detention views to Nazis and gulags', 18 February 2016, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/psychiatrist-likens-immigration-detention-to-nazis-and-gulags-20160216-gmv833.html. Accessed 22 February 2016.
13. Australian Medical Association, 'Whistleblower doctors face jail threat from today', 1 July 2015, https://ama.com.au/ausmed/whistleblower-doctors-face-jail-threat-today. Accessed 22 February 2016.
Updated 24 February 2016.