Both the ALP and LNP have, since the Howard government adopted Pauline Hanson’s racist rhetoric and made it politically mainstream again, steadily escalated the implementation of cruel and inhuman policies towards asylum seekers who arrive here by boat.
Hanson gave voice to a dark side of Australian culture. Howard saw the votes in it, and legitimised its claims to entitlement. I don’t know if the voters who support the illegal punishment of those seeking asylum in great enough numbers for both major parties to capitulate to their demands, ever actually think about the human beings in whose mental destruction they are callously colluding. I doubt it.
Our politicians despicably wilful refusal to uphold our responsibilities to those seeking asylum, as we agreed to do when we signed and later ratified the UN Convention, makes a mockery of that Convention and our obligations to honour it. If we had any guts at all, we would withdraw. As it stands, by continuing to offer asylum to those fleeing persecution we issue an open invitation. We proclaim ourselves to the world as a site of sanctuary. When we are most definitely not, as it is defined by the Convention.
There has been no political leader in this country willing or able to contest the obscene politicisation of a global human tragedy. Even a prime minister with a vagina won’t do it, indeed, under her government things have become increasingly worse. Despite vagina, Prime Minister Gillard has fully embraced the discourse of the importunate other, taking every opportunity to reassure Australians that she will not permit “foreigners” to take our jobs. Despite vagina and anti misogynist rhetoric, Ms Gillard has presided over the vile and ongoing detention of women and children fleeing persecution.
Is it possible to be a feminist today in Australia and lock up women and children fleeing persecution? There’s a question for Tony Jones and his all-girl Qanda. There’s a question for “All About Women.”
Every day some public figure in parliament or the media, refers to”illegals” and variations thereof, in their deliberate positioning of boat arrivals as criminals who must be dealt with far more severely than any other criminal. Even murderers know how long they are to be incarcerated. Boat arrivals do not.
Billions of tax payer dollars have been channelled towards these indefinite incarcerations, despite the irrefutable fact that the majority of boat arrivals are found to be refugees, and entitled to stay in this country. Those who are not are quite rightly sent back to where they came from. Unfortunately, some are wrongly sent back to where they came from, and when they arrive they are subjected to torture and death.
As long as there are votes in criminalising and dehumanising asylum seekers who arrive by boat, politicians will continue with these practices. This is one example of the evils of democracy. When the majority demand the torment of others in order that they may persuade themselves they are safe from threat, then the majority will have its way.
There is something fundamentally flawed, not to mention abhorrent, in the belief that the worse we treat those who arrive by boat, the more likely we are to discourage people from attempting the journey. We do not have the right to treat badly those who are only responding to our open invitation, and yet we continue to claim that right and to act on it.
I don’t know where this will end. Asylum seekers are not going away. Boats aren’t going to stop. I don’t know how much more cruelly we can treat boat arrivals, in the vain hope that desperate people will lose their desperation and stay where they are. The rich world must find decent ways to deal with the increasing encroachment of the persecuted on its privilege. We cannot continue to incarcerate them. We cannot continue to drive them out of their minds. We cannot continue to waste the resourcefulness and courage boat arrivals offer our society. We cannot continue to pour billions of dollars into brutalising women and children. We cannot continue capitulating to the ignorant fears of Australians who can’t be bothered thinking this through, and who just want someone to make it all go way and promise them they’ll be forever safe from difference.
We can’t, and we must not.