Tag Archives: Scott Morrison

Abbott’s only claim to fame: persecuting the utterly helpless.

1 Apr

As far as I can tell, the Abbott government’s proudest achievement in its first one hundred days has been its ongoing persecution of asylum seekers arriving by boat. It has also been its most costly, and I refer you to this excellent ABC fact-checked site titled Operation Sovereign Borders: the first six months for a breakdown of the billions the government has committed to spending to maintain its “stop the boats” policy, and the mandatory detention of asylum seekers already apprehended.

What the government never admits is that “stopping the boats” is not something it can conceivably cease – as long as there are asylum seekers there will be attempts to access this country by boat.  Surveillance, interception and transfer of asylum seekers to lifeboats (which we must keep on purchasing anew as we never get them back) has no foreseeable end. Stopping the boats arriving on Australian shores is an immensely costly business, and open-ended.

Some weeks ago, the Guardian revealed that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection had inadvertently released the personal details of one-third of asylum seekers currently in Australia, possibly putting them at great risk if they return or are returned to their countries of origin. The result of this data breach is that asylum seekers may now legally claim refugee status in Australia solely on the grounds of sur place. 

Eighty-three asylum seekers detained at Villawood Detention Centre have launched this action, and the directions hearing challenging the government over the data breach is due to be heard on Friday.

The DIBP have advised the Villawood asylum seekers that they are to be transferred to the remote Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia on Thursday, the day before their directional hearing.

Last week, Scott Morrison announced that all taxpayer-funded legal aid to asylum seekers who arrive by boat would be terminated. One of the consequences of this decision is that there are no longer any free telephone interpreter services available to boat arrivals. Plaintiffs transferred from Villawood to Curtin the day before the directional hearing of their claims, will be unable to freely access interpreters to communicate with their lawyers.

According to the UNHCR, asylum seekers are entitled to legal services and to deprive them of access is a denial of justice.

This is just one of the recent examples of the Abbott government’s unrelenting persecution of boat arrivals.

There is something monstrously pitiful about a government that has as its greatest achievement the persecution of a small group of utterly helpless people. Such persecution is the hallmark of the bully: attacking those who have no possible avenue of escape, or of fighting back, and then boasting of your  achievement.

Abbott and Morrison continue to bring the full weight of their contemptible authority to bear on asylum seekers who arrive by boat, and no expense is spared in the scapegoating and persecution of this group of human beings.

You may not particularly care about asylum seekers and their fate. But every one of us should care a great deal about the characters of the men who govern us when their greatest satisfaction comes from persecuting and ultimately defeating, even to the death, a human group who are amongst the most vulnerable on earth. Such men are dangerous. Such men do not deserve to govern us. Such men will not stop at one group of human beings. When this group ceases to serve their purpose, they will seek out another, equally helpless, equally unable to fight back, because bullies can only feel good when they make others feel terribly bad.

Bullies and bigots. Australia, 2014.

 

The Ministry of Degradation

23 Jan

Operation Soverereign BordersThe history of treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia is a grim one, and both major parties have employed increasing degradation as a means to control, punish, and “deter” those who seek refuge here.

Even if one accepts the false narrative created by both the LNP and ALP that asylum seekers are “illegals” who are committing a criminal act in arriving by boat, this does still not explain or justify their degradation. If boat arrivals have indeed committed a crime, why aren’t they dealt with by our legal system, as is every other person accused of a crime in this country?

In a recent poll, a majority of Australians apparently feel asylum seekers are not treated harshly enough. Obviously the major parties are responding to the electorate’s need for gratification and reassurance through the degradation of a group who are despised by many voters. This can be seen as a chicken and egg situation: politicians post Pauline Hanson realised the advantages of pleasing xenophobic punters, and have since been at great pains to adjust their policies accordingly.

No matter what views one holds on asylum seekers, demanding their increasing degradation is to take a dangerous trip to the dark side. Any government willing to instigate and maintain those degradations ought to give rise to alarm. Whether it’s boat arrivals or the degrading treatment of bike riders in Queensland, any government that opts for degradation as a means of control is a government that has truly lost its way.

The Ministry of Degradation, currently overseen by Degradation Minister Scott Morrison, has been in existence for over a decade, and both major parties bear responsibility for its increasingly despicable treatment of asylum seekers. Railing against this Ministry achieves nothing. Speeches about every individual’s right to human dignity have achieved nothing. Appeals to compassion have achieved nothing. Still politicians drag us ever further along the dark road of degradation as an acceptable means of protecting our society. It isn’t. It never will be.

The only possible course of action is to persist with the contestation of the Ministry’s narrative, with facts, reason and unrelenting determination. It is not acceptable for our country’s government to treat asylum seekers who arrive by boat in a degrading manner. If the government believes asylum seekers have broken our laws, the government must employ our legal system to seek redress, not impose arbitrary punishment in the form of  deliberately degrading practices.

I don’t expect my government to contribute to the destruction of the civilised society we struggle to create and maintain. I expect my government to lead and assist us in this project. We can do a whole lot better with our asylum seeker policies. But as long as we have a government committed to the degradation and destruction of others as demanded by the vengeful, we can’t flourish. Degradation can’t be contained. It contaminates everyone.

Immigration Minister Morrison instructs his staff to lie

20 Oct

In this article in The Age today, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison orders his staff to publicly refer to asylum seekers as “illegal” arrivals , “detainees,” and “illegal maritime arrivals.”

As seeking asylum in Australia is not an illegal, criminal act, no matter how potential refugees arrive, Morrison is in effect instructing his staff to lie to the public.

Describing asylum seekers in the above terms criminalises innocent people, and this false criminalisation is then used to justify the Coalition’s treatment of them.

There can be little more offensive in a workplace than a boss ordering his staff to lie to the public. That a government minister should take this action is serious cause for alarm.

That this same minister is also a very public Christian should give even more pause for thought.

“…there are no votes in decency.”

8 Mar

The full quote comes from Federal Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, in reference to fallen Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, and reads:  “This is a man of great decency but obviously there are no votes in decency.”

I don’t have enough knowledge about Mr Baillieu and his situation to comment on his decency, and it is the observation “there are no votes in decency” that captured my attention.

It seems to me to sum up our current federal politics in relation to asylum seeker policies promoted by both major parties. I understand Pauline Hanson is looking to join them yet again, but as the ALP & LNP have stolen her thunder and more, it’s difficult to see why anybody needs her voice as they did back then, before John Howard plagiarised her instruction manual for xenophobes and racists and she found herself in gaol.

But that’s another story.

There is nothing even approaching decency in the government or the opposition’s asylum seeker policies. There is much chatter about dog whistling, but as far as I can see, they barely bother to dog whistle. The xenophobia is overtly rampant. The asylum seekers and refugees are well scapegoated. The fears of Australians are well-played upon: foreigners are taking our jobs and the government will rescue us from that. Asylum seekers and refugees present such a danger to us that police must be informed when they are housed in our neighbourhoods. It isn’t necessary to go through the dismal litany of false and unnecessary fears aroused solely to give politicians the opportunity to offer to then save us from those fears. It is a masterly manipulation, begun by Howard, honed close to perfection by subsequent politicians of both major parties, who apparently will do anything to win the vote of frightened and aggrieved xenophobes and racists.

Of whom it would seem there are a great many in Australia, otherwise why would anyone bother fighting tooth and nail to gain their approval?

That there are good reasons for some, even many people to be discontent with their lot, is not at issue. That politicians have managed to educate such people to believe that asylum seekers and refugees are responsible for this discontent, and not the decisions of politicians themselves, is evidence of a hugely successful propaganda campaign.

There are no votes in decency in Australia. Decency died in asylum seeker and refugee politics when Pauline Hanson opened the floodgates, and other politicians, witnessing the raging white water of legitimised ignorance and hate roar through, decided that rather than contest the mindset, they’d exploit it for all it’s worth because, votes.

Bereft of decent leaders in this matter, we find ourselves treading water in a cesspool of  racism, and fear and hatred of the foreign. Instead of broadening our minds and hearts, political leaders have promoted a shameful mental and spiritual shrinking of our human possibilities. The few lone voices in federal parliament are drowned out by leaders too inadequate and power-hungry to decently address the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, instead dehumanising them until all that is left is vote fodder.

It is a sickening, heartbreaking state in which we find ourselves and our country. A pox on both their political houses. They have brought us shame, disgrace and dishonour. There are indeed, no votes in decency.

On a personal note, I’m embarking on a road trip to Canberra and surrounds tomorrow for ten days, so the blog may be neglected, on the other hand it may not!

I’ve also decided to fulfil a long-held ambition to do a law degree. Because I already have a few degrees I’m allowed to fast track, and will take only three years full-time to complete. So the blog may be neglected off and on from July this year.

One of the side effects of severe childhood abuse was an inability to learn whilst I was at school. When I started on my road to recovery as an adult, an insatiable hunger for learning emerged from the wreckage, a hunger that inspired me through two and a half degrees and a PhD. Well, it’s surfaced again. I can’t wait to hit the books, and writing 2000 word essays after a 100,000 word doctorate ought to be a breeze.

I still have treatment for my post traumatic stress disorder, and will for the rest of my life. It doesn’t go away, but my ability to manage the symptoms increases all the time. I told my therapist yesterday that I sometimes feel such fury that so much of my life has to be spent managing the aftermath of childhood abuse, and how if I hadn’t needed to do that, I could have done so many other things.

I think of the children in detention who have suffered so much, and how their adult lives will be affected by their trauma. For those who’ve fled life-threatening circumstances, it’s bad enough. But to think that here, in Australia, in 2013, our government incarcerates these children and subjects them to even more stress, makes my blood boil at the cruel and hideous self-interest that causes politicians to act towards asylum seekers in such ways.

Many, if not all of the detained children will be eventually granted refugee status. They will be living their adult lives in this country. Instead of damaging them further, can we not treat them well, and kindly, and help them to be competent, productive and useful citizens?  Surely it’s in our own interests to do this?

Decency. Is it too much to ask? Yes, I fear it is.

Morrison hammers another nail into decency’s coffin

28 Feb

Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s latest stinky brain fart that everyone should be warned when an asylum seeker is lodged in their neighbourhood is stomach churning on a number of levels, but perhaps the most alarming is that there are people living amongst us, and likely quite a few, who agree with him. Obviously it’s such people he’s seeking to engage with, and he will succeed.

The ALP has well-exceeded the barbarity of Coalition asylum seeker policies. What once seemed so shocking now appears comparatively tame. Morrison has to dig deep to compete. The sad reality for our country is that both major parties believe that hostility towards asylum seekers and refugees is a vote winner, and there’s enough of those votes in play to make this race to the bottom worth their while.

Morrison’s statements are propaganda. There is little point in engaging with their content, except to suggest replacing the term asylum seekers with Jews, or Muslims, or women, or even privileged white males and see how it sounds. His message is that for current political purposes, asylum seekers are the group which will be scapegoated. Scapegoating is employed as a legitimate political strategy. There is no difference between what Morrison is doing, and the early propaganda of the Third Reich. Call Godwin’s Law if you like, but sometimes it really is the only appropriate analogy.

The only hope we have is that there are enough thoughtful women and men in both major parties to loudly protest this unrelenting moral decline on the part of their leaders. The  sickening willingness of so many politicians to remain silent in the face of this vile othering is contemptible.

A brief history of the Coalition’s hostile encounters with the UN

17 Jul

March 28, 2005 – “Australia was facing a United Nations committee’s scrutiny for the first time in five years. The event went unreported back home and the verdict – handed down on March 12 – was the subject of only a few, scattered reports in the press.”

“Australia was rebuked for its treatment of migrants, Muslims, asylum seekers, refugees and Aborigines. In the eyes of the Geneva committee, the list of this country’s failures on the human rights front has only grown longer since the Howard Government came to office.”

The Coalition’s recent insistence that asylum seekers can only be sent to states that have signed the Refugee Convention is startling, given its history with the UN throughout the Howard government years. This history can be fairly described as hostile and bordering on the pugilistic, with then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer reacting to negative UN committee reports with this outburst:

  “We won’t cop it any longer. We are a democratically elected government in one of the most liberal and democratic countries you will find on Earth. And if a United Nations committee wants to play domestic politics here in Australia, then it will end up with a bloody nose.”

On Howard’s watch in 1998, Australia became the first Western nation to be issued with an “urgent action” notice following what the UN committee identified as a risk of “acute impairment” to native title rights. We were then found in breach of our obligations to the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and again earned the dubious distinction of being the first Western nation to incur a breach finding.

John Howard reacted to UN criticisms thus: “Australian laws are made by Australian parliaments elected by the Australian people, not by UN committees.” Amnesty International confirmed his attitude with this observation, after a 2004 High Court ruling sanctioned mandatory detention:  “These findings show the limited impact that international human rights law has had to date on Australian law-making.”

As an indication of the Coalition attitude in 2001, Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot referred to boat arrivals as “uninvited and repulsive peoples whose sordid list of behaviours included scuttling their own boats.” (Human Rights Watch Report, 2003).

In 2002, at the request of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, the Howard government agreed to allow Special Envoy Justice P.N. Bhagwati to assess the conditions of asylum seekers held in indefinite mandatory detention, with specific regard to the question of their human rights.

Justice Bhagwati’s report, which can be read in full at the above link, contains this observation:

As noted above, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 7) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, explicitly prohibit torture and all cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. The human rights situation which Justice Bhagwati found in Woomera IRPC could, in many ways, be considered inhuman and degrading.

Australia signed the CAT treaty in 1985, and ratified in 1989.

Justice Bhagwati’s report was described by Howard government ministers as “fundamentally flawed,” “emotive” and lacking objectivity. The government received an advanced copy of the report, and had the opportunity to correct any “flaws” prior to its release. The Special Envoy was also accused of interfering in domestic policies.

A personal observation: I visited Woomera Detention Centre in 2002, just before Justice Bhagwati undertook his visit to Australian detention centres. It was entirely appropriate to react with emotion to the conditions in that place, and to the suffering of the children, women and men behind its razor wire. Indeed, the inability to feel disturbed by those conditions and the resultant human suffering, indicates the presence of sociopathic tendencies, an inability to accept those imprisoned there as human.

For a much more thorough analysis of the Coalition’s relations with the UN than I’ve provided, I strongly recommend “The Howard Government’s Record of Engagement with the International Human Rights System” by Sarah Joseph.

The series of events over the last decade and more rather gives lie to this extravagant claim: “The Opposition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says the Coalition has always supported the UN Refugee Convention, and will continue to do so.”

The Opposition’s recent decision to refuse to allow asylum seekers to be sent to any country that hasn’t signed the Refugee Convention is wildly inconsistent with its attitude to the United Nations for the last fourteen years. When in government, the Coalition regarded the UN as toothless, and our obligations to the treaties we signed as irrelevant. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as children were and still are kept in mandatory detention, with and without their parents.

These attitudes are not peculiar to the Opposition. The current government does not observe our obligations either.

Now Scott Morrison seems to be getting himself in something of a twist, having declared the Refugee Convention to be out of date and needing an overhaul, while simultaneously demanding the government observe the fundamental protections it offers in ensuring asylum seekers are sent to a signatory country.

Neither major party have anything to boast about when it comes to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Both pander to the prejudice and xenophobia of voters they believe will give them government. Both claim they wish to avoid deaths at sea, but they apparently have little or no concern about asylum seekers dying anywhere else, as long as it’s out of our sight and mind.

This is a drastic failure of leadership on both parts. It’s been shown time and time again, that if people are given the opportunity to meet and know asylum seekers, even the most hardened attitudes can change dramatically. Leaders worth the title would grasp this, and take the opportunity to extend our hearts and minds rather than encourage their shrinkage for political gain. There are many things that can be described as despicable in politics, but surely up there at the top must be the demonisation of human beings, and exploitation of their suffering for domestic political gain.

A pox on both their houses.


Abbott’s religiosity is no basis for policy

11 Jul

A couple of days ago on July 10, Tony Abbott took part in a radio interview that the Australian headlined: Abbott slams boatpeople as unChristian

“Asked on ABC Perth radio why his attitude to asylum-seekers was unchristian, the Opposition Leader responded: “I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door…But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way…If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

Abbott doesn’t answer the question about his perceived lack of Christian charity towards those in need. Instead he attempts to blame Muslim asylum seekers for acting in a manner he believes is unChristian. Abbott does this as if people who are not Christian are at grievous fault for being not Christian. That failure taints every action they take in their lives, it seems, and they should be held accountable, mostly by being excluded.

Presumably Abbott is aware that the majority of boat arrivals are Muslim. Presumably Abbott is aware that the largest Islamic democracy in the world is our neighbour, Indonesia. Dog whistling? Following Scott Morrison’s anti Muslim strategy?

Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy. The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate… Lenore Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald, February 17 2011.

Oh, yes, most boat arrivals aren’t Christian, unlike Scott Morrison who is a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church. Not all Christians cultivate an aura of entitlement, privilege and absolute rightness, but too many Christian politicians in Australia today seem to hold those beliefs about themselves. Not all Christians consider other faiths to be lesser faiths, but too many Christian politicians seem to hold those views.

Abbott might as well have accused the asylum seekers of being unAustralian. Either way, what is on display is Abbott’s inability to envisage cultures other than his own as legitimate and equal, and his inclination to judge those cultures in terms of his own limited experience. Abbott’s lack of sophistication coupled with his religiosity, are not qualities we look for in a leader.

However, they do in part explain why Abbott seems arrogantly convinced that he can bully the Indonesians into letting him send back the boats. The Indonesians had a nickname for former Liberal Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock They called him “the minister with no ears” because he harangued them but didn’t listen. Is it Abbott’s aim to inherit this title as he perpetuates the disrespect for a culture he doesn’t care to understand?

Abbott also believes he has the right to bully the navy into towing back boats, in spite of considerable advice as to the undesirable possibilities of taking that course, both in terms of life threatening risks to asylum seekers and navy personnel, as well as disruption to our relations with Indonesia.  “He will not be able to have a constructive relationship with Indonesia and tow boats back,” Philip Coorey quotes an official as remarking, in his recent National Times piece. How much of Abbott’s arrogance in this matter is fuelled by a sense of Catholic Christian superiority to a Muslim nation?

Describing asylum seekers as “unChristian” is an example of how Abbott frames Australian politics through the prism of that Catholic Christianity. Is he capable of making a separation between his religious beliefs and his job as a politician? Increasingly the answer seems to be no, he’s not.

Neither does Abbott speak for all Christians, many of whom are deeply involved in the refugee cause, and would likely distance themselves from his arbitrary judgments.

Whatever the problems are with boat arrivals (most of which are caused by Australia’s treatment of them) they will not be solved through invoking Tony Abbott’s Catholic Christianity and Scott Morrison’s fundamentalist terror of Muslims.  Indeed, neither have any place in the debate. We urgently need decent policy, not religious prejudice and personal superstition.

In his last solo Qanda appearance in April 2010, Tony Abbott was asked the question “When it comes to asylum seekers, what would Jesus do?”

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Jesus wouldn’t have put his hand up to lead the Liberal Party, I suspect. Or the Labor Party, for that matter.

TONY JONES: Okay. But someone who believes in principles that he espoused did do that, so it’s a legitimate question.

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah. Don’t forget Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well. Now, I mean, you know…

TONY JONES: What’s the point of that?

TONY ABBOTT: The point is…

TONY JONES: What’s the analogy?

TONY ABBOTT: …Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.

TONY JONES: It’s quite an interesting analogy because, as you know, and a whip was used on that occasion to drive people out of the temple. You know, if that’s the analogy you’re choosing, should we take it at face value?

TONY ABBOTT: No. No. I’m just saying that, look, Jesus was the best man who ever lived but that doesn’t mean that he said yes to everyone, that he was permissive to everything, and this idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, “Fine”, the door is open, I just don’t think is necessarily right.”

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone.” And Tony Abbott of course knows to whom Jesus would say yes in 2012. This is old-fashioned Sunday School rhetoric. This is drivel. Tony Abbott is a man showing all the signs of being out of his depth. Give him a slogan, put a funny hat on his head, get him making pies, yes he can do all that. But the serious business of leadership? Of policy? Of decent public discussion?

Jesus is reputed to have driven moneylenders from the temple, and he did it violently. The analogy Abbott makes between usurers and asylum seekers is both despicable and revealing. Jesus acted because he believed the moneylenders were defiling a sacred place where they had no right to be plying their sordid trade. The story is an example of Jesus’ righteous anger, and his desire to protect his beloved father’s house from the contamination of profane activities. Jesus wanted the temple kept pure and to this end, he drove the impure out.

How interesting, then, that a Christian should choose this particular analogy to explain why not everybody who wants to come to Australia may do so, in particular those of other faiths who arrive seeking asylum by boat. Dog whistling again? Capitalising on concerns about a presumed Muslim inability to integrate into a country Abbott wants to think of as unspoiled and Christian?

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

There is no place for religiosity in the asylum seeker debate or anywhere else in our politics. There’s especially no place for a future Prime Minister who believes he knows what Jesus would do, and makes policy accordingly. Jesus is irrelevant in the asylum seeker impasse, as are Tony Abbott’s projections of what Jesus might think.

Having said that I can’t help but feel if Jesus was around now, he might well stride into parliament with a stock whip and kick some arse.

Scott Morrison. Racism. The facts.

14 Jun

Racism: (just to refresh our memories)

1. the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate the others.

2. offensive or aggressive behaviour to members of another race stemming from such a belief.

3. a policy or system of government and society based upon it. (Macquarie Dictionary)

Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy. The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate…But after Mr Morrison’s comments this week on the cost of asylum-seeker funerals and his role in the controversial decision to cut a Howard government program to fund schools in Indonesia, colleagues are privately questioning whether he is trying to pursue an anti-Muslim political strategy unilaterallysources say Mr Ruddock, the shadow cabinet secretary, was particularly “blunt” in his rejection of the suggestion, saying a well-run and non-discriminatory immigration policy was essential for nation building.
Lenore Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald, February 17 2011. [emphasis mine]

Ugly game of race baiting. Morrison decided to see if he could win some political points by inflaming racism and resentment. More specifically, he zeroed in on some of the most vulnerable people in the country for political advantage.

Morrison publicly raised objections to the government’s decision to pay for air fares for some of the survivors of the Christmas Island boat wreck to travel to Sydney for the funerals of their relatives.

Some were Christian funerals, others were Muslim. But all of them were foreigners, all of them were boat people, all of them were dark-skinned, and to Morrison that made them all fair game. Peter Hartcher, SMH, February 19 2011.

From the blog of well-known free speech advocate Andrew Bolt comes this quote from ABC journalist Stephen Long. I am obliged to reference Mr Bolt’s blog because it appears the ABC have removed this episode of The Drum Online from their website. Mr Long was a panellist on The Drum earlier this week. Along with other panellists he was invited to express his opinion on various topical issues. With reference to the Coalition’s recent comments on immigration policy, Mr Long observed:

I think that it is a cynical manipulation of an underlying prejudice in the Australian community and that it has very little policy merit. It is fraught with problems and it is really awful actually and I think Scott Morrison in particular as a spokesman in this area has just pushed way beyond acceptability in a way that he is willing to pander and manipulate that level of prejudice in what is essentially a racist manner. He is my local member in the electorate for Cronulla, the scene of the Cronulla riots …

Mr Long’s opinion was consistent with that of some of Mr Morrison’s political colleagues, and other journalists. However, Mr Morrison demanded an apology from the ABC for Mr Long’s remarks. The ABC aquiesced, and the apology was delivered on air yesterday evening by the show’s host, Steve Cannane.

This leads me to wonder why it is acceptable to describe someone as “pursuing an anti Muslim strategy unilaterally” but unacceptable to describe that activity as “racist” (refer to definition of racism above). Perhaps there is a way of pursuing an anti Muslim strategy unilaterally that is not racist? Perhaps the activity is indeed racist (check definition again) but under no circumstances are we allowed to say so?

Colour me confused.

On his website Mr Morrison, who is a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church, writes: “My Christian faith remains the driving force for my family, beliefs and values.”

Note to commenters: As Mr Morrison appears to be sensitive at the moment and may even incline towards litigation, please take care not to leave any comments that might be construed as defamatory.


Deconstructing Scotty

28 Feb

The refugee is the representative of total otherness…This is the reason why the refugee is seen as such a threat…the terrifying absolute, total other, the symbol of contamination that otherness may bring upon community and identity. Costas Douzinas

Scott Morrison makes this existential fear of contamination by otherness literal in his construction of boat arrivals as “diseased,” and threateningly infectious to healthy Australians who are bound to take responsibility for their care.

He isn’t the first to draw this comparison between the otherness of asylum seekers and disease. The Solicitor General for Australia, David Bennett QC, when he defended the Howard government’s excision and migration laws in the High Court back in the early 2000’s linked the two thus:

Today, invasions don’t have to be military … they can be of diseases, they can be of unwanted migrants….

And then we have this:

Antisemitism is exactly the same as delousing. Getting rid of lice is not a question of ideology. It is a matter of cleanliness. In just the same way, antisemitism, for us, has not been a question of ideology, but a matter of cleanliness, which now will soon have been dealt with. We shall soon be deloused. We have only 20,000 lice left, and then the matter is finished within the whole of Germany.

— Heinrich Himmler, April 1943

So what can we take from Morrison’s tactic of blaming boat arrivals for exposing honest Australian workers and children to disease?  On the most superficial level it’s just another attempt to highlight the government’s failure to adequately manage the boats, although what Morrison would consider adequate management is anybody’s guess. His boss Tony Abbott just wants to turn them round and send them back to anywhere but here.

However, the narrative Morrison uses as a means to attack the government is far more sinister than Abbott’s preferred solution. Morrison, like many before him, is engaging in propaganda to further dehumanise boat arrivals with the goal of whipping up fear and loathing in the community that he can then use to turn voters against the government.

Boat arrivals are already widely perceived as breaking the law by requesting asylum here, a perception that is entirely wrong. Add to that the suggestion that they are dangerous to us because they are diseased, and their dehumanisation is almost complete.

Nothing unites a people like the threat of an external enemy. John Howard knew this well, and won an election by creating an enemy from whom he then offered voters protection. He was assisted by others such as then Senator Ross Lightfoot, who referred to boat arrivals as “uninvited and repulsive people whose sordid list of behaviours included scuttling their own boats.” (Human Rights Watch Report, 2003).

In case it wasn’t clear enough how undesirable boat arrivals are: “These people abuse their children,” Howard informed us. “I don’t want people who abuse their children in our country.” He must have meant he didn’t want anymore people who abuse children in our country, conveniently ignoring the sex abuse scandals raging in the Catholic and Anglican churches at that very time, and the appalling child abuse statistics generated by those already residing here. In using child abuse as an example, Howard unwittingly revealed the level of denial in which he lived his life and practiced his politics.

Howard was supported in his beliefs about boat arrivals by Anglican Dean Philip Jensen, who advised his flock in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, in 2003 that any beliefs other than Christian are “the monstrous lies and deceits of Satan, devised to destroy the life of the believers.”  Yes, he meant Muslims who fetched up here on boats.

Criminals, harbingers of disease  and bent upon spiritual destruction of Christians.

Howard later revealed Jensen to be his spiritual mentor, to whom he turned for advice on stem cell research, Iraq and “moral issues.”

It hardly needs stating that anyone, refugee or intrepid traveller, can arrive in the country by air or sea, infected with something the rest of us would rather not catch. A friend of mine contracted tuberculous while travelling in India, for example, and unknowingly brought it home. Chlamydia, another disease listed by Morrison, is one of the fastest growing sexually transmitted diseases among young adults in Australia, and it isn’t being transmitted by asylum seekers in detention centres. It’s not hard to demolish Morrison’s stupidity.

But what is harder to demolish is the narrative he’s dedicated to continuing, a narrative that originated with Howard, Jensen, Lightfoot, Ruddock, Reith and the like, and that holds sway over politicians of all persuasions to this day. In this narrative, people who have every right to request asylum here are cast as criminals solely because they accept the invitation we extend through our voluntary commitment to a United Nations Convention.

But casting them as criminals isn’t enough. Through what philosopher Martha Nussbaum describes as “a narcissistic refusal to tolerate the reality of something different from oneself,” boat arrivals are assigned the role of scapegoat for all that apparently threatens a country that has alarming tendencies towards paranoia and neurotic anxieties about sovereignty.

With Philip Ruddock referring to them as “infecting” us,  the boat arrival rapidly became in our mythology what Rénè Girard, in his commentary on the purpose of scapegoating, describes as “…the polluted figure, whose appearance within their boundaries fills the inhabitants with dread.”

We need proper processes for asylum seekers who arrive by boat, including attention to health issues for their protection and ours. But why does this have to be framed as a moral rather than a practical and human rights issue?

Morrison is a Christian, a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal churches. Does he share Philip Jensen’s views on the destructive and Satanic intentions of non-Christians?

Morrison’s press release is abhorrent. Is this the kind of Christian politician we want in government? And what the hell would Jesus say? It’s perfectly reasonable to ask that question of any Christian, and to expect a serious answer.

It’s time to refuse the moralistic narrative politicians like Morrison impose on what are questions of practicality and human rights. Let’s deal with them within those frameworks.

When I visited detainees in the Woomera Detention Centre I was overwhelmed by the effort they made to extend hospitality to me. They had nothing, and faced an uncertain future. Yet they managed to offer refreshments and they apologised for their necessarily constrained ability to honour a guest as they would like. The contrast between their notions of hospitality and the attitude of many in this country towards their appeal for sanctuary here, is shocking.

Yes, the detainees I met were absolutely “other” to me. But when encountering Other we have choices as to how we respond. “Other”, in the words of Derrida, “brings me more than I contain…” if only I allow that.

To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously, so meanly loved – is that the criterion of humanness? Unquestionably so. Emmanual Levinas.


Scott Morrison and “diseased” asylum seekers.

28 Feb

Below is a media release  issued yesterday by Scott Morrison, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

Typhoid cases on latest boats highlight the risk of Labor’s border failures

Monday 27th February 2012

The confirmation of two cases of typhoid for asylum seekers on recent illegal boat arrivals to Christmas Island highlights again the risks and consequences of Labor’s failed border protection policies, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Scott Morrison said today.

“When illegal boats turn up in our waters there will always be the risk that people on these boats will carry serious communicable diseases. The more boats there are, the greater the risk of serious diseases presenting,” Mr Morrison said.

“Last year there were 56 cases of communicable disease from those who had arrived on illegal boats. These cases included everything from Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C to Chlamydia and Syphilis. These latest cases have now added typhoid to the list,” he said.

“Of greatest immediate concern is the risk to Australians living on Christmas Island, including children attending the local schools, as well those who come in direct contact with asylum seekers including our defence forces, Customs and border protection officers, federal police, detention centre workers, health professionals and immigration staff.

“These Australians have been living on the front line of Labor’s failed border protection for the past four years.

“Despite the best efforts of our health professionals and other officials responsible for dealing with these situations, there are no guarantees that the arrival of people carrying these diseases could not lead to an outbreak on Christmas Island or the transfer of these diseases to the mainland. This is the risk of failed border protection policy.

“In the past three months more than 2,100 people have turned up on 26 illegal boats. This is the highest number of arrivals over summer on record and 50% more than Labor’s previous record two year ago.

“Labor’s largest ever summer of boats followed their decision to introduce mainstream release of asylum seekers into the community, with support payments, free housing and set up packages worth up to $10,000.

“As long as Labor’s soft policies on our borders continue, these boats will continue to arrive along with the risks they carry, including people with serious communicable diseases,” Mr Morrison said.

The following communicable diseases were detected in immigration detention facilities on Christmas Island from 1 July 2010 to 6 May 2011 –

Diagnosis – Total
Chlamydia – 4
Dengue – 2
Gonorrhoea – 1
Hepatitis B – 10
Hepatitis C – 3
Malaria – 1
Pertussis – 1
Shingles – 3
Syphilis – 29
Tetanus – 1
Tuberculosis
(active) – 1
Grand Total 56
Source: Question on Notice, 11/12 Budget Estimates (BE11/0615)

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