Cruelty is the worst policy

20 Jan


Amnesty Poster


In general, it’s always seemed to me that when governments or individuals take an increasingly hard, harsh and inhumane stand on an issue it’s a clear signal that they’ve actually lost the battle, and are on their way to losing the war.

In a political sense, I’m thinking of the current situation in detention facilities on Manus Island. New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is promising to maintain Scott Morrison’s “hard-line” against asylum seekers who have resorted to self-harm and protest, methods which are, in reality, their only means of expression, as the Australian government has virtually denied them access to legal process and natural justice.

This hard-line against asylum seekers protesting their fate began in Woomera and Baxter detention centres in 1999, at the instigation of the Howard LNP government. It was maintained by the ALP governments led by Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Sixteen years of both major parties taking a hard-line against waterborne asylum seekers has achieved absolutely nothing any of us can be proud of, and it won’t.

Similarly, the hard-line threatened by the Abbott government against the young unemployed that will see them starving and homeless as they are denied benefits for six months will achieve nothing any of us can be proud of, and will ruin lives for a very long time and likely permanently.

Taking a hard-line is very rarely necessary, and very rarely useful. A hard-line shouldn’t be the default position. Instead negotiation, mediation, conversation, and communication are civilised and humane methods of approaching difficulties. When all else fails, by all means try the hard-line, but to do this first is cruel and inhumane, and shows a lack of intelligence, imagination and skill.

Human beings have a tremendous capacity for good will and understanding. It’s a great shame our leaders don’t value this capacity, and instead believe our strength lies in brutality. It doesn’t. It never has and it never will. All cruelty springs from weakness, as the philosopher Seneca noted.

If governments and individuals are too weak and cowardly to sit across a table from other human beings in an effort to resolve difference and difficulty, they will inevitably resort to cruelty of one kind or another. Ignoring another human being in need is just as cruel as taking direct and punitive action against him or her. There are countless stories of asylum seekers achieving success and making considerable contributions to Australian society when they are given the opportunity. Instead we destroy them because our governments believe the destruction of human lives and human potential demonstrates political strength and determination.

Peter Dutton may well congratulate himself for emulating Scott Morrison’s abhorrent tactics against those legally seeking asylum in Australia. But emulating a bully is no great achievement. Australian governments have for sixteen years now proved themselves to be capable only of bullying behaviour towards human beings in the greatest distress and need, be they asylum seekers or their own citizens. Cruelty is not a strength. It is the most appalling, base and destructive weakness.

39 Responses to “Cruelty is the worst policy”

  1. Elisabeth January 20, 2015 at 8:19 am #

    You put it so well, Jennifer. I wish many others shared your good sense.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 8:27 am #

      The lack of common sense in public policy is astounding. Why have we no respect for common sense anymore?


      • paul walter January 20, 2015 at 11:27 am #

        Does it turn a buck? Too many pesky reasons turn up for not going ahead with a project when thought about, as we have also seen with envronmental policy and even Trade policy, as corporations like Monsanto are given free rein to pollute, for the short term gain of a privileged few.

        Folk with an interest in privatised detention centre contracts would never contemplate impacts on detainees OR costs for their own community- or, indeed themselves, if they only knew it. The politicians are also involved in these things, often hand in glove with lobbyists and because, as John Howard in particular realised, there are votes in and eventual power to be gained from spooking a cotton wooled electorate.

        Which brings the media/information organs into it: Journalists don’t want to be shut off from their Canberra sources and the proprietors and their friends want governments who will operate in their interests, so inevitably even gross situations, from Woomera a decade ago to Manus today, are shrugged off and passed over, often presented as examples of “foreign” personal instablity requiring of stern medicine. At worst we get some thing parallel to the Roman Collosseum times, when “barbarians” were sadistically put to death to convince the locals that the Empire was “protecting” them as well as tittivate their more morbid or base sensibilities.

        The situation is a global one: Terrorism myths feed increasingly dark security/censorship laws at odds with practical or humane concerns, because those who really run things want to end dissent and because they don’t want people to know the real reasons why places like the Middle East and Africa are chaotic at the moment. But these terrorism myths are needed to justify the rest and it is an easy thing to represent asylum seekers as “Ëwige” troublemakers and bait sadistic tendencies in our own community.

        Without hype and baloney, people would finally get the asylum seeker issue and asylum seekers in context, but many have irons in the fire that would preclude such a change.


        • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

          I agree with your analysis, PW. Human despair is a source of great financial gain for many, and this is likely the main reason so little is done about it.


  2. doug quixote January 20, 2015 at 8:49 am #

    If I may be devil’s advocate, just who do we “sit across a table from” , “in an effort to resolve difference and difficulty”?

    I see where this is a normal sensible approach; I just don’t see how it is useful in dealing with irregular immigration.

    Something is very wrong with the administration of the detention regime, that is a given. But just who do we negotiate with?


    • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 8:53 am #

      The asylum seekers in detention. Assess their refugee status, allow them resettlement if appropriate, return to homelands if not. It’s our issue, outsourcing to other countries is despicable.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Robert West January 20, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

        But once they land in AUS it is very hard even when found not to have refugee status to get them off AUS soil there is a very big and expensive industry out there who get paid to play with misery they are but one step down from Divorce Lawyers (no I have personally not used them I work things out amicably )


        • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

          I am so glad you are in favour of amicable divorce. 🙂


        • Marilyn January 20, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

          The point is not to get them off Australian soil, they have a legal right to come and ask for help.

          And the only people making money are the scabby companies who work the prisons and government lawyers.


      • paul walter January 20, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

        On the move today but just read the intro, gulped guiltily at the “failed witness” notion and realised this is going to be a rich read when I get back.
        I am not even going to attempt a skim, it looks more important than that.


      • paul walter January 20, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

        Yes, it seems perhaps an understanding developing between cautious DQ here and the rest, this time?


      • doug quixote January 20, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

        The problem is that they want to come in but we (we = the majority of Australians in every poll on the subject) do not want them to come in, certainly not by small boats arriving at remote outposts.

        And they definitely do not want to return to their homelands; nor can we return them there because of the non-refoulement principle.

        The result is that there is nothing to negotiate.

        I’ll agree that its our issue and that they should be processed onshore and not “outsourced”.

        Frustrating, complex and emotionally charged, is it not?


        • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

          Yes, and even more so since the proposed amendments to legislation make it possible for us to ignore the “refoulement” principle and return those in danger of torture and death.

          A government with courage would ignore the majority of Australians on this topic & act with principle. Good leaders can change attitudes.

          You may say I’m a dreamer……..


          • Mayan January 20, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

            Could it also be that the Convention isn’t meeting anyone’s needs these days and so needs to be overhauled?

            Given that we live in a part of the world in which few others have signed up to the Convention, perhaps it’s likely we’ll end up throwing it into the shredder.

            To pick up DQ’s comment above, a large part of what is informing public opinion is that we have a group of people who had sufficient documentation to board a plane (or several), only to tear it up before getting onto a boat, and the resources to fund those plane trips and the boat ride.

            Meanwhile, those of us born here are tracked from cradle to grave through a series of identifiers (Medicare number, universal student identifier, TFN) and are required to prove our identity over and over and over again throughout our lives to do the most basic of things such as entering into a mobile phone contract. Then, when we apply for a passport, all that ID isn’t enough because we then have to find someone who has known us for a certain length of time to attest that our photo really is a photo of us. And then we have accepted the word of people who have destroyed their proof of ID. Incongruities such as this are noticed, and become grievances.


            • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

              We have for all practical purposes pretty much thrown the convention into the shredder. We really ought to withdraw entirely if we are to be consistent.

              I think you are right about grievances being a driver for anti refugee sentiments, whether justified or not, governments use them.


            • doug quixote January 20, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

              No, I don’t agree with Mayan. Some may destroy documentation, but it is no crime for someone to flee their homeland without seeking papers from the very regime which is persecuting them. Papers expire, papers can be confiscated, may be stolen.


              • Mayan January 20, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

                All true, but there are some who have deliberately destroyed all ID after using that ID to board planes to get to Indonesia. That raises reasonable suspicions.

                Another incongruity is how hard the Department of Immigration makes it for people to come here legitimately. I can of a few examples of people who have followed the rules, settled in, even started a business and succeeded to the point of hiring people, and yet have been told to leave the country and complete some strange requirement. It makes one wonder whether the Department isn’t making decisions with dice.


                • paul walter January 20, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

                  I understand where you come from.. I, too was sceptical when Phillip Ruddock way back when initially ran this line, but the figures monotonously indicate that the majority assessed over time fulfill objective criteria that determine legit refuge status.

                  Not just economic refugees, a harsh enough category when you think what that means ( how many hundreds of millions of others in the developing world also would fulfill the criteria for that?!).

                  But as actual first degree refugees, often fleeing wars created or encouraged by the “civilised” West.


                • Marilyn January 21, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

                  That is not true, they all have some form of ID within two weeks, they leave it behind until they reach safety and then have it sent, the department are well aware of that and have been for decades.

                  But stateless people have no fucking papers, I am sick to death of people putting stamps before human rights.

                  Liked by 1 person

              • paul walter January 20, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

                You have just clarified you position more effectively than you may ever know, DQ.


                • paul walter January 20, 2015 at 10:12 pm #

                  Btw, God help us if Marilyn stops caring (read this statement carefully)

                  When it happens, that will be the end.

                  Your perserverence and a few others perserverence, keeps the search for a better solution alive and self respect ought to demand that from many other Australians, too.

                  Have a beautiful day tomorrow.


            • Marilyn January 21, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

              Papers have zero to do with anyting, why do lazy racist Australian’s have to go on and on about fucking papers as if they are more important than human lives.

              They cannot get fucking papers, that is why they are refugees and if they fly to Indonesia so frigging what?

              Many fly here from the South Americas, all over Asia and Europe and we don’t torture and jail them.

              And they don’t fucking tear up any papers, why do lazy ignorant trolls believe the racist frigging liars in the government, spew out garbage and make me swear at their stupidity.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Anonymous January 20, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

            You may be dreamer but you’re not the only one.

            As to public policy, in my experience there’s less *policy* and even less *public* about the process of making said policy. Perhaps I’m just too jaded.

            Liked by 1 person

            • paul walter January 21, 2015 at 2:14 am #

              You probably are jaded.

              That is because you have had the brains to see which way the wind blows as to “politics” and that’s enough to “jade” even the best adjusted of people.


        • Marilyn January 20, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

          It’s not complicated except we make it so. No other nation on earth wastes so much money time and lives to prevent people accessing their legal rights.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Marilyn January 20, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

      How about we join the world and just stop locking them up, torturing and tormenting them.

      The convention is for the protection of refugees, not the persecution and torture of refugees so how about we simply live up to the obligations as described and written by us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

        I agree, we should abide by the convention we’ve written and signed. But more and more we’re ignoring it and finding ways round it. This is a very bad sign for the future


      • doug quixote January 20, 2015 at 7:06 pm #

        I agree Marilyn. (It’s been a while since I’ve said that!)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Elisabeth January 20, 2015 at 9:21 am #

    I put up this excellent essay on my Facebook stream the other day. It goes some way to explaining why we can become so reluctant to identify with the suffering of others, especially those of us who have been traumatised, either directly or indirectly which includes most of us. See:
    It’s well worth reading, however theoretical in places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • samjandwich January 20, 2015 at 10:17 am #

      Looks really interesting thanks Elizabeth. Will see it I can get through it today…

      One thing I do know a little bit about though is self-harm – and I think it’s important to clarify that it’s rarely just a form of self expression, but rather is a sign that people have already reached a state where they are seriously doubting whether they have anything left to be optimistic about, and they are making a bid for the only form of control they have left – over themselves.


      • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

        Yes, exactly. Despair written on the body. Literally. Because there is nowhere else it can be written.


    • paul walter January 21, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      I’ve got through..Most of it makes sense, but am going to read it one more time before commenting.


  4. doug quixote January 20, 2015 at 11:24 pm #

    Withdrawing from the Refugee Convention is not an option. If you think we are in danger of being treated as a pariah state due to the sabotage of our foreign aid budget and the absurdly cruel treatment of asylum seekers, you ain’t seen nothin’ compared to what it would be if we gave the required one years’ notice of intention to withdraw from the Convention.

    Pressure from the USA, Canada, Europe and even China would be enormous to revoke the withdrawal notice, and would last out the year and beyond. Abbott and his Keystone Kops government would thereby demolish Australia’s international reputation in two short brutish years. It is tottering right now.

    No nation has ever withdrawn. It is not an option.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter January 21, 2015 at 2:22 am #

      Eeewwwss!! You mean the hiding Abbott got from Obama at the G20 over environment would seem as child play by comparison?

      But the people running things are, arguably, psychotic.

      They could drag us down, as a certain Austrian and his chip-on-shoulder friends pretty much did to a once mighty European nation, in fact just about all of Europe, seventy years ago.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 6:41 am #

      Of course we won’t withdraw. We will continue to hypocritically find ways around meeting our undertakings and obligations under the convention.


      • paul walter January 21, 2015 at 8:37 am #

        At least some of us now know the reality behind the bluff.. and if so, so must others.


      • Marilyn January 21, 2015 at 4:53 pm # This is part of the problem, the laziest fucking media on the planet.

        Moving refugees from one prison on PNG to another is not resettlement, it’s just more human trading in a place too dangerous to exist.

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter January 21, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

          Not the most lazy, the most gelded.

          Resource-draining ABC 24 in particular is a gross failure, except for those who wanted public broadcasting dumbed down.

          Murdoch Media is not a bad description.

          The presenters are Stepford and ALL news worthy of the name has been duck shoved in favor of barely disguised propaganda.


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