Yesterday in Australia the High Court upheld the legality of off-shore detention of refugees, a decision that should come as a surprise to no one given legislation passed by both major parties in June 2015 that virtually obliges the Court to arrive at this decision. The June legislation was rushed through by the LNP and the ALP, in the knowledge of the imminent Court challenge which was resolved yesterday.
Some 267 refugees temporarily in Australia, mostly for medical treatment, can now be returned to Nauru, as well as some 33 babies. Whether they will be returned or not is up to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who yesterday in Parliament gave a thundering declaration reinforcing our right to sovereignty, and his determination to maintain the status quo, signalling his intention.
My question is, if the much vaunted Border Force is even mildly competent, why do we need to use the morally bereft indefinite imprisonment of refugees on a stinking guano gulag, to dissuade future asylum seekers from attempting to journey here by boat?
My observation is, if we have to treat refugees in this despicable manner, we have forfeited our sovereignty and there is nothing left to protect. Sovereignty is not merely a matter of a nation’s borders.
Robert Manne has written an excellent blog in The Monthly on what he describes as the “rigid, irrational mind-set” that has led us to this situation.
There is little point in engaging in yet another outburst decrying the lack of morality of a government that believes in order to protect the sovereignty of the nation it must destroy the lives of others, and an opposition that supports this view.
The very concept of morality has been so eroded by successive governments that it has come to mean little more than “getting emotional,” in other words, exhibiting a contemptible demonstration of weakness. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, interviewed on the 7.30 Report last night, said he would be guided by medical advice as to who to return to Nauru and when, and in the next breath said he wouldn’t be taking that advice from anyone who was “emotional.”
This conflation of morality and compassion with the pejorative “emotional” is part of what Manne describes as a rigid, irrational mindset that takes the view that any disagreement is a sign of inferior thinking, dominated by emotion.
Labor’s spokesperson on Immigration, Richard Marles, yesterday conceded that sending children back to Nauru would be “disruptive” but said: we are talking about people whose lives were disrupted long before Australia came on the scene. In other words, when people have been traumatised before we encounter them it hardly matters if we traumatise them further because they’re used to it. What harm can a bit more do?
Mr Marles demonstrates a despicable lack of regard for suffering. His attitude is also part of a rigid and utterly irrational mindset: anyone at all damaged is rendered less human by virtue of that damage, and so our obligations to them are correspondingly minimal.
As some 70 per cent of Australians are apparently supportive of how we treat asylum seekers, there’s not much chance of immediate change. All we can do is keep on keeping on. There are no doubt politicians in both major parties who are appalled at their colleagues’ attitudes and policies but unless they take a stand, nothing can begin to change. In the meantime, let our hearts bleed over everything, especially the ballot boxes, and let us wear compassion as the badge of courage it is.