News National No spring in political landscape while refugees are left to rot

No spring in political landscape while refugees are left to rot

Is this how we treat people? Turnbull's refugee boast is a "lie". Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have been telling the world, via meetings at the United Nations in New York this week, that Australia’s way of dealing with refugees is a success story.

This is a lie. It is only half the story. It suits the government’s purpose to extol the lack of boats reaching Australia’s shores as the beginning and end of the story.

It does not suit their purpose to tell the other half of the story: that asylum seekers are left to rot on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island. They open their eyes each day to this prospect: indefinite detention.

This is cruelty beyond measure. It is torture. It is a crime against the humanity most decent people would expect of one and another and especially of those they elect to represent them.

How do you feel about this news? Australia wants to join the UN’s Human Rights Council. No, it’s not a joke. Turnbull said the nation focused on human rights issues. Just not yours.

Recently, former prime minister Tony Abbott was telling European conservatives that “effective border control is not for the squeamish, but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations’’.

Turnbull said, one supposes without a whit of embarrassment, that “public opinion will not accept a strong and generous humanitarian program, a generous migration program, unless the Government is seen to be in command of its borders”.

As for Dutton, his contortion of logic is such that Lewis Carroll, if he were alive, would have based a character on him to join Alice down the rabbit hole. 

“Asylum seekers are left to rot on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island.” Photo: AP

Recently the minister said, one supposes again without embarrassment: “Australia has long been recognised as one of a handful of countries (with) the best resettlement arrangements in the world, and that word ‘resettlement’ is important”. 

We don’t just provide a refuge, we guide people into a new life; a safe, healthy and hopefully happy life,” Mr Dutton said. “We do all we can to help them overcome the traumas and tragedies they have experienced. Very few countries can say that.”

Earlier in the year, he became lazy and instead of supreme irony just went for the cliché in portraying refugees who might dare live among us.

“These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton

“For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it, so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario,” he said.

Not everyone agrees with the government’s policy. Photo: Getty

Never mind that the cost of keeping a detainee offshore is, according to the Audit Office, almost $600,000 a year. And remember these despairing people are there indefinitely. This is how a civilised nation tortures. It takes away hope from a person. 

Is this how we treat people, whatever the circumstance in which they arrive to us, by applying the slow drip of cruelty? By going to such extraordinary lengths as to remove them not only from view but from the moral horizon?

Each nation likes to believe it has a moral core that allows it to transcend the grubby politics of the day; that the actions of government are derived from that core. The truth is that all that is good in the land of the fair go, in the sun-bronzed aspects of the national character that allows us to justifiably say we are a multicultural success story, is being eaten away.  

Mr Turnbull spoke of "principled and pragmatic" refugee policy.
Mr Turnbull spoke of “principled and pragmatic” refugee policy.

And yet Turnbull can say this to the world: “We need compassion – to assist those less fortunate than ourselves.” 

Pity he doesn’t take a boat to Manus and say the same to those incarcerated there.

Truth, like weather and nature, will have its way. And the truth is that a government that thinks it needs to inflict cruelty on others to maintain its strength is contemptuous of humanity. We cannot acclimatise to this. 

There can be no spring in this political landscape while we leave refugees to rot.

Warwick McFadyen is an Australian freelance writer and editor.

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