More than 1200 people signed an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking that the camps at Nauru and Manus Island be shut down. The petition was initiated by Researchers against Pacific Black Sites, a group of academics concerned about human rights abuses in the offshore detention centres.
Rosie Batty was one of those people, and has led the media reporting, once again proving how effective is her advocacy for women and children. That she continues this in the wake of unimaginable loss only makes her work all the more amazing.
This is going to be an interesting test of strength for Turnbull. And for the rest of Australia.
The claim that the detention centres save lives because they Stopped The Boats ™ is an exercise in moral expediency that sticks in the gullet of anyone able to see beyond xenophobic NIMBYism swilling around the tabloid blogosphere. People too afraid to seek legal asylum in Australia don’t just disappear into a misty haze of otherness that no longer concerns us. They are still dying and suffering, they’re just not doing it where we can see them.
Those of us who care about the wellbeing of women and children cannot act only for the women and children we see around us, if we care about women, we care about all women, if we stand up against sexual violence, we stand up against all sexual violence, whether it is enacted against women, children or men.
Batty made that point very clearly in the letter:
Those of us who care about violence against women, children and other vulnerable people at home need to care about what happens to these same people elsewhere who are under our care. The Australian government funds the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. The centres are, by their very design, unsafe and dangerous places.
These centres cannot be patched up. They must be shut down. The people forcibly held there are those who sought protection in this country. They deserve care, not punishment. Out of sight is not out of mind!’ ‘Those of us who care about violence against women, children and other vulnerable people at home need to care about what happens to these same people elsewhere who are under our care. The Australian government funds the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. The centres are, by their very design, unsafe and dangerous places.
These centres cannot be patched up. They must be shut down. The people forcibly held there are those who sought protection in this country. They deserve care, not punishment. Out of sight is not out of mind!
The government’s desperate attempts to keep the horrors of the detention camps from the public went as far as bipartisan support on criminalising medical staff reporting child abuse, an act of breathtaking inhumanity that will haunt both parties for decades to come.
The abuse of legal asylum seekers was, however, the logical endpoint of wedge politics and political one-upmanship that plays polling games with the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.
It’s inconceivable that anyone could read the reports of child abuse, rape, violence and industrialised brutality and still claim the moral high ground, despite this Abbott’s metronomic repetition of his We Stopped The Boats claim, and the unquestioning assumption that this was a praiseworthy effort, prove otherwise. I can’t help but wonder if he, Dutton, Morrison, et al really managed to convince themselves that deliberately creating an environment more terrifying than the terror Syrians and Kurds are fleeing is genuinely an act of courage, or if the knowledge that they have become the monsters they are claiming to abjure ever haunts them.
Turnbull is trying to position himself and the intelligent, nuanced, thoughtful Prime Minister. He’s rejected the dangerous reactionary stance that Abbott took in response to violence committed by fundamentalist criminals, which is certainly something to be thankful for. But now he has to balance the ideological zeal that demonises asylum seekers and blinds itself to violence committed in its name against the humanitarian need to protect innocents from the brutality of his government.
If he falls down the well of denied brutality in the interests of short term political survival, it will be very difficult for him to convince the growing number of Australians horrified by unrelenting cruelty that he really is more than another Abbott with a suave veneer. And if we allow him to do so without protest, we are all colluding in the tortore of innocents.