In June 2018, when the world broke into uniform outrage over the forced separation and detention of illegal migrant children in the United States, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was quick to stomp on any hope for the men, women and children trapped on Nauru and Manus Island: “ …the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia,” he stated.
Several months later and community anger has grown. Recent News Corp polling shows the majority of Australians want children and their families removed from Nauru. Yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison (himself previously responsible for the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio) and Minister Dutton, supported by the whole swathe of hard-right conservative politicians, are holding strong.
In what can only be described as nonsensical lunacy and manipulative fuckwittery, Morrison, Dutton, and now Abbott, insult the collective intelligence of Australians. They insist that ceasing the relentless and intentional torture of innocent men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island will result in a flood of asylum seeker boats attempting to reach Australian shores.
Not content with sprouting this contemptuous bile across every media platform willing to accept it, the ruling overlords in Canberra are actively sabotaging every effort to bring detainees to Australia. The Government has launched a new legal bid to challenge the ability of the Federal Court to order humanitarian evacuations. It has thwarted Labors attempt to compromise on New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees by swiftly backing down on a bipartisan deal for the resettlement option.
This is sour news for everyone who listened to Morrison’s faux-impassioned apology to victims of child sexual abuse: “Why were the cries of children and parents ignored?” he asked. “Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?” he continued. “Why has it taken so long to act?” he questioned. “Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children?” he queried. “Why didn’t we believe?” he carried on, before further stating, “And our work does not stop at our borders.”
How many more leaked reports of the devastating trauma and abhorrent abuse of children in detention, Forgotten Children reports, and pleas from medical professionals (including those who have treated children on Nauru), do Morrison and Dutton intend to ignore? How much more evidence is required beyond the cache of available literature, for Morrison and Dutton to acknowledge that the indefinite detention of children is causing irreversible and catastrophic harm?
Yet at every turn the soulless conservatives rely on the manifestly erroneous opinion and blatant falsehood that the cruel, slow deaths of people fleeing persecution, war and genocide is necessary to prevent the return of the boats.
And Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Dutton must know it is a blatant falsehood, or they are beastly careless as to the truth.
Or are they simply incapable of comprehending the complexity, ambiguities and consequences of their own asylum seeker policy?
No doubt Morrison and Dutton are beholden by a fear, genuine or not, that any shift in the hardline policy will result in the renewed influx of leaky boats and drownings. There seems no doubt that they are frightened (or at least pretend to be) that just the tiniest sliver of hope for those destined to die in tent-camps in a remote island prison will send people-smugglers into a frenzy of ticket-selling for a journey to the promised land.
But a fervent belief does not make it true. Repeatedly saying the same falsehood out loud does not turn that erroneous assertion into fact. The Government has before it all the information it needs to successfully transition away from indefinite detention and still protect Australia’s borders. There is no plausible reason to continue the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore processing centres.
The boat turnback policy, actualised through the military-led Operation Sovereign Borders, stemmed the tide of asylum seekers reaching Australia. This is now indisputable and must be accepted across the full range of the political spectrum. As social scientist and public intellectual Robert Manne opines, this is supported not only by the evidenced consequences of the Howard government resettling hundreds of refugees in Australia during 2005-2007 at the height of its own boat turnback and offshore processing regime, but also the lack of any people-smuggler action when Turnbull announced the US resettlement deal in 2016.
More compelling, however, is the view of former Australian Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg, who was sacked by the Governor-General on 15 March 2018 for tenuous and frankly unbelievable reasons. In his former official role, Quaedvlieg sat on the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Taskforce and was responsible for briefing the respective Minister which included during his tenure, Morrison and Dutton, and others in parliament. Quaedvlieg knows intimately the role Operation Sovereign Borders had on quelling the influx of asylum seeker boats.
In a recent op-ed and also in his regular Tweets, Quaedvlieg maintains that evacuating the offshore processing centres and bringing all the current detainees to Australia for medical treatment, while resettlement options are canvassed and arranged, will not give a green light to people-smugglers. At worst, he accepts that there may be some exploratory ventures, but Quaedvlieg notes that this would likely happen in light of upcoming federal election anyway. Quaedvlieg’s pragmatic and politically palatable solution breaks the impasse and is grounded in reality.
The former Australian Border Force Commissioner’s position is backed up by Shaun Hanns, a former Home Affairs department official who was responsible for processing asylum seeker claims. Hanns quit his role in mid-October and provided parliamentarians with an extensive letter which analysed the interception activity of boat turnbacks. He admits that he initially supported Australia’s harsh deterrence regime, but is now of the belief that the ongoing and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers is “not just tragic but meaningless”.
What is behind Morrison and Dutton’s refusal to show even a semblance of humanity? Sacrificing the lives of children to appeal to the racist voters in marginal seats is inexcusable. There is no moral high ground in torturing innocent people to prevent others from boarding boats. “Groupthink” is a plausible explanation for why it has taken so long for moderate Coalition party members to break ranks. The psychological theory known as “cognitive dissonance” partly explains the warped justification for ongoing detention.
But nothing explains the sheer callousness and cruelty displayed by the likes of Morrison and Dutton who have right before them the evidence that Operation Sovereign Borders secured Australian waters, and equally so, that indefinite detention is causing catastrophic harm.
There are only two conclusions to be drawn. Dutton, and Morrison alike, are so incapable of absorbing irrefutable fact, so oblivious to bluntly delivered information, and so manifestly inadequate at assessing matters of significant public interest, they are not fit to hold office.
Or they are simply the meanest politicians Australia has ever seen.