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Let your heart bleed: compassion is not weakness

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.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


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  1. Katrina Logan

    I did post this elsewhere but FYI
    Today the High Court held, by majority, that the plaintiff was not entitled to a declaration that the conduct of the first and second defendants in relation to the plaintiff’s past detention at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (“the Centre”) was unlawful. The majority of the Court held that s 198AHA of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) (“the Act”) authorised the Commonwealth’s participation, to the extent that the Commonwealth did participate, in the plaintiff’s detention.
    The result was that the federal government has the power to detain people who come to our shores claiming to be a refugee. It also has the power to send those people to other countries without first determining whether their claims are correct.

    Once removed, their fate is put beyond Australian law and the oversight of our courts. As Chief Justice French and Justices Kiefel​ and Nettle stated, once removed from Australia, the plaintiff is ‘detained in custody under the laws of Nauru, administered by the Executive government of Nauru’.
    This follows from the fact that Australian courts do not rule on what occurs within another sovereign state.

    The Judgement summary is here

    The full High Court of Australia decision here

  2. guest

    There is a great deal of talk from all quarters about Oz’s development through the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the enlightened thinking of the Enlightenment.

    I fail to see how that works.

    We see in this latest court decision how a bad set of political policies can be recast so as to be sanctioned by the law no matter what the morality.

    Take the Christian tradition. Christ had things to say about morality. He said things about the idea of an eye for an eye and said, But I say unto you …Resist not evil… turn the other cheek… give to he who asks…

    In the Lord’s Prayer it says: “…forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

    Then there is the story of the Good Samaritan who demonstrates compassion.

    Christ himself demonstrated sacrifice of self for others.

    There does not seem to much evidence of these teachings in practice today, if ever. Today, more than ever, it is a dog eat dog world of every person for themselves competing for space and money.

    It is interesting that one of 7 judges actually went against the decision. Is it possible that there could be a combination of judges which could have made a different decision? It seems that the law is not as clear cut as one might think, even when it has been armour-plated against challenges. So the policy is legal now, but was it always so?

    It looks as if legal approval is given to a morally bankrupt policy of belting the victims while they are down to create a deterrence against people smugglers. Much easier than actually catching people smugglers.

    So a unilateral decision rides over the Refugee Convention, UNHCR, Amnesty International…on the basis that the Oz government is not responsible for what happens in foreign countries, not responsible for murders, rapes and trauma on far off islands, because responsibility has been bought off by paying someone else to do the dirty work.

    The moral question is hidden in the smoke and mirrors of the policy which is given legal sanction because the law operates on quibbles of wording and interpretation, which as we have seen, is a moveable feast. And lawyers, as we have been told even recently, can argue all sides of the argument at the drop of a hat.

  3. paul walter

    I am stunned at Marles comment. I’d expect no better from Dutton, but what excuse Marles?

    Contrasting that, Gordon J and Triggs become legends.

  4. Matters Not

    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

    Disagree. There’s plenty to protect. And it’s being protected at this very moment.

    That you and I think (suspicion only) that being ‘ethnocentric’ is central in defining the ‘problem’ is being protected and encouraged at all levels. (It’s excellent politics by the way.)

    The ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ standards you adopt are certainly not universally shared. Please, even 70% of Australians think that we (bad use of the collective pronoun at this point) are too easy on refugees. They want even more bashings, suicides, rapes and the like. Never mind the stated intentions (preventing drownings and the like), as the deontologists might argue. Look at the outcomes as teleologists would argue. The ‘outcomes’ are horrific.

    It’s where the focus of the debate should be. It’s the ‘outcomes’ that count. Not the ‘intentions’, But isn’t.

    Ever met a drunk driver who escaped because of ‘intentions’.

  5. keerti

    It might be interesting to compare australia with europe. a few months ago australia’s previous prime biggot told europe that it should learn from ‘straya’s way of treating refugees…they ignored his advice. all countries in europe have been invaded and at least some of their populations became refugees. some more than once. ‘straya has only had a multitude of economic refugees, such as shouldabeenaborted, and lacks the experience of national pain. empathy is the child of emotional pain.

  6. Kaye Lee

    When Dutton briefly jumped on to the compassion bandwagon in offering 12,000 places to Syrian refugees I thought well at least that’s something positive….except, in the 5 months since his announcement, we have only accepted 20 people. And then we are told of a leaked document that Dutton is presenting to the National Security Council which links terrorism with our humanitarian intake and vilifies the Lebanese community. It suggests making visas harder to get, changing the citizenship test, and continued monitoring of refugees even after they gain citizenship.

    The document says Mr Dutton will bring forward the proposals in the first half of 2016 “to reform the visa framework and remove direct access to permanent residence to better align visa and citizenship decision-making with national security and community protection outcomes”.

    Removing direct access to permanent residence would see bona fide refugees accepted by Australia no longer given the certainty of a life in Australia.

    Matters Not,

    Assessing outcomes only works if you have the same goals. If your goal is to maximise tensions for political purposes then they are achieving their outcomes. If your goal is to help refugees then we are worse than the people smugglers in inflicting harm. If your goal is to stop people smugglers then why pay them tens of thousands of dollars? The best way to stop them would be to intercept the boats, bring the asylum seekers safely to Australia, and arrest the smugglers. You can’t tell me that they couldn’t have undercover people posing as asylum seekers to crack the smuggling trade. If there was an alternative way to get here the smuggling trade would die. As for stopping deaths at sea, what crap. Two boats sunk off the coast of Java on their way here with 39 confirmed drowned. And by closing off this route to safety we have seen the drownings in the Mediterranean skyrocket.

  7. Terry2

    Evidently Dutton wants to change the Oath of Allegiance (Pledge of Commitment) for new Australian citizens. The current pledge reads:

    From this time forward, [under God*,]
    I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
    whose democratic beliefs I share,
    whose rights and liberties I respect, and
    whose laws I will uphold and obey.

    * under God is optional

    Now, I wonder what Dutton has in mind : will there be a blood sacrifice ? : a Nazi style salute ? perhaps reintroducing loyalty to the Crown………more flags for sure.

  8. Matthew Oborne

    George W created illegal combatants a measure to strip people of any rights and a lot of it worked, we obviously have the legislation worked out enough that it is capable of surviving high court challenges, a pat on the back for bastardry.

    70 percent accept this then they should think about what happens if the government decides to create a new category aimed at People born here.the Irregular citizens act perhaps, or the government could expand the definition of who goes offshore, could they make a deal that dagostan gives australians citizenship so the government can lock them up for crimes against the Liberal party?

    We allow innocent people to be locked up as long as it isnt us.

    It is us now isnt it, several people one whose crime is being mentally ill are now in detention because they have dual citizenship.

    Legislation gets abused by governments Child porn legislation was used to block access to wikileaks, in singapore Child porn legislation is used to block unfavourable comments about the royal family.

    In Adelaide Traffic lights are used to create a quieter road for alfresco diners, yet traffic lights have to be obeyed as we are told they are for safety only.

    Politicians have to get laws through the house of reps, through the senate and essentially through the high court when challenged.

    They also have to get them past us.

    People stood up in Melbourne to what would have been Australian border forces opening debut in the major cities.

    with enough determination we can end this blight on our souls.

  9. randalstella

    The reason why Dutton can be proposing these even worse measures is that he can be confident of an obsequious Labor Party supporting them. He would enjoy watching the intimidated Labor Party playing cringing support to his thug cop.
    As people have been saying for years, this whole issue has the potential of destroying Labor – from within. The predatory monsters in the Libs can smell that.
    The sight of Marles at times like this is repellent. Is there any more wretched a spectacle than the man who could do so much better capitulating to weak and evasive excuses – for which he and Labor will get no credit? It is like a video from behind the enemy lines where a captive has been forced to ‘apologise’ to camera, for fear of his life. Labor are this captive, held indefinitely. They have lost the civil war and show no sign of fighting for release. They are losing those with the courage to fight,such as Melissa Parke. The intimidated fools of Labor ‘strategy’ now consider her the enemy.
    Where are the Labor-spruiking hacks on this issue?
    They also threaten death to their Party.
    I want to save Labor.

    The refugee ‘issue’ is not going away. It might even outlive the Labor Party – except for the survival of the brand name.

  10. mars08

    @Terry2…. because we all know that those nasty halal terrorisms won’t lie about about an oath…

  11. Mick Byron

    Until the citizens of this country have a major change of heart no political party will change their current stance, as they can say that act in accordance with the wishes of the people .
    You probably wouldn’t take my word for it,being a Labor supporter but your long term colleagues on the AIMN, Mar08 and Matters Not had this to say in comments
    Politicians argue they carry out the will of the people
    Change community opinion the politicians will follow

    I realise fhat social media only provides a limited view into a society’s character.
    Nevertheless it’s very depressing to see how few people even bother with the facade of wanting to prevent asylum seeker drownings. The vast majority of comments I see are blatant bigotry and hatred. There isn’t even a hint of compassion.”

    “Matters Not
    The ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ standards you adopt are certainly not universally shared. Please, even 70% of Australians think that we (bad use of the collective pronoun at this point) are too easy on refugees. They want even more bashings, suicides, rapes and the like. Never mind the stated intentions (preventing drownings and the like), as the deontologists might argue. Look at the outcomes as teleologists would argue. The ‘outcomes’ are horrific.”

  12. Matters Not

    Mick Byron, as you would be aware, I was pointing out the current situation. The ‘is’ if you like but certainly not the ‘ought’.

    To get to a far better ‘ought’ will require ‘leadership’. It will require adopting a strong ‘moral’ position, announcing it from the rooftops and being prepared to use all forms of media to justify this ‘new’ stance. Yes it will be ‘unpopular’, which will be reflected in the polls. But it will be both ‘good’ and ‘right’.

    It ‘ought’ to happen and the sooner the better.

    I note with approval that some church leaders are about to make a stand. For Labor It’s (also)Time!

  13. randalstella

    Why are they in politics? To knuckle under to any depravity?
    Aren’t they there to work to change policy that is wrong? Why is the manifestly cruel and punitive an exception?
    Are they there perhaps for the benefits of the organisation, the factional deal, and the possibility of a safe seat?

    I do not see the excerpts from other posters as any support for Labor’s capitulation.
    If Labor lose people like Melissa Parke they are losing those with abilities on a range of issues. How does it recruit members? Are the socially committed likely to join?
    Labor could be dying from within – and the response is ‘Look out there! Those polls!’
    What if Labor had adopted this approach over the Vietnam War, which had similar ignorant support from the clear majority of voters?

  14. Mick Byron

    Matters Not.
    “The ‘is’ if you like but certainly not the ‘ought’.”
    I’m not questioning your position on the issue just the fact that you addressed the reality of this issue in Australia today
    “Why are they in politics? ”
    To carry out the will of the people {allegedly}
    “f Labor lose people like Melissa Parke”
    They are losing her, along with 60% of the current MPs,{both Parties} who have chosen retirement to gain the significantly higher Allowances and Pensions before the rule change ,
    Melissa also indicated that her recent marriage to a multimillionaire Property developer played a significant role in her decision.{I live in her Electorate}

  15. townsvilleblog

    The reason that both of the major parties support this stance is because the overwhelming majority of Australians support this stance, much apprehension in Australia comes from the fact that most of the refugees are Muslim.

  16. randalstella

    Is the will of people to support some rapes, and one murder that we know of? The indefinite years of trauma of children?
    That kind of will? Let me express my complete contempt for that.
    They are there to capitulate to bogan sentiment? They are not there to fight for policy?

    Thanks for the snipe against one of the few within Labor willing to stand up on this issue.
    A lot of Labor’s woes comes from its vicious internal brawls,that leave it so vulnerable to Liberal manipulation.

  17. Mick Byron

    “Is the will of people to support some rapes, and one murder ”
    As the High Court ruled 2 days ago, it is out of our jurisdiction, and matters on Nauru and Manus are for those respective governments
    “Thanks for the snipe against ” no snipe, would you like the links to local media where her and her new husband are pictured, and she responds about her exiting Parliament
    From ABC”Outspoken federal Labor MP Melissa Parke will not re-contest the next election, saying she wants to be closer to her family.”
    “A lot of Labor’s woes comes from its vicious internal brawls”
    the preselection for Melissas replacement is between decent candidates and there is no “vicious internal brawls”
    Don’t try to make something out of nothing

  18. randalstella

    I meant to add:
    it is not ‘the will of the people’ but the will of the Right of the Liberal Party that Labor capitulate to.
    The Libs are curious to see how far they can push Labor into compromise. That is because Labor do not stand up against this intimidation.
    Hence Dutton’s latest fancy. A heaven for the most extreme elements in Aust. political history. Each time they push Labor more to the right, Labor get no thanks and do not have the courage to change. Meanwhile innocent people are subject to years of detention.
    We once had Labor leaders who at least gave a semblance of leading by example.

  19. randalstella

    The High Court ruling turned on a deal done between the Liberals and Labor last June. A ‘deal’ where Labor capitulated. Again.
    Your answer is an obvious cop-out. Of course Australia are responsible. Whose detention centres are they? the taxpayers of Aust. are not funding all this?

    I said nothing about the preselection in Parke’s seat. It was a general reference, as you well know.

  20. paul walter

    Mick Byron ,Gordon J covered that. It is not ethically out of our jurisdiction just because we buckpassed to someone else. That’s not how it goes in a real world. Such a primitive slimy notion of ethics you have.

  21. mars08

    “Change community opinion the politicians will follow…”

    And that’s what makes it so horrible, and scary as hell. The politicians manipulated the public on this “issue” and don’t have the courage to stem the hysteria. Assuming they were inclined to…

  22. Backyard Bob

    “Mick Bryon” said:

    As the High Court ruled 2 days ago, it is out of our jurisdiction, and matters on Nauru and Manus are for those respective governments

    Taken literally, this rather broad statement is manifestly false. Australia has jurisdictional power, and responsibility, on a number of fronts relating to offshore detention centres. We created them, we fund them, we supply their populations, we run the policies that determine their natures (i.e. we control how the controllers control them). Australia has responsibilities in terms of how these centres meet fundamental principles and rules regarding human rights. Whilst we do not have legal jurisdiction with regard to individual breaches of local laws, that is rather incidental in terms of our broader responsibilities.

    The truth is we have been ignoring/failing those responsibilities since Tampa.

  23. Mick Byron

    Backyard Bob.
    No it’s not
    Did you even bother reading the very first comment on this thread?
    We /I accept the rule of Law.
    “The result was that the federal government has the power to detain people who come to our shores claiming to be a refugee. It also has the power to send those people to other countries without first determining whether their claims are correct.

    Once removed, their fate is put beyond Australian law and the oversight of our courts. As Chief Justice French and Justices Kiefel​ and Nettle stated, once removed from Australia, the plaintiff is ‘detained in custody under the laws of Nauru, administered by the Executive government of Nauru’”

    Not only are the summaries provided,but the full transcript of the High Courts decision

    Paul Walter .
    “That’s not how it goes in a real world. Such a primitive slimy notion of ethics you have.”
    such a difficult time you have comprehending this was not my decision, it was the decision of the High Court
    How you foolishly interpret my “ethics” into a High Court ruling is beyond me,
    Please, before you make yourself look even more foolish, read the High Court transcript and summary

  24. Backyard Bob

    “Mick Byron”,

    All I can say is the puppeteer needs to invest in a better quality of hosiery.

  25. Mick Byron

    Backyard Bob
    It’s good to see someone on here who thinks their wisdom and knowledge of Law supersedes that of the High Court [even if only you believe it]
    You failed to respond to what the actual rule of Law was .
    If your response was an attempt at humour you failed miserably
    If it was some coded response,The Da Vinci Code style, you failed on that too.

  26. Backyard Bob

    “Mick Byron”,

    Quoting an SMH article, without links – how long have you been posting on the internet? – isn’t quoting Law. Do you want me to post links to all the Legislation regarding refugee policy that puts a lie to your bullshit interpretation of the High Court decision?

    While I’m at it, do you want a lesson in how to properly use parentheses/brackets so as not to expose yourself as a sock puppet?

  27. Mick Byron

    Backyard Bob
    Seriously, there is something wrong with you!
    The links are direct to the High Court
    and World Legal Information Institute
    I’ll try again, click on them, read them, get educated
    they are from
    World Legal Information Institute
    AustLII [Home] [Databases] [WorldLII] [Search] [Feedback]
    High Court of Australia
    You are here: AustLII >> Databases >> High Court of Australia >> 2016 >> [2016] HCA 1

    [Database Search] [Name Search] [Recent Decisions] [Noteup] [Download] [Context] [No Context] [Help]
    Plaintiff M68 -2015 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2016] HCA 1 (3 February 2016)
    Last Updated: 3 February 2016
    The Judgement summary is here



    H I G H C O U R T O F 3

    A U S T R A L I A

    Surely you aren’t that thick?

    It was all in the first comment, to which I referred, the quoting was from that comment
    Suggest you read the rulings

  28. mars08

    Mick Byron seems to be new around this forum. No doubt soon to be joined by Kim Cornby and Con Bykrim….

  29. Mick Byron

    What’s that a little in house joke?
    I hope they come and bring a bit more smarts than a couple I have stumbled across.
    Still, with Lefty jihadists, who knows

  30. Katrina Logan

    Mick Byron, I wouldn’t be concerned about the newcomers unless they too think their one liners are so critical to the AIMN that they too go on holidays to somewhere like Thailand and need to log into the AIMN every couple of hours to inject their wit and wisdom.
    No life is it?

  31. mars08

    “Lefty jihadists, who knows…”

    So, you’ve “stumbled across” our devious plan. Come the glorious revolution, and Sharia law…. we will transform this country. hahahahahaha… huh, right? Sigh… Let the outrage begin!!!!

    Not so long ago some pompous tools reprimand me for not using my real name in this forum. Frankly I think that’s a trifling matter. I believe that people who post here should be able to use whatever name(s) they want. How do you feel about that, Rick Mynob?

    Geez, sometimes it’s like I’m talking to myself.

  32. randalstella

    All of the Justices of the High Court accepted that the Aust. Government are responsible for the offshore detention centres.
    However, in a deal between the Libs and Labor last June a retrospective amendment to the Migration Act gives the Government power to take “any action” it sees fit over detention centres. Any action. It means that the Government can declare events occurring on these sites outside its legal responsibility, and the responsibility of the host country. It is our version of Gitmo – applied to people who have no evidence against them or likelihood of being terrorists. It is simply totalitarian. It was deliberately designed to win this case. Appallingly it did.
    One Justice decided against the Orwellian Newspeak and Doublethink in this pretence, between absolute responsibility and absolute, unaccountable discretion to dispense with responsibility. She acted on her concerns for the rule of law. She decided that the new amendment was beyond the powers of the Federal Government under the Constitution. Is she a ‘lefty jihadist’? She was appointed by Abbott.

  33. randalstella

    2nd part
    The Labor member posting above writes as if he has no notion that there can be a difference between law and morality. For example how the law can be changed to get it past this presently constituted High Court, and entrench moral depravity. That absence of differentiation is totalitarian.

    Earlier he was asserting the ‘will of the people’. Now it’s the will of the High Court? Could it be both?

    Would he have been so deferential to the High Court if the majority ruling was for the asylum seekers? How often does he wait on the courts for his moral opinions?

    I wonder how many of the ALP preselection candidates for Fremantle are advocates for refugee rights?

  34. randalstella

    3rd part
    Once again, we have a Labor supporter not fussed about the gross abuse of human rights against asylum seekers. Now and then they try to disguise it by lecturing us all about the practicalities of politics – the ‘pragmatism’ that is killing their Party from within.
    How open could discussion be at the local Labor branch when people who object to the gross abuse of human rights could be labelled ‘lefty jihadists’.

    Do these interchangeables from Labor truly think they are campaigning here?

  35. mars08

    The way that MUA and AMOU seafarers are being treated is entirely within the law. The ALP should just tell them to stop moaning and accept it. The legislation that makes it possible was enacted by the government… that’s what makes it legal.

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