By Jennifer Wilson
It ought to be self-evident that any individual or politician or government or opposition sincerely concerned with the welfare of waterborne asylum seekers who seek refuge in this country, would find their indefinite incarceration in off-shore detention centres obscene, and altogether unacceptable.
Remarkably, they don’t. Politicians from both major parties currently arguing that “turning back the boats” is an altruistic effort to stop people drowning at sea, need to be confronted with hard questions about what they continue to do to women, children and men after they have saved them from drowning at sea. Report after report, formal and anecdotal, reveals the appalling conditions asylum seekers endure on Nauru and Manus Island, and one has to question the sanity of anyone who advocates saving people from drowning only to treat them as human detritus, by either incarcerating them, or sending them back to a torment they’ve fled.
This is a sick and profoundly twisted argument, emanating from sick, and profoundly twisted minds. Australia treats the lives of waterborne asylum seekers with utter contempt and callous disregard, so why anyone believes politicians give a toss about saving their lives in the first place is a puzzle in an enigma wrapped up in a mystery.
We should also challenge the language in which this turn back option is framed. it is not boats that are being turned back. It is human beings.
There are two matters that are screaming for our attention. One is the way in which we currently treat asylum seekers and presumably the ALP intends to continue treating asylum seekers, as we’ve heard no plans to address and improve their life conditions expressed so far by the alternative government.
The other is the folded lie, in which on the one hand moral arguments are made by politicians implying concern for saving life, while simultaneously caring nothing for that life once it is saved. The implication is that these lives must not be lost in our waters but they can be lost anywhere else and that is neither our concern nor our responsibility. Lives we save can subsequently be subjected to all kinds of ill-treatment: our obligations to those lives are ended by saving them from dying in our waters.
It would be naive to imagine there was a golden age during which politicians didn’t lie. Politicians have always been liars, it’s part of the job description. Perhaps the difference is that there was a time when politicians actually cared about being perceived as liars, and endeavoured to convince us and themselves that they spoke a truth.
My distinct impression now is that politicians know they are liars, and they know we know they are liars and they no longer care enough to even pretend they aren’t. What matters most in politics is not the welfare of the country and its citizens, but who can lie with most authority, not the authority that makes a lie sound like truth, but the authority that says, I am the most powerful because I care the least about lying, and I am the most adept at the complex, folded lie.
This article was first published on Jennifer’s blog No Place For Sheep.