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Prison hulks and river blades: fortress building in the climate-catastrophe era

Britain has commissioned a prison hulk to house immigrants, in a cruel re-enactment of history. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has implemented two strategies to stop immigrants crossing the Rio Grande into America: one is a floating barrier with razor wire and rolling motion that pulls people under the water; the other is an apparent order to push people into the river, including mothers holding small children.

One horrifying aspect for an Australian audience reading these developments is that we have been part of the inspiration for their increasingly horrifying treatment of the displaced.

Tony Abbott and Alexander Downer have both been consulting with the British about the best way to “deter” asylum seekers arriving by boat. The UK parliament has enough grotesque bigoted figures of its own to blame for the new Illegal Migration bill and ship “solution” to deterrence for us to blame Abbott and Downer for this idea. Both Abbott and Downer have also been participating in Western chauvinist Orban’s speaking circuit which fosters anti-immigrant extremism.

Our approach to migration is complex. Big Business supports it and wants high migration. Australia’s Coalition immigration regime barely fought slave labour conditions for temporary workers while turning all aggression against asylum seekers as political theatre.

America has always counted on a transitory population from over its southern border to keep labour and food prices low. The decision to aim to make the border impenetrable has had the predictable effect of causing people to try to stay on the American side of the border to send money home to family struggling to survive. Numbers approaching the border for safety have also been increasing with violence – much caused by American policy – and climate crisis desperation forcing people from Central America out of their home countries.

President Trump’s early telephone call with then PM Malcolm Turnbull was a shameful one. Trump exclaimed with admiration that “You are worse than I am,” when it came to treatment of those legally claiming asylum. Trump’s administration, led on this front by the white supremacist figure of Steven Miller, took our example and intensified the misery. Children around America remain lost to their parents after the brutal years when babies were literally snatched from their mothers’ arms to punish them for the “crime” of seeking safe haven. Now a Trump advisor on strategy is working for the Texas Governor, implementing cruelties that the federal administrative state blocked him from deploying.

Australia’s persecution of the few of the world’s displaced who reach us by irregular means continues in a less overt fashion. The nightmare we created in PNG continues. Our immigration department is stripped of institutional knowledge because the nation-building public servants left during the grim reign of the customs official incompetents and bullies. The new appointments under Minister Andrew Giles are slow to acquire expertise and perhaps still harnessed by a departmental leadership that shared the Coalition’s Western chauvinism. The reunion with vulnerable families will move at glacial pace for that percentage eventually being granted visas.

The surge in Middle Eastern and African displacement reached crescendo in 2015. Part of this was created by Western and allegedly Russian military interventions, recent and past. This was also the year that Trump announced his presidential campaign, launching it with demonisation of immigrants.

Part of the surge in numbers was the beginning of the climate crisis’s mass displacement. Syria’s internal crisis, for example, was in part fuelled by young people flooding to the city for opportunity after crippling climatic conditions killed the crops.

The resultant paranoia in Western nations drove a surge in white supremacist and Neo Nazi support. Disinformation made people in distant villages of Wales who’d not seen a refugee themselves believe they were about to be flooded with new and unfamiliar people. The same disinformation, allegedly promoted by Russian propaganda, led people to believe that these asylum seekers were a threat to Western safety, as terrorists or rapists.

Former conservative governments were already being radicalised by “think tanks” and a new generation of politician who had been honed by Dark Money’s strategies into an anti-democratic force.

Some Right-Wing politicians still genuinely believe that the climate catastrophe is a hoax, just as asylum seekers must be country shopping grifters and that our nations must be White. Others believe that both problems are insoluble, particularly by a party that doesn’t believe in government.

This problem is compounded by the fact that those displaced by the climate catastrophe are still denied refugee status.

Our Centrist parties speak the language of climate action, but as we see in Australia and America, their will to make functional change does not match the rhetoric. This defeatism is paired with state Labor governments joining in the war against protesters rather than polluters.

The prison hulks for asylum seekers in Britain together with Texas at the vanguard of American cruelty are the other face of that defeatism.

Any data-based government knows that millions will be displaced by the climate crisis in the coming decades. Beyond that, the numbers seeking safety will be far greater. Most will be internally displaced or move into their poor neighbour states. Some will make it to the wealthier world for rescue.

Rather than act in unity to work to cap the temperature rise and limit the catastrophes of famine, drought, floods, war and disease, governments are turning their states into fortresses at monumental expense. India and Eastern Europe are building literal fences against threatened regions. Australia has coast guard and naval vessels poised to chase off any making the attempt.

Britain and Texas are modelling the next grotesque step as the numbers rise: the cruelty shatters every claim we have to be ethical nations. We fail in the duty to stop our overwhelming contribution to the world’s carbon overload, and we turn brutal in our efforts to punish those displaced, substantially, by our acts.

Australia forged the cruel path of refugee torture combined with laughter at the fate of our climate-threatened neighbours. We must decide now if that is who we continue to be.

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations


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  1. Andrew Robert Byrne

    Unfortunately, this decision has already been made by those in power, not limited to the politicians. Business want to control who is brought to Australia, to maintain an unskilled, under educated and thereofre under paid workforce.

    The media like a headline to scare the unthinking and growing under educated (and thus under thinking) population, to help their business mates and form ‘popular’ opinion to guide the politicians. Take the inflation scare, wages have lifted slightly, but, wages are the thing that is starting to drive inflation, but, company profits at the big end of town, due to increases in prices are not talked about.

    This leads to the unemployed and underemployed masses not having enough qualifications and thus leading to more employment led migration to help keep a ‘buffer stock’ of unemplyed people putting preasure on wages not to grow. This provides easy targets for right wing and right leaning media to lay blame for things and like in Nazi Germany with the Jews, an easy target for more complaints about so called queue dodgers – IE those fleeing countries under persecution or possible starvation hoping to find a better life.

    We have already made the decision that this is the only way for “us” to survive ths world, a world facing a crisis ‘we’ created and will not solve because it is easier to let those worse off than we are to pay the consequences of.

  2. Douglas Pritchard

    Does anyone else feel ashamed to live in a flag waving, border protected, “Rules-based” system of existance?
    We trash territory around the globe, and pillage their communities, then deny them any rights.
    I like the idea of living in a liberal democracy, and one day we may make a move towards it.
    Spot on Lucy.

  3. New England Cocky

    I reject the current inhunan immigration policies for legal refugees. Time to jail the perpetrators at Manus without any services.

  4. Harry Lime

    Abbott,Downer and little Johnny Rotten…what a triumvirate of despicable curs.All of them living in a past time..when the colonising murderers were only fulfilling their manifest destiny.and the natives knew their place.My fondest wish is to see fishnets and the lying rodent getting a severe grilling in front of some very stern NACC inquisitors,with East Timor getting some long overdue justice,with’weapons of mass destruction’ Howard facing war crimes allegations as icing on the cake.These arseholes have been amongst the most egregious perpetrators in holding our country back on so many fronts,with the moron Dutton upholding their racist bastardry.
    And Labor should be ashamed of themselves with their unforgiveable continuation of all too similar policies.Light on the hill? Forget about it.

  5. K

    You can lay the blame at potato head’s door for that one…. Wondering, if water lapping at his door is giving him a sinking feeling…yet…

  6. Andrew Smith

    There’s an awful lot of dynamics to pack into a short space to explain ‘wheels within wheels’ or ‘architecture of influence’ impacting both left and right of Anglosphere and related politics, to induce disgust and develop an empathy bypass from ‘white’ voters.

    IMO it’s a return of eugenics, not just racial or Nazi forms, but the old Anglo form of class and the pecking order; see how many senior GOP types appear intimidated by Trump but happy to do his bidding, along with corrupt RW grifters and ‘Christian conservatives’ vs 99%?

    Used to inform refugee, immigration and environmental policies a la fossil fuel greenwashing of (sustainable) population growth, blamed on the ‘other’, yet in fact permanent population growth is amongst the above median age voter cohort; but only for a couple of decades as their ‘great replacement’ by refugees &/or immigrant does its work.

    The ‘Network’ (shared Koch Donor Network in US) that flies under the radar versus now more public US fossil fueled Koch Network including IPA, CIS, Tufton St. London, US CNP Council for National Policy, ALEC etc., is that of deceased white nationalist John ‘passive eugenics’ Tanton, described by SPLC as the ‘racist architect of the modern anti-immigration movement’, allegedly linked to SPA in Oz, Migration Watch and Population Matters UK, plus definitely in the US: CIS, FAIR and Numbers USA.

    Another related or shared link in plain sight with Oz is with Steven Miller, Steve Bannon et al., via French writer Jean Raspail, who inspired R. Camus’ ‘Great Replacement’, with Raspail’s ‘Camp of the Saints’ published by Tanton Social Contract Press (TSCP), and interviewed by a Melbourne academic for the same in ’90s titled ‘A Conversation With Jean Raspail (Reprint)’ By Katharine Betts, see link TSCP link here

  7. Clakka

    Despite there being stresses and strains on our perceptions of the Oz way of life, it may be almost inevitable that as global commerce dynamics shift, there may be an evening-out of fate and fortune. As we observe rises per se in China for example), for many in Oz, there is a noticeable reduction (via wage stagnation and recently inflation etc) in ability to access and maintain a satisfying and sustainable quality of life.

    But as this occurs, there is more reliance upon the availability of ‘cheaper’ products. But where do they come from? And how are they grown or manufactured? How do they afford to get the price so low, is it the oppression and underpayment of labour? Most likely.
    There is a tendency to ignore such questions, and rather than demand answers and actions from providers, importers and government, there appears to be a tendency to push on with heads in the sand. Often disparaging those being used and disempowered behind racist, usurious tropes, such as we are currently seeing in the current ‘Voice’ referendum pertaining to Oz First Nations folk, and as previously (and persistently) seen in such tropes about ‘illegal’ refugees.

    Oz has been significantly enmeshed in slavery since it was colonised. Its practice and justification via false, but deeply psychologically entrenched racial biases have persisted having arrived from Europe (principally England). It continues here (and more than ever, globally), as ‘modern slavery’ unabated, but concealed via cunning legislation and regulation, and the turning of a contrived paternalistic blind-eye.

    It is well beyond time that the unequivocal identification (by branding) of such ‘modern slavery’ was enforced by government, and the enabling laws repealed and the practices stopped. Wellbeing and health for all will never be achieved whilst it is ignored.

    Our current greenwasher corporations that appear to use a forked tongue about climate change abatement, could also be misleading and deceptive about their desire for the persistence of laws fashioned to entrench ‘modern slavery’?

    Forked Tongues: heavy emitters exposed as hypocrites on climate action, new analysis shows

  8. Phil Pryor

    One changes, from hopeful optimism at times, to a more permanent pessimism, as climate concerns grow, along with desire for wealth and comfort, desires for pleasures, population relentless growth, damages thus flowing from this “lifestyle” stupid fantasising death march, all voluntary too. And two cerebrally empty vessels, messengers of stupidity, death, greed, self centred triumphal supremacist posing, Blinken and Austin, far worse than stooges and clowns, are here to sool us on to our biggest trading partner, the peaceful and industrious China. Morrison got us into a sub farce, a treaty and alliance suicide pact. If we all agreed to try to be peaceful, prosperous, modest, sensible, decent, would it not be very good?

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