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Selective compassion

We must ask ourselves, are we truly a compassionate nation?

I am against the death penalty. I always have been, and I always will be. I cannot see how we can say murder is a crime yet kill people as a punishment. As expedient a solution as the death penalty may be, we should not be killing people.

That said, I cannot reconcile in my mind the public outcry over the looming executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and the lack of public outcry over the incarceration of innocent children.

Despite Jeff Kennett’s rather flippant comment six days ago, we cannot deflect the blame onto the parents of the children. If we do that and follow that logic through, we should blame the parents of Chan and Sukumaran for raising children to become drug mules and clearly that is neither appropriate nor realistic.

Yes, the parents of the children took the children on a dangerous and torturous journey, seeking a safe haven. The parents are not responsible for locking the children up behind bars. No more than the parents of Chan and Sukumaran are responsible for Indonesia having the death penalty.

I understand there is not overwhelming concern in the community for the two people in Indonesia, yet there does seem to be far more concern than for the many hundreds of children suffering in detention. The Forgotten Children report, released by the Australian Human Rights Commission this month, provides comprehensive and horrifying details of the damage to these poor innocents.

Read the comments on articles about either situation. There are people who don’t see anything wrong with the executions or with the incarceration of the children. Yet it seems to me far more people in Australia are expressing anger about the executions than are irate about The Forgotten Children. Is this because in the case of the executions someone else (Indonesians) is doing the “bad” thing, while we (Australians) are doing the bad thing with the children?

Why this selective compassion? A life is a life. Many Australians are equally concerned about both situations, but it seems to me too many are not.

Under international human rights law neither the executions nor the incarcerations should be happening.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, recognizes each person’s right to life. It categorically states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5). In Amnesty International’s view, the death penalty violates these rights.

The children haven’t committed ANY crime yet are being subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

We should be witnessing equal outrage for both situations, surely? I understand death is final, incarceration is not. Yet many of these children may be damaged for life. In one situation we are talking of two lives, in the other many hundreds of lives. Some of those children are highly likely to die in detention, probably more than two.

I do not understand the selective compassion. Do you?


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  1. Owen Snelten

    When is it ok to abuse children… never ….. but.apparently that has been flagged as the new/extra reason for our data collection…….double standards.. I hope they include themselves on the lists!

  2. Kerri

    Well said Robyn! Whilst we can realistically do little to help the drug runners we beat our heads constantly.
    When we can easily help out the innocents in detention ? We do nothing!

  3. Kaye Lee

    They “kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.

    Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic [Australian]’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

    Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’

  4. Harquebus

    The ancient Romans also used ever greater sporting spectaculars to distract the population from their otherwise dull and boring lives and the decay of their civilization.
    What can be more important than the cricket world cup?
    Main stream media is to blame. Their journalists should be ridiculed and demeaned because, nothing will happen until their reputations are smeared.
    I have a lot of their email addresses and will gladly forward any derogatory articles concerning them.

  5. Graham Houghton

    No, Robyn, I don’t understand it either. I know what you are saying when you say that incarceration isn’t final and I’m not about to argue with you, but many of these children (and adults) will be in prison in their minds and memories for the rest of their lives. ‘Injustice in this world is not something comparative; the wrong is deep, clear and absolute in each private fate.’ George Santayana, ‘Little Essays’, 1920.

  6. jane

    Abusing children is NEVER acceptable.

  7. Robyn Oyeniyi

    Thanks Kaye. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It is over our heads.

  8. Robyn Oyeniyi

    Graham, I was trying to say just that – many of the children will never recover from the trauma and live a full life. They are sentenced to a non-life and are guilty of nothing.

  9. paul walter

    Looks like I will have to go blowfly on the Pavalova.

    It could be said that a murderer (is a drug dealer a murder?) transgresses the most basic injunction of all, in wilfully denying another their life. To remove a murderer by execution is to merely prevent a repetition of precedent set for the protection of the innocent and to reinforce by example the sacredness of thou shalt not kill, by allowing a criminal to reach the inevitable conclusion of a process they themselves have set in motion.

    I’m not saying I subscribe personally to such a harsh dogma- I’m responding to Robyn’s first sentence, but by the argument I outline, it could be said that it is the murderer himself who kills himself. The murderer, by violating an absolute, instigates a chain of events that leads to their own demise.

    With children in detention, it could be said that they are in detention because of the actions of superpowers and their endless resource wars, that drive people to flee war zones. It THEN becomes the choice of others as to what generosity they show in response; if they are Good Samaritans or Ralph Nicklebys.
    They may choose to show kindness to strangers, or may not, on the basis that the refugees are the responsibility, self evidently, of those who created that initial situation and that helping some how 1, implies acceptance of a responsibility that is not theirs and 2 is resistance to some sort of coercive move to impose a cost on them that belongs to others.

    Ok. I know what I’ve written is as ugly as shit.

    I loath the ugly sight of mean spiritedness and most of all in myself when I am forced to confront its foul presence within, having seen it and recognised what it looks like in others. What price a clear conscience?

    I guess we care little about what Indonesian and others have endured at Western hands, so we can’t understand why they treat our pleas with bored contempt when those of our own áre involved, given our own double standards and blind spots as to others, including them.

  10. Jack

    Chan and Sukumaran were not drug mules. They were the ones who strapped heroin to others and sent them off to run the gauntlet in the full knowledge that the ones they dispatched risked the death penalty. It’s an old but effective strategy used by smugglers. Send multiple expendable couriers on the same flight. Some may get caught but others should get through. They just didn’t expect to get caught themselves.

  11. michaelattoowoomba

    Thanks for the article Robyn.Yes the children are not criminals,the whole system is abhorent to me.The whole goverment and msm fraudulently scream out “Illegal immigrants ” when is not the case. It is not illegal to seek asylum.So why are the Aussie citiscen,supposedly enarmoured with “A FAIR GO ” so not screaming with indignation about this situation.Then our supposed p.m. has the gaul to bring up our response to tidal wave as a reason for clemency in regard to death sentence. I do not support capital punishment,but I can think what our so called p.m.’s responce if another country wanted Australia to treat other countries citicens differently to our own.Not that he is doing much for own taxpayers .Just listening to sir D##head telling Indonesia our foreign aid for Acheh was a down payment on goodwill,just goes to show this current gov has no shame or virtue.

  12. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    I would see the children as my first priority. They have committed no crimes yet their lives will be forever warped by the inhumane treatment which our governmentS (sic both sides are to blame) have chosen to use.
    I think the Greens are not necessarily oriented to be able to govern but they certainly can take up the role of keeping the bastards honest.
    Labor needs to return to its principles and move more to the left and the coalition needs to get out altogether and do some serious navel gazing.
    Priority 1 – get ALL the children out of detention along with their carers, if any.
    Priority 2 – keep on opposing the neo-fascist regime adopted By Credlin and her protege TA.
    Priority 3 – get the ALP back on track to understand that accepting more refugees into our community without first traumatising them will eventually prove incredibly beneficial.
    We elect governments to manage the country for the common good. TA and his cohort are clearly incapable of fulfilling that role so the initial approach has to be to keep blocking defective legislation until their time runs out and hope that the damage they are doing while in office can be mitigated.
    The ALP needs to also take a hard look at itself and come up with real policies that take us back to being the lucky country where mateship involves welcoming all comers with open arms.
    As for the Australians facing the death penalty – and I do not approve of the death penalty – they knew what risk they were undertaking (this was not their first drug run) and had they succeeded in importing the drugs into Australia, many other people would have suffered and some of them would have died.

  13. paul walter

    Michael, I agree. Abbott, the damager, seems a bully, a coward and a sadistic lunatic.

  14. Wally

    If we introduced a law against stupidity we could solve the children’s and the drug smugglers problems in one foul swoop, before they caused their problems, we would also save ourselves from Tony Abbott and his band of liberal whackos. Unfortunately we ALL would be guilty of doing something stupid at some point in time be it in the past, present or future. It is fine to blame circumstances, the system being wrong, the penalty being to harsh or the outcome being unjust BUT at the end of the day people have a choice, if they make bad choices they must face the consequences or the world becomes unjust for the people who make the right choices and achieve their goals the hard way.

    I find it very hard to understand how someone who is sincerely concerned about how kids are treated cannot agree that people who deliberately harms kids (rape and/or murder) do not deserve to be executed or castrated. I would love to live in a world where people all lived in harmony, had equal rights, equal opportunity and lived happily ever after. Bring it on I want it so much but when there are so many bad people out there, many wolves in sheep’s clothes reality has to kick in. While bad people (and yes drug smugglers are definitely right up there with child molesters and murderers) exist we must take harsh actions to minimise the effect they have on society.

    We don’t have the death penalty but who are we to dictate to Indonesia what they should do with Chan and Sukumaran particularly when we have failed to care for children in circumstances we can control.

  15. mark delmege

    I dont much like the Liberal megaphone diplomacy – it’s fraught and I think not too far into the future the contradiction of what he does now and latter will haunt him.

  16. DanDark

    Selective compassion, selective hearing, and selective memory intertwine in this pack of intellectual midgets that call themselves a gov and show no guilt that kids are suffering in their camps of misery,
    Then publicly tells Gillian Triggs she should be ashamed and it was a stitch up by her ( sounds like a bout of paranoia)
    Then on Q&A Malcom Turdbull was asked about it and all he did was read numbers off his pre prepared notes.
    They are not numbers Malcom you moron, their names aren’t 1, 2, 123, 55 44, totalling x number, they are humans, the rhetoric is designed to dehumanise these children,
    it’s a very sad state of affairs that is a blight on all humanity….

    WTF ashamed that she has done her job properly, Tones is a disgrace and is disgusting on many levels.

  17. Jan Dobson

    I wonder if our collective inaction regarding offshore processing is due to an unwillingness to face our shame. And it is shameful that we, in this blessed country, are so ungenerous.

    Perhaps the remedy is not, therefore to highlight the horror but to promote the benefits to our image should we live up to our responsibilities. An honest campaign, easing the fear of being ‘overrun’ & with economic cost comparisons, reassuring people with historical comparisons & reminding us of the benefits thereof might be more successful.

    And that aforementioned shame might also explain the greater response to the possible execution of Chan & Sukumaran. As a country free from capital punishment, we feel on safer moral ground. Personally though I think the threats of boycotts and expectations of compliance with our requests based on aid reduces such moral high ground to leave us with feet of clay.

    The Indonesian government should reprieve all on death row, not because of any country’s demands, but for the benefit of their own people. Capital punishment diminishes those who sanction it, most of all.

  18. Terry2

    Hi Robyn, A lot of the adverse comment on the Forgotten Children Report from the Right has been that it is obsolete and out of date . The report was actually delivered to the government in October 2014 but only released last week.

    The other matter that the government have obfuscated on is the actual number of children still in detention : they have ignored those on Nauru because they don’t intend to do anything for these families.

  19. Loz

    Despite this governments inhumanity these adults and eventually come to Australia. The longer they are there the more disgust will be shown here and throughout the world If these people had been processed in Australia many of those who were genuine refugees would have made good citizens of Australia. However the longer these people are imprisoned in these awful conditions their mental and physical deterioration will continue and will eventually cost the government thousands to care for them.

  20. mark delmege

    Here’s a thought… virtually year the Australian military were in Oruzgan Province in Afghanistan opium production increased. It would seem we attempted to ingratiate ourselves by turning a blind eye to opium production.

  21. PopsieJ

    On Q and A Fullabull repeatedly said children numbers in detention under LNP had been reduced from 2000 to 163, but no one asked , where did the children go, traded in for Uranium to India, Given to PNG for $20 million, sent to Sri Lanka fo 2 gun boats. Also Labor was castigated for letting Asylum seekers into the country but that was done under a UN obligation.

  22. Audioio

    Paul Walter, you have shown yourself to be a thoughtful man. We might end up disagreeing, but I respect you nonetheless.

    I only hope there are many more like you. It’s all too easy for me to sit here and slag off the great unwashed as straight-out racist.

    Still, there’s one issue that’s never raised and therefore never thought about. Thousands of people remain in this country after their temporary work visas expire. Why don’t we send out a battalion to hunt them down? That’s got to cost less and yield a better result than throwing a frigate at the Indian Ocean.

    Here’s why not. They’re mostly white, highly educated, MULTI-LINGUAL, and talented Europeans. They’re the ones who could really steal the good jobs and clog up public transport. (Actually, they probably laugh at it.)

    Meanwhile, a few perfectly capable doctors, pharmacists, lawyers and the like from Iran and Afghanistan –whose experience of case work is probably streets ahead of your average pampered Aussie professional — somehow make it through the immigration system. They’re stealing all the classy jobs — like cleaning our toilets — and Australia’s most powerful unions like the AMA ensure they will never again practice their profession.

    What a waste, racist Australia.

  23. paul walter

    I understand the scepticism, Audioio

    What has happened is that the issue of people coming to Australia has been politicised by populist politicians and MSM and has a narrow focus: the Muslim “öther”..

    Islamophobia and the so-called War on Terror are convenient means by which agendas to do with legitimising resources control and frankly, plunder, in West Asia and a Surveillance State here and in other Western countries become legitimated. A skilful Consent Manufacture process that prays on base aspects of Australian nature, to do with irrational fear’n loathing is operative…you do well not to “slag off”, many haven’t a clue at what forces create their outlook and reactive responses, or what the real truth of what the world is and how it turns is

    It is sad that high unemployment and the abuse of 457 visas have complicated things. Then, on top of that the bastards want to role back welfare at the same time as the wealthy send their money to offshore tax havens.

    But it IS strange, that many differentiate between boat people and all other categories.. to me, that is the brainwashing working. I am not allowed to mention what I think is a fascinating replay of history to that of thirties Germany and Goebbelsian Judenhecht, or I will be Godwinned, but an insightful reader may think as they will, as Urquhart might say.

    That there is “Collateral Damage” in Iraq, or on the high seas or around the detention camps under Australian or South East Asian control to where people have fled, will mean little to politicians out to win power through fear mongering and funded to achieve “weak government”

    Just a little quibble. That the AMA could be considered a union in any meaningful sense is something I’d find frightful.
    It’s probably true that this unfortunate tendency to regulate supply of skilled labour is the one thing they share with blue collars unons. I just think Trade Unions in the sense I understand them originally grew as the only means by which the poor could club together to protect themselves from existential anihilation and slavery and the AMA is as far from that as we are from the moon.

    Anyway, this rambles.. had a nasty abscessed tooth yanked after a week of grief this arvo- by people of Mediterranean descent- and the ideas are just not coming, stuffed… you deserve better and I like your refusal of complicity and healthy detestation of a detestable situation.

  24. mark delmege

    Yes Paul Walter you nailed it …. and the fundamental fighters were inducted in covert wars in many countries, people like David Hicks were useful fools who served a purpose in numerous wars of empire – never stated as such of course and the polite grovelling blind western media rarely mentioned the development of this cadre of fighters who morphed from al Qaeda to Isis and Boko Haram to continue their ways by other means. Still as the most ruthless of cut throats they still serve a purpose enabling further Empire manipulation of regional affairs. Even the Nazi militias in Ukraine take the battle to new crumple zones. And then you get the so called lone wolves, the copycat losers who create domestic havoc still serve a purpose for empire – fear and loathing and the need for more ‘security’ blah blah. It’s a never ending calamity but you wont read about nor most likely will it be taught in terrorism studies. Like most really really important stuff the blinds have been drawn and its not for public consumption.

  25. Wally

    paul walter I agree with Audioio the AMA is one of the most powerful industry bodies (if you prefer rather than union) in Australia and just like the AMWU, the ETU and the GFPU they set the fees that medical practitioners charge. Not exactly the same as setting award wages because a service fee is a business charge with expenses to be taken out with doctors receiving the balance BUT a doctors income is directly proportional to the service fee. I find that so called professional associations don’t like being aligned with unions because they are often at odds with workers seeking better pay and conditions but ultimately the main role they perform is to maximise the profits of a business to benefit the owners.

    From Wiki

    “A trade union (British / Australian English / New Zealand English; also trades union), labour union (Canadian English) or labor union (American English) is an organization of workers who have come together to achieve common goals such as protecting the integrity of its trade, achieving higher pay and benefits such as health care and retirement, increasing the number of employees an employer assigns to complete the work, safety standards, and better working conditions”

    “A professional association (also called a professional body, professional organization, or professional society) is usually a nonprofit organization seeking to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals engaged in that profession, and the public interest. The roles of these professional associations have been variously defined: “A group of people in a learned occupation who are entrusted with maintaining control or oversight of the legitimate practice of the occupation;”[1] also a body acting “to safeguard the public interest;”[2] organizations which “represent the interest of the professional practitioners,” and so “act to maintain their own privileged and powerful position as a controlling body.”[2] This, in turn, places the burden of enforcing a profession ban upon these associations as well.”

    Despite different wording and the omission of “not for profit” in relation to a union both types of bodies strive to achieve much the same thing but the members are from different industry sectors. The biggest difference in our society is perceived “class status” of the organisations and in many ways unions are more honest and accountable for their actions than professional organisations.

  26. paul walter

    I made a mistake earlier, didn’t notice the Kaye Lee link near the top of the thread.

    Eleswhere, someone mentioned Kafka earlier tonight and am absolutely jarred at the near identical Orwellian unheimlich quality of Meyer’s Reich commentary, absolutely suffocating and claustrophobic in a way even the best dystopic fiction never quite acheives.

    I actually got back here by way of a Guardian article I read some where concerning xenophobia reaching even Norway, which has a spiralling number of both poor locals and immigrants homeless in the cold and snow. It put me in mind of what Robyn Oyeniyi is trying to understand.

    I really beleive that people movements, along with another symptom of global wealth imbalances, foreign aid and development tending to neo colonialism, have been badly, badly mishandled by Western Politics and in many cases consciously exploited by political grouping to ensure that no easy process can develop.

  27. paul walter

    It’s not the activists that are wrong. What they see is, what is. What shocks anyone who has the epiphany about the world is not so much the contradictions as to what’s claimed and what’s done, but the extremity of the gap. The media forever presents us as Caped Crusaders, but the reality is shatteringly different.

  28. townsvilleblog

    Robyn, I could be well off the mark but I think Aussies understand that if we break the law in someone else’s country than we have to pay the price that the said country sets out, with the refugees I think the average Aussies fear of Islam goes a long way to explaining the way that compassion, or the lack of it is dealt out.

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