It’s hard to believe anything Prime Minister Tony Abbott says. But there is one thing that seems to frighten him more than the threat of ISIS.
The return of the boats.
Abbott says he has no intention of tightening national security despite declaring that the Death Cult is coming after us. Apparently the real, albeit overplayed threat of ISIS warrants no additional measures. However the prospect of desperate men, women and children landing on Australia’s shores is so grim, Abbott has legislated a whole new security regime. And a paramilitary force to ward off people fleeing persecution, war and genocide. By ‘hook or by crook’ Abbott will protect Australia’s sovereign borders from asylum seekers.
Abbott has never hidden his tough asylum seeker policies. It formed part of his election platform. Described as harsh by Liberal frontbencher, Malcolm Turnbull, Abbott has gone to extreme lengths to ensure people smugglers are deterred. The latest abomination to become law simply builds on this.
It is the Border Force Act. And nothing is more sinister than the secrecy provisions contained within. The best friend the child abuser ever had.
It is unlikely the Government intended to protect child abusers.
It is unlikely the Government even gave it a second thought.
But it is there. The mechanism to silence those who report the abuse of asylum seekers in detention.
And silence is the biggest enabler of child abuse.
There is no doubt asylum seeker children are being abused. There have been ample reports, dismissed almost instantly by the Coalition as baseless.
And now, thanks to Abbott’s fears of an invasion by desperate people in leaky boats, it is unlawful for professionals working on Manus Island and Nauru to make public the squalid living conditions, cruel and inhumane treatment, and abuse of men, women and children.
The Border Force Act does not specifically apply to secrecy around asylum seekers. It applies to ‘entrusted persons’ making records of or disclosure of ‘protected information’. There are limited exceptions, which may be difficult to rely on in practicality if abuse is disclosed. The whistle-blower protections do not apply outside Australia.
Each State, Territory and the Commonwealth has legislated mandatory reporting of child abuse for certain people and professions. Foreign aid workers are required to comply with strict child protection policies. Yet mandatory reporting of abuse for children in off-shore detention was voted down by the Government.
The Border Force Act means that professionals who are mandated to report abuse in Australia, may be jailed for reporting the same abuse if it occurs on Nauru or Manus Island.
Not content with enabling child abuse through silence, Abbott, former Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison and current Minister, Peter Dutton’s reactions to specific reports and events conform with typical patterns of behaviour of the abuser.
In the same way child abusers seek to detract from the authenticity of allegations by questioning the reliability and honesty of the claimant, the Government has attempted to deflect criticism of the appalling treatment of children in detention by discrediting those who disclosed it. Abbott and Morrison’s savage attack on Human Rights Commission President, Gillian Triggs ensured the children were not only forgotten, but condemned to indefinite abuse.
Bureaucratic self-protectionism is often present where there is institutionalised abuse. When asylum seekers resorted to harming themselves and engaged in suicide pacts, it was classed as an ‘operational matter’, and the Government refused to comment. Workers who disclosed self-harm were accused of encouraging the behaviour, fabricating allegations, and orchestrating protests. Ten Save the Children workers were sacked, despite no evidence to back up the claims.
When asylum seeker Reza Berati was murdered on Manus Island, Morrison immediately apportioned blame on the murdered man and fellow ‘transferees’. Victim-blaming: a tactic employed by many an abuser. And used lavishly by the Government to ensure those perpetrating abuse are not held accountable.
When challenged on reports of five month old baby Asha living in squalor and struggling to feed, the Department denied it and issued a statement saying everything was fine. Typical of the abuser, those in Government hoped that the authority would be believed instead of the abused, attempting to stop the abuse being exposed.
And in much the same way that religious organisations closed ranks to protect paedophiles – but without the inherent loyalty found in such organisations, the Government has resorted to harsh legislation to attempt to deter disclosure of the cruel and inhumane treatment of people in detention, including the abuse of children.
For now, the Government is enabling the abuse of only asylum seeker children.
But hypothetically, what if children, who lose their Australian citizenship because of the actions of their parents, are detained by Federal authorities outside Australia? Will these Australian children, perhaps born of Australian parents, suddenly lose all protection from abuse simply because of where they are detained? Not beyond the realms of possibility if Abbott has his way. And if the Allegiance to Australia Bill is passed, and in the unlikely event found to be constitutional, certain.
No doubt the children of suspected terrorists will receive even less public sympathy than the children of asylum seekers.
But are we really a nation of people who believe it is acceptable to punish children because of the actions of their parents?
Are we really a nation that supports the imprisonment of professionals for complying with their ethical obligations to report abuse?
The Government is already enabling child abusers. Today the children are asylum seekers. Tomorrow it may be the children of dual citizens. And perhaps after that, in a year or two, the children of sole nationals, who have nowhere to be deported to, held indefinitely in detention on Nauru.
Abbott will not listen to the Human Rights Commission. He is doing little to act on the Moss Review, sanctioned by his own Government. He has expressly stated that he will not be lectured to by the United Nations.
At what point will the minority, speaking out against the actions of the Government, become the majority?
The secrecy provisions in the Border Force Act have one aim – to ensure information about asylum seeker welfare does not reach the public. The success of Abbott’s policies depends on the dehumanisation of asylum seekers and the absence of sympathy from the public.
The Australian public voted to stop the boats. But did that vote mandate torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, and child abuse?
Until Australians demand accountability, transparency and a humane solution to the refugee crisis, we will be governed by child abuse enablers.