Opinion

Australia loses its moral compass

Turning our backs on those in need speaks of a nation that has lost its way, writes Bishop George Browning.

Melburnians rally for better treatment of refugees.

By George Browning

August 18 2016Frank Brennan, Tim Costello, Robert Manne and John Menadue have recently penned a very fine opinion piece offering a solution to the intractable Manus Island and Nauru dilemma.
 
I commend it to you: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/a-solution-to-our-refugee-crisis-20160812-gqqvhl.html 

Let us accept for a moment that "stopping the boats" is a desirable outcome because there are no more drownings at sea and people smugglers have been put out of business. However, this becomes an immoral outcome unless the following are attended to:
 
1.      Those who fled on boats seeking a better life and now housed on Nauru and Manus are caught in an inhumane time warp and daily suffer terrible abuse, some physical, perpetrated by their captors, but all suffer mental abuse, living without a future, without hope. These people must be settled immediately either in Australia or in another country like New Zealand, a country which has already said it is ready to receive them. To release them will not restart the flood of boats because "boat turn back" is already preventing that from happening. As a nation we have completely lost our moral compass if we permit this incarceration of innocent civilians (including children) to continue. 
 
2.      Australians must be allowed to see into these camps, hear directly from those incarcerated and from medical staff who care for them. If we have nothing to hide, let us see. If we are not allowed to see then clearly we have something to hide.
 
3.      The global migration of people will continue to expand as population expands, resources become scarcer, inequity becomes more apparent, and global warming makes some places on earth virtually uninhabitable. This is an issue beyond the wit of individual nation states to solve on their own. There must be global commitment to address issues that, if left unresolved, will increasingly become catastrophic. It has become quite shocking that at a time when we are ‘stopping the boats’ we are doing less and less to help resolve issues that force people to leave in the first place. Our Foreign Aid commitment as a percentage of GDP is the lowest it has been since the end of WW2. Morally we cannot on the one hand ‘turn boats back’ while on the other turn a blind eye to the problems that have necessitated these perilous trips.  Domestic budget repair is necessary, but allowing rich Australians to enjoy unprecedented tax breaks, concessions on property acquisition and superannuation while turning our backs on those in need speaks of a nation that has completely lost its way.

Dr George Browning is the former Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. This is a slightly edited version of an article he wrote for his blog on 15 August 2016. See http://www.georgebrowning.com.au/