Opinion

Latest asylum seeker move 'cruel and morally reprehensible'

Former Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Dr George Browning, lashes Dutton's latest move

PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

By George Browning

August 31 2017‘Cruel’ and ‘morally reprehensible’ are not accusations one should lightly throw around, especially if they are aimed at the actions of others (People who live in glass houses etc...). But I am using these words in relation to actions taken by those with delegated authority through the ballot box to act on my behalf. I am not using the words in relation to ‘another’, but describing actions which, at least notionally, reflect my character and moral view of the world as an Australian citizen. I have the right, no, the obligation, to call out actions which impute a standard that diminishes me and my fellow citizens.
 
I am of course referring to the actions and intended actions of the Australian Government in relation to detainees on Manus, Nauru and those who have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment.
 
The news in the last couple of days that the meagre assistance provided to approximately 100 of the 370 detainees who had been transferred to Australia for medical reasons is to be withdrawn is cruel and it is morally reprehensible. The actions currently underway on Manus to have the Detention Centre closed without any clear provision being made for those held there is also in this category: so too is the charade of pretending we have an agreement for a significant number to be settled in the US.
 
It is the obvious intention of the Australian Government to force asylum seekers, including children, back to Nauru or Manus or preferably back to the country from which they came. These are not illegals as Mr Dutton would have us believe. Seeking asylum is not illegal: it is a basic human right. Indeed most have been declared refugees by UNHCR.  

That the action is cruel is obvious. Hopes are dashed, mental distress is heaped upon mental illnesses and the real prospect of torture in the country from which they came looms as an almost inevitable reality.
 
The action is morally reprehensible because it is politically motivated, self-serving and totally unnecessary. Naomi Klein in her recent book No is Not Enough argues that governments the world over manipulate crises, or in the absence of crisis concoct one, in order to enforce outcomes that without the crisis would be totally unacceptable. One can hear this tactic daily in the tweets of Donald Trump.  But nearer to home we hear it every time the Minister for Immigration opens his mouth. He would have us believe we are in dire trouble. Thousands of displaced people are waiting on shorelines to invade us. Giving a cup of cold water to someone on Manus or Nauru will restart the people smuggling. Caring for the sick is misplaced compassion by ‘do-gooders’.
 
What a lot of mischievous bunkum this is. The message is already loud and clear. Anyone leaving for Australia in a boat will simply not arrive, period. There is ample evidence to demonstrate the veracity of this statement. It is simply not necessary to heap cruelty upon cruelty on a group of asylum seekers, caught in a time warp, to fulfil a commitment to the Australian population that our borders are secure. These are people who set out on a boat during a previous administration, when arriving on Christmas Island was a very risky but nevertheless a real option.  It is no longer an option. 
 
Are we going to keep these men women and children forever in this time warp with no hope, existing without living? What kind of people are we that we can do this, and do it with a sense of righteousness? We are encouraged to feel righteous every time Mr Dutton uses the language of ‘illegals”. It is not illegal to seek asylum.  

We are all severely diminished by these actions. How can we possibly see ourselves as a morally progressive nation and yet do this?
 
It is never right to solve a problem by inflicting pain on someone else. That there are unethical people smugglers who prey on the lives of innocent and vulnerable people for profit, there is no doubt.  That is a problem with which we have to contend. But to punish innocent people, people seeking sanctuary, who arrived looking for safety, is not acceptable to a nation that prides itself on values of fairness.
 
Mr Dutton, you do not act in my name, and indeed your words and actions diminish me. Nor do I believe you act in the name of any fair minded Australian. I will not accept your artificial crisis constructed to justify your policies. As a people we are better than that. The settlement of these folk in Australia is what should happen. It should have happened long ago. The consequence for people smuggling, such as it might be, is clearly within your capacity to deal with.
  
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 30 August 2017. See http://www.georgebrowning.com.au