Stan Grant has re-defined the race debate in an address given in October but revived by social media on the eve of Australia Day, known to Aboriginal and other Australians as Invasion Day. In light of this Grant’s powerful address had a new immediacy, poignancy and relevance.
In my opinion Grant rightly claims the Australian Dream was built on racism. He reiterated the appalling statistics on Aboriginal mortality and disproportionate incarceration, including children, in relation to the general population. Well done Stan; that was an address requiring moral courage of a type not often seen in this country where spin and sweeping under the carpet is the norm.
What has not been addressed is the raw and savage racism underpinning Australia’s refugee ‘policies’. Howard set the tone with his smug and manipulative, ‘We will decide who comes here’ statement and his ‘Children Overboard’ lie, (subsequently compounded by his ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ lie – along with Abbott he proved himself an astute and inveterate liar) both predicated on a deniable and yet deeply held racism. This played out with the extraordinarily lengthy and cruel periods of detention of asylum seekers in desert detention facilities over seen by the then Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock. He set the bench mark for the appalling behaviour of subsequent ministers in that portfolio.
The theme of this year’s Australia Day was ‘A fair go for all’, quite at odds with the reality for incarcerated Asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru as part of the unsustainable policy of deterrence, implemented under the malicious ‘doctrine’ of No Advantage. There are better ways of handling this compelling human need. As Grant and other prominent Australians have said, ‘We are better than this’. The racism woven through refugee ‘policy’ makes a farce of the Australian Dream.
Abyan, a young 23 year old Somali refugee woman, under the protection of the Australian government, was raped on Nauru at a time when she was already suffering serious physical and mental health issues. The current Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, said after she was flown to Australia for an abortion following a public outcry, that officers’ from his department assessed that she did not want one. People following the case were aghast.
Kellie Tranter, a human rights lawyer in NSW, has obtained relevant documents under a Freedom of Information application. She received this information in December 2015. The redacted documents show that officers from the department ‘believe’ Abyan wanted to prolong her stay in Australia in order that lawyers could get onto her case.
Tranter’s research establishes that Abyan wanted to delay the abortion until she was fit enough to have one. She was apparently aware that she was neither mentally or physically in shape to have an abortion. The Minister was aware of this but deliberately lied to the Australian people about the facts of the case. It is said that the period in which Abyan could have an abortion has passed and that she will now have the child.
In October 2014 the then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, informed the Australian public nine workers on Nauru from the world wide charity, Save the Children, had been ‘coaching’ asylum seekers to fabricate claims of abuse in order to ‘embarrass’ the Abbott government, a state of affairs which that government was able to achieve without help from anyone else.
Morrison had them expelled. A subsequent enquiry found that Morrison had acted without any basis in fact and that the workers should be compensated. It was an egregious case of bullying. Morrison lied; he is now Treasurer.
Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has a problem on his hands. Two of his senior ministers have been identified as lying in relation to issues of fundamental rights and information relating to the abuse of those rights. As Stan Grant has said, these issues go to the core of whom we are and who we believe ourselves to be as a nation.
Many prominent Australians have tried to change the ‘policies’ of successive governments toward the deliberate cruelty directed at asylum seekers, particularly those men, women and children being left to rot in detention. Claims made on Australia Day about Australia being the nation of the fair go are self serving propaganda.
In August 2014, prominent Australian, Janet Holmes a’ Court, AC, delivered the Sandy Duncanson Social Justice Lecture under the title of, “Asylum Seekers: How did we come to this?” In seeking an answer to that question Holmes a’ Court notes that we are treating asylum seekers as less than human; that they are, ‘left to rot, unseen and unheard, in an isolated cesspit somewhere in Nauru’s jungle.’ She says, ‘Rather than “No Advantage”, the government’s own business model relies on its capacity to inflict maximum mental and physical disadvantage.”
She asks, how did we allow this to happen? How is it we put up with the daily mistreatment and abuse of asylum seekers? It is because we believe in the equality of all men, women and children and because we honour our international undertakings toward the disposed and down trodden, much as the white South African government did under the policy of Apartheid toward black citizens. We are no better.
Holmes a’ Court says maybe we didn’t arrive here, like Grant she says maybe we’ve always been here, although Grant doesn’t use maybe. She notes that ‘…for as long as we continue to slaughter one another, there will be refugees and asylum seekers…When an enlightened and compassionate PM does emerge, there is bound to be a Royal Commission, an Apology and compensation paid…And what will we say? We didn’t know or we did know, but did nothing. Does this sound familiar?
And this from one of Australia’s most respected businesswomen and philanthropists. How can the government continue to ignore the arguments against its cruel and repressive racist policies toward Australia’s most dispossessed and needy? The ball is in your court Malcolm; show us what you are made of.