Advance Australia Fair – or still an ugly penal colony?

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Advance Australia Fair – or still an ugly penal colony?

Australia, the beautiful ‘sunburnt country’, the land of sun and sea, of high blue skies, of easy-going Aussies, of prawns and barbies, of class-free living – the country whose national Anthem goes - ‘Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free’ – is living a lie.

In order to keep ourselves ‘safe’ and ‘free’ to revel in our accustomed way of living, ‘unpolluted’ by the presence of refugees amongst us, we are keeping our borders closed to asylum seekers who, desperate to escape the brutalities and torture of one political regime, find themselves in equally cruel and hostile conditions in the detention camps of a democracy. All through and around the safe haven of Australia are dotted these diseased cells, like decaying coral under the death sentence of an insidious parasite – cells which are being run and condoned by the governments we have elected, and funded by us, the taxpayers, at the rate of $1.3 million a day. This is what we are investing in. Yes, each one of us is contributing to and paying for something we abhor.

How can we be ‘safe’ when the very process of keeping us that way involves the abuse, torture and imprisonment of anyone, let alone families who are refugees in flight for their lives? The UN Human Rights Chief has condemned Australia’s cruel policies saying that they are in breach of international law, and that the world’s refugees are not criminals, nor do they need to be faced with crueller deterrence measures when ‘on the contrary, their vulnerability cries out for humanity... They need safe and viable pathways to protection. That’s what Australia should be working on with the UN’.[1]

A cache of 2000 leaked reports on conditions on Nauru expose the unprecedented scale and level of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention. Damning evidence has been pouring forth in the form of reports from camp staff who are carers working at the centre – from teachers and caseworkers to medical practitioners and guards.

In a revealing video three teachers testify to the horror of this camp in which they have worked teaching children caught in what is increasingly appearing to be an indefinite imprisonment:

Evan Davies reports that instead of being taught the simple natural human rights of respect, care and understanding these children are being taught, through having to exist in this environment, the very opposite i.e. that it is okay to abuse people, that it is okay to deprive people of their liberty, that it is okay to treat people like animals, that it is okay to provide a sub-standard way of living with poor accommodation and bad food in unbearable heat. He observes that the whole camp was set up in a way as to break the inmates’ spirits – and is literally a form of torture.

Jen Rose has seen naturally beautiful, bright children in her class begin to sob uncontrollably, without any apparent trigger. Judith Reen recounts that every day they had children going off to be medicated with sleeping pills and anti-psychotic drugs for environmentally-induced psychotic disorders. Even children not personally being abused were constantly exposed to the break-down of adults who had completely lost it, experiencing psychotic disorders as a result of prolonged incarceration. The children there are constantly living on a knife’s edge. She has seen over and over again children, ‘who began so bubbly, vibrant, cheeky and funny, gradually change their personality and become empty shells of themselves.’

The Australian Medical Association has called for the immediate release of all children held in immigration detention and for a moratorium on their deportation to these centres. The AMA President, Professor Owler called this prolonged detention of children ‘a state-sanctioned form of child abuse’[2]. That is, our government is funding a detention centre in which children are being abused and they are doing nothing about it.

Astoundingly, in the face of the undeniable fact of the 2000 reports, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has replied with the following – and this is worth reading to register the tone and intent therein:

The Australian Government continues to support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru.

The Documents published today are evidence of the rigorous reporting procedures that are in place in the regional processing centre – procedure under which any alleged incident must be recorded, reported and where necessary investigated. Many of the incidence reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims – they are not statements of proven fact.[3]

The rhetoric of this legalese has to be seen to be believed. Its intent is nothing less than absolute deceit and the stonewalling of even basic human rights. This language deliberately works to create a suppression of truth, a complete bedtime story, lies these people are telling so that they can go to sleep at night and not be tormented by the nightmare of their own creation. It is an act of the crassest indecency – ‘I’m lying, you know I’m lying, I know that you know I’m lying, yet I am still going ahead and lying’. And nobody says “Enough! You are lying".

As for, ‘They are not statements of proven facts’. Do we need a long drawn out and expensive procedure to process ‘proven facts’ that what is going on is wrong? There is more than enough evidence already – we know it’s wrong!

What more evidence could we have before our very eyes than the evidence of the 2000 reports of workers from the detention centres,[4] the evidence of the UN and the fact of breaking international law, the evidence of the AMA, the stories written by refugees themselves, the evidence of the medical practitioners and teachers who have worked there – you only have to hear the teachers’ clear voices, their genuine concern, the lived experience that they bring to know that they are telling the truth. We have the evidence of the truth of the people who work in the community, and we have had it for way too long without acting upon it.

Further, Professor Owler of the AMA has noted that, in this game, politicians use language to dehumanise the refugees and, supported by the media, have deliberately tainted their situation with issues of security and terrorism in the public mind to incite fear as well as rejection of the refugees. And witness the words uttered by Mitch Fifield the Minister for Communications, that both sides of government have recognised that ‘the best way to stop deaths at sea was to remove the product that the people smugglers sold’[5]. Yes Minister of Miscommunications! No mention of what happens for the actual people, the refugees! What kind of communication is that?

These people are being politically used and abused.

As in the Zong Case and many other instances centuries ago in 18th century Britain – a nation grown fat on the wealth of slavery – human beings were classified as being ‘cargo’ to be bought and traded – a ship deliberately drowned its ‘cargo’ of diseased black slaves in order to collect insurance because these people, the ship’s ‘cargo’, would be worth more dead than alive.

How can this happen that we have a ‘civilization’ where people are insured as a ‘cargo’, or, in our 21st century case, labelled by a government minister as a ‘product’ to be sold. Further, the internment of refugees in our camps is being blatantly ‘used’ as a deterrent to people smuggling, with no regard given to the rights and deep worth of people and the consequences this inhumane treatment will have on their lives.

The refugees are being used as political pawns in a game that is political porn. This is a crime against humanity.

What’s more, if we are creating disease ‘out there’ at the edges of our land, that means we are doing the very same within the country itself, in the place we think is a safe haven. It means that the very core of our society is actually rotten, and we ourselves have elected that core into office. And that means the haven is not safe and never has been.

The very lifestyle we wish to preserve from the ‘taint ‘of the refugees is itself a corruption and carries not one ounce of truth or integrity.

How could a society based on truth and brotherhood ever act towards other people in this way? For a truly beautiful account of how boat-people lost at sea were welcomed by the citizens of Bensalem, see Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis (1624). The living way of the people of Bensalem ensured that there was true sanctuary where entering strangers were treated gracefully, with love, respect and equality. The ‘decent’ society that we imagine Australia to be – this Australia we want to keep to and for ourselves – more closely resembles a dodgy illegitimate ‘tax haven’ with its slick living smelling to high heaven, than it does a true haven.

Furthermore, if we as a society can place children in an environment that tortures and smashes them, with teachers witnessing them shrink from bubbly cheeky kids into sobbing, cowering shells of themselves, what must be happening in our on-shore education system?

Well, exactly the same, though not so noticeable because it is not as obviously extreme, but we only have to look at how our kids look when they first go fresh and beautiful to school, and how they often come out at the other end; aimless, listless, glued to a phone, not knowing who they are or why they are here – and witness the state of abuse happening on Social Media to see what our teenage kids are experiencing.

We, in the ‘lucky country’, the land of the ‘decent bloke’, are in fact living a lie.

There must have been many decent people in Germany during WWII who thought that the concentration camps couldn’t be that bad, as bad as was reported. Are we going to do the same and stay quiet about it, or are we going to stand up and say a resounding ‘No’ to it and truly advance Australia fair?


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    By Lyndy Summerhaze, BA (1st class hons) PhD, Dip.Mus.Ed., Practitioner of Universal Medicine Therapies, EPA Accredited

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    Photography: Leonne Sharkey, Bachelor of Communications

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