Following news of multiple recent evacuations of ill children from Nauru and a comment by a former Immigration Minister that all detained children will be off the island by year’s end, hopes have been raised that there is positive change in the Australian government’s approach towards people seeking asylum.
There’s no doubt that only 40 children left offshore under Australia’s immigration policies is much better than the 63 on Nauru two weeks ago. However, those with a sense of humanity and some understanding of Australia’s obligations to displaced people can’t yet begin to celebrate.
Here are just a few of the reasons why:
1) THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT SIGNIFICANTLY PRIORITISES A RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR NAURUAN COUNTERPARTS OVER THE CONTINUING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS OCCURRING DUE TO AUSTRALIA’S IMMIGRATION POLICIES
Although the Prime Minister has tacitly acknowledged the likely veracity of the remarks from former Senator and now Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, George Brandis, Scott Morrison’s “We’ve been getting about this quietly, we haven’t been showboating about it” demonstrates a priority not to offend the Nauruan government in a situation where the real offence lies with his own administration. This makes it clear that an ongoing positive relationship with the island nation has precedence over not continuing to cause harm to innocent people. There is no denigration of the home of Nauruan people in Australia accepting that forcing people from Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar … to live in indefinite limbo somewhere they have not chosen to be has a severely negative impact on the lives and health of those not free to leave. So an unjustified caution on the part of the Australian PM may be an indication of the need to sustain a relationship to ensure that adults who arrive in Australia on authorised boats will continue to be sent to that same limbo.
2) THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT IS CURRENTLY CHALLENGING THE LEGALITY OF THE FEDERAL COURT HEARING APPLICATIONS FOR URGENT MEDICAL TRANSFERS OF REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS HELD ON NAURU.
A week ago it was reported that lawyers acting for the Department of Home Affairs have enlisted a new argument – that the Australian court does not have the jurisdiction to hear legal proceedings against the commonwealth relating to a “transitory person” – in order to cease rulings granting urgent medical transfers of refugees and asylum seekers from Nauru. Today, those lawyers appeared before a full bench of the federal court to argue the case. And, in a joint order, justices Alan Robertson, Susan Kenny, and John Griffiths said it was not appropriate to test the jurisdictional issue as a separate question until the facts of the specific case on which Home Affairs was basing its argument were known or at least substantially agreed. Importantly, the Guardian has reported that “if the government is successful it would likely force all future cases to go to the high court, and could void previous orders under which more than 90 people were transferred to Australia. Another 240 were transferred after legal proceedings were launched or threatened.”
3) EVACUATING CHILDREN FROM NAURU STILL LEAVES HUNDREDS OF ADULTS IN OFFSHORE DETENTION AND MORE ADULTS AND CHILDREN INDEFINITELY DETAINED ON AUSTRALIAN SOIL.
Of course removing some people from harm is a good thing. But ultimately it does not change the policies that have been putting people in extremely damaging situations for decades.
“Offshore processing” is undoubtedly against all the values as well as the international and legal obligations of a democratic first-world country that had previously been proud of its multicultural society and its culture of “mateship” and a “fair go“. The conditions on Manus Island and Nauru are inflicting greater suffering on people who are likely to have arrived already traumatised.
But there is clear, objective evidence that indefinite detention anywhere of people seeking asylum is extremely damaging. To the extent that two of the UN’s International Rapporteurs on Torture have assessed the immigration detention policies of successive Australia governments as TORTURE i.e.
“detention based solely on migration-status, as such, can also amount to torture, most notably where it is being intentionally imposed or perpetuated for purposes such as deterring, intimidating, or punishing irregular migrants or their families, coercing them into withdrawing their requests for asylum, subsidiary protection or other stay, agreeing to voluntary repatriation …”.
And just yesterday, social worker/writer Nadine Chemali’s published piece reminded us that Australia is a long way from meeting its a duty of care to provide people seeking asylum with their basic human rights.
We can never be without hope for positive change.
But neither can we forget that the two major political parties remain devoted to multiple policies that will continue to inflict torture on innocent people until there is a clear movement away from fearmongering over border control to the welcoming approach that created a country rich in diversity and culture.
A country where a man who arrived from Vietnam on a small fishing boat in Darwin Harbour is now the Governor of South Australia.
Please continue to do what you can to support ongoing change.
The push for #KidsOffNauru has shown us what is possible.
Together we can create the Australia that everyone deserves.
Contacting the Australian population’s representatives in parliament to indicate what values and ideas they should be presenting on your behalf is not only your democratic right but the direct route to those in the position to change policy. It takes just a few minutes and when enough people do it enough times, parliamentarians must not just listen, they must act. So…