Friday, March 04, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - mandatory detention has failed

Reports that a new detention centre is to be commissioned by the Gillard Govt. on the mainland is a further signal (if any were needed) that mandatory detention of asylum seekers is a failed policy.

I remember when Howard said mandatory detention was working well...yes and hate was doing fine, racial tension was humming and we were all relaxed and comfortable - thanks John, I felt better then. The failed Pacific Solution and the horrors of Baxter detention centre was the legacy of 'success' Morrison was spruiking this morning. It should also be remembered that the Christmas island gulag was commissioned by the Howard Govt. in view of the failed Pacific Solution. Whole families were detained for years in some cases; detainees routinely self-harmed; we bribed a failing state to be complicit in our cruelty toward refugees.

Faced with revolt within his own ranks Howard was forced to soften his approach, but it was only at the margins. I think it is instructive to know what was behind these policies - and yes at their core lay racism, shamelessly exploited by politicians. Instead of moral leadership we get the politics of race played in the worst way. We can blame Howard and his cronies for Tampa and beyond; and the ALP can only look back in shame at the policy that made it possible.

It is time to review the whole sorry story of mandatory detention. When authorities fail to ensure non-Australians held in detention facilities are afforded the same basic protection and duty of care we expect for ourselves then we are all diminished.

That noted spokesperson for the loony left, Robert Manne, summed it up well:
“Howard sang a song until the people believed him. It was a horrible song, and it allowed hateful things to happen in a democracy in a way that no one would ever have believed Australia would allow” (cited in Caroline Moorehead, Human Cargo).

Abbott and Morrison continue the tune, with the regular Greek chorus of MSM pamphleteers and shock-jocks providing the rhythm section.

A key concern of mine has been the long-term damage Australia has done to its international standing as an upholder of international laws and agreements by thumbing our nose at these same global instruments. The most glaring example is mandatory detention of asylum seekers. When our government contravenes international law and human rights conventions it is not in our national interest, though done in our name.

It is time for Labor to redeem itself and show some leadership on this issue. Stop building detention facilities and start meeting our obligations under international instruments on human rights and refugees. Challenge racism, stare down the xenophobia and educate the Australian people on the universality of human rights.

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