Australia losing its moral compass

Woeful tales of Immigrants’ detention centres

David Shearer – Labour MP condemns visit-David Shearer Web

There are now more New Zealanders in Australian detention centres than any other nationality. As of July, 199 of the 1577 people being held in Australian immigration facilities are Kiwis.

So much for the special relationship and mateship our Prime Ministers like to talk about when they get together for the cameras.

Radio New Zealand ran a story in July on New Zealander Bruce Haskell who returned home in December with a brain tumour. His family said he experienced violence and beatings in Australian detention, and that he had been refused medical treatment. He died in February before he could meet with a specialist, leaving four sons behind.

Torched Iranian

Last year, there were reports of a young Iranian man, just 23 years old, burning himself to death on Nauru, unable to bear his seemingly endless incarceration on the Island.

“This is how tired we are,” were Omid Masoumali’s final words before setting himself alight. “This action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it anymore.”
Having escaped his country and threats to his life there, Omid clearly didn’t want to waste another 10 years incarcerated in a remote Pacific prison. And this was a young man who had been assessed as a genuine refugee facing persecution in his homeland.

Its policy of sending asylum-seekers and boat people to Nauru and Manus Island has created a Guantanamo-Bay style outcome where people are detained without representation or information.

Declining standards

Australia losing its moral-Uniting Church Australia demands justice WebThese stories and facts show that Australia is losing its moral compass. A country coined the ‘lucky country’ where its population enjoys one of the highest standard of living in the world, is falling to the bottom in the manner it treats others.

There are currently 843 men held on Manus Island, and 466 people, including 50 children, in the Nauru detention centre. Most have been held on the islands for nearly three years.

A report released recently by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented daily abuses against detainees and widespread trauma, as well as a culture of secrecy in which Australian authorities are complicit.

The Australian policy has been condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Committee Against Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and The UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Indefinite incarceration

Why are these vulnerable people on Nauru anyway? Because Australian policy – supported by both major parties – is clear that no refugee or asylum seeker who arrives, or attempts to arrive, by boat will ever settle in Australia. Instead, those who have dared to take the hazardous boat journey have been incarcerated indefinitely.

Both major political parties are clamouring to be more hard-line than the other. Sadly, their positions are only sustainable because they are backed by popular appeal.

Yet so far neither has been able to come up any solution of what to do with the people it’s locked away.

Media muzzled

In a gothic twist, Australia has also heavily censored any reporting on conditions in the camps. The Australian government has legislated that reporting on conditions of asylum seekers is a criminal offence. Doctors or welfare organisations are muzzled from saying anything even, for example, to highlight the many alleged cases of rape and child abuse in the camps.

Children are growing up in these detention centres, traumatised for life.

Australia has always been keen for its detention camps – and what happens in them – to fly under the radar.

They have called it a ‘domestic matter.’

New Zealand needs to make our position on Australia’s policy clear – and let them know about it. It is not good enough to shrug our shoulders and say it’s none of our business. It is. And, with the number of Kiwis being imprisoned alongside the hundreds of asylum seekers, the case is closer to home than ever.

Australia will probably never ask us to take the asylum seekers because they would consider it a loophole in their policy – providing boat people with a safe haven. It would also mean New Zealand would be linked to Australia’s policy without the policy needing to change.

Endless plight

A few years ago, Prime Minister John Key signed a deal allowing Australia to select 150 refugees to come to New Zealand, in return for Australia intervening in any boat likely to end up here. It was a bad deal. The possibility of a boat arriving in New Zealand is remote – none has come so far. But more importantly, we traded away our right to choose who comes to live in New Zealand. That’s a job which should always be our sovereign right – particularly with our proudly independent foreign policy.

Sadly, it seems that the seemingly endless plight of detainees currently held will continue but it should not continue with our acceptance. We should denounce what is wrong, because it is wrong.

David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs.

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