We are in dangerous moral territory. Australian Liberal and Labor governments are guilty when it comes to the treatment of people seeking asylum. Our treatment of people has reached new heights of cruelty and we condone it by our silence. It is not just governments – everyday Australians are guilty because we allow it. Politicians do what they do because they can. International bodies sanction our appalling breaches of the most basic human rights by doing little. Our slide down a very slippery slope has been happening for a long time. Politicians say they have the support of the Australian people calling on poll results to back up inhumane decisions. But is this really what Australians think and do we really approve of the current state of affairs? Regardless of any personal beliefs we might hold about people who seek asylum, surely there is a line below which we do not go when it comes to the treatment of human beings.
I have known about the holocaust ever since I can remember because I am a child of post war immigrants and displaced persons. The Second World War was a time when many ordinary people lost their way blinded by their own prejudices, knew what was happening and did nothing. I am reminded of the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt, Martin Niemöller’s poem about doing nothing. No matter how much secrecy and official mantras are used to sway and scare the public, we cannot say we didn’t know (thanks to quality, unbiased journalism). Sure our governments aren’t actively killing people in gas chambers but drownings at sea, death by violence and suicide, locking people up and depriving them of all hope and a sense of their own humanness is extreme. When you leave people with nothing, we shouldn’t be surprised about resistance, adverse health effects and despair. If you haven’t read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning you must. It is not just history that warns us about moral slippage. Research lays bare how easy it is for good people to dehumanise others. We only have to remember the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Brown Eyed Blue Eyed Experiment.
Many Australians are speaking out. Australian academics are collecting signatures. Catholic Bishops are speaking out. Artists and whistleblowers are making their voices heard. Social workers and other professional groups are making their position known. Every Australian should be writing to the Prime Minister and the rest of world should not be silent. I don’t know who first said this but history will judge us. I suppose we can always blame the politicians and the politicians can say it’s what the Australian people wanted. No matter how we feel about the asylum seeker ‘problem’, the current state of affairs is not the answer.
…and on the 16th March 2014 the Australian people rallied in March in March (the video)