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)
Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister, has just announced his intention to make adoptions easier and faster under the guidance of Deborah-Lee Furness (actor Hugh Jackman’s wife for those who have not heard of her) and the personal experience of a friend. If lobbyists have their way, pretty soon we will have lobbyist-led, private agencies facilitating court-mandated, domestic adoptions and overseas adoptions in one-stop shops. Many people in the adoption community are very concerned. How this unfolds will be interesting given the struggle between two factions to lead this charge and take credit as social change agents in Australia, albeit a retrograde step.
The UK is feeling the brunt of criticism over speedy, forced adoptions. The US is still reeling from the rehoming scandals made possible in a private system and the churches are dealing with the consequences of their involvement in past adoption practices. Court ordered, forced adoptions are happening so quickly in the UK there is no time or resources to adequately assess or resolve problems and big mistakes are being made. Do we really want more stolen generations in Australia and how can we so quickly dismiss the mistakes of the past? Do we really want to follow the practices of other countries when they are trying to correct them? Our experience will be no different if we go down this road. Perhaps we should also hear more from spokespersons about their own adoptive experiences – their role in the relinquishment of the child, whether they engaged with private or government facilitated adoptions, their opinions on open/ or semi-open adoptions and first family contact, the rights of children to information, maintaining a sense of culture, identity and post adoption support for families and adults. After all these are the issues Australian adoptive parents prepare for and deal with and their children experience.
Generally speaking, anyone serving on official committees or claiming spokesperson status for whole communities should be above criticism and declare all personal and financial interests. A capacity for ethical decision making and ethical behaviour, truthfulness, a commitment to do no harm, disclosure of conflicts of interests, transparency in financial matters, an obligation not to misuse power and influence, self-awareness of the limitations of their expertise and valuing knowledge are essential qualities. Perhaps I am expecting too much? Likewise those appointing people to committees should also be aware of their own ethical obligations regarding the character of the persons they appoint.
Tony Abbot cannot assume community support and cannot afford to dismiss the concerns of a community. It is not wise to ignore what we do actually know about ‘speedy’ and ‘easier’ adoptions. Australia has always been viewed as having a well-functioning and ethical adoption system. Parents generally understand the waiting times are mostly related to countries of origin and that countries open and close for good reasons. It will not help children, families or Australians to naively consider introducing systems known to be fraught with human rights issues and poor practices from our past and in present practice overseas. Not only will such decisions not improve popularity but it will cost governments more in the medium and long term.