A few years ago I went to a workshop where we were invited to participate in a guided imagination exercise in which we imagined ourselves inside a bubble floating through time seeing what our lives would be like in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. I engaged in that exercise this week, not imagining my own life in 5, 10, 20 years but imagining what life would be like for the 1296 people held in immigration detention on Nauru or Manus Island. The answer it would seem is that their lives will be exactly the same as they are now, for our government has absolutely no credible plan to resolve their situation.
The Guardian newspaper has released documents in the past two weeks that remind us again just how appalling conditions are in the detention centres. Those being held in these appalling conditions have committed no crime. They are rather, the innocent victims of governments that have committed horrendous crimes against them. The international convention to which we are a signatory permits them to seek asylum in Australia or any other country for that matter. Yet here they are locked up in conditions that we wouldn’t accept for prisons in our own country and with no idea when they might be released. And they have no idea because the government has no idea.
It’s not simply ineptitude on the part of the federal government. New Zealand offered to take 150 of the detainees but their offer was rejected because our government deemed it unacceptable to send these refugees to a place where they would be treated well. On the government’s logic this might mean that other refugees would be encouraged to take the journey to Australia. So it seems the only answer the government has for the release of those in offshore detention is to send them to places where their rights will be abused, where they will find themselves marginalised and living in extreme difficulty. Places like Cambodia. That’s it. That’s our government’s plan.
The government claims that this is the price we have to pay to prevent people drowning at sea. That’s a lie. What they should really say this is the price we have to pay in order to be free of increased flows of asylum seekers to our shores. It’s easy to prevent deaths at sea if you accept that will mean more people will want to find refuge in Australia. People only get on leaky boats because they have no other option. So we can give them an option. Assess their claims and then fly them to Australia. And while we’re in the process work towards a regional framework so that there is a sharing of the burden. Sure, it would be demanding and would almost certainly see many more people coming to our shores, but that’s the price you have to pay to be a morally courageous member of the international community.
Most Australians I know are decent people but we cannot hide behind that to somehow pretend that the policy we have on offshore detention is decent. It is not. It is a flagrant abuse of human beings that transgresses everything liberal democracies stand for. I just wonder how long it will be before we have either forgotten those in offshore detention or are so scandalised by it that we demand change. Because one thing is for sure. The current mob in power have absolutely no plan to resolve this outrage. It’s up to us to ensure that in 10 years time things don’t remain as they are.