WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of torture and links to videos containing graphic violence.
The Gillard government’s proposed deal with Malaysia to get rid of its asylum seeker problem just goes from bad to worse. It’s not sealed yet – and may never be, as Shadow Immigration Spokesperson Scott Morrison keeps insisting – but it looks a lot more likely than the East Timor processing centre idea ever did.
Bad enough that the government intends to dump 800 of its asylum seekers into a country that has not signed the UN Convention on Refugees – a country over which we have no possible influence (unlike Nauru, which is effectively dependent on our money just to survive).
Bad enough that the government wants to take five times as many people back – people who’ve already been processed in Malaysia and found to be refugees.
Bad enough, the ridiculous argument that this deal would ‘remove the product’ for people smugglers to peddle.
But now documents have surfaced that show some of the wheeling and dealing taking place away from public scrutiny. What those documents show is just how much the government is willing to entertain – and it’s appalling.
Gillard maintained absolutely that Australia would determine who was sent overseas, and who would be accepted in return. She said repeatedly in Parliament that Malaysia did not have any kind of veto in that respect.
Yet this is exactly what Malaysia wants – the right to pick and choose who they want to offload on us, while ensuring they get the best possible deal.
Then there’s the matter of children. One of Labor’s biggest sticks for beating the former Howard government over the head was the dreadful prospect of children ‘behind razor wire’. There’s no doubt that particular image did a lot to turn people away from the kind of open-ended detention policies that former Prime Minister Rudd vowed to abolish. And then there was the announcement in October last year that children in detention would be re-settled in the community and given help from social services.
But lo and behold, the government now refuses to guarantee that children won’t be sent to Malaysia. Unaccompanied children. To do otherwise would ‘send the wrong message’ to the people smugglers, and suddenly we’d see even more children turning up on boats without relatives, apparently.
Right. Because the idea that children will be processed exactly the same as they currently are will immediately cause people smugglers to go out and advertise.
This is nothing but punitive – and it will do nothing to deter parents whose choices are to risk their kids being one of 800 sent to Malaysia, or risk their kids being killed by staying where they are. All it achieves is to frighten already desperate people, and put them through yet more trauma.
Finally – and most disgustingly – the documents reveal that Malaysia wants to excise two words from the proposed deal. Just two words – that’s all. How much of a difference could that make? And just what are those words, anyway?
Yes. Malaysia, apparently, doesn’t want to be troubled by such pesky notions. They’re not signatories to any Conventions – so why should they be bound by any other agreement? They’ve got a good system going there. They can detain people for up to 60 days without charge or representation. They allow refugees to be in the community – but won’t allow them to work legally or protect them from exploitation and abuse. They turn a blind eye to police brutality.
And they can cane people – even tourists – for such serious crimes as drinking beer in public. Technically, only men can be caned, but it’s a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance.
Amnesty International calls caning a form of torture. We’re not talking about a whack across the butt with a ruler in the Principal’s office, either. Caning is carried out in a prison yard with multiple witnesses present.
The victim is naked except for an apron tied around the waist that exposes the buttocks. They are tied to an A-frame and the strokes – up to 24 with a length of rattan of varying thicknesses (depending on the severity of the crime) – are administered at full force. The official administering the caning must ensure that the tip hits the victim’s body – increasing the pain.
The initial stroke raises a welt. Typically, the skin splits and bleeds as subsequent blows land on the same area. The victim may convulse or shake uncontrollably, cry out and break down emotionally. Officials wearing gloves and surgical masks flank the victim, sometimes lacing their fingers behind his head to hold him closer to the A-frame.
Horrifically, those same officials may pat the victim’s head while the abuse is taking place. Perhaps they think they’re being kind.
The entire sentence must be carried out in one session – unless the victim passes out or suffers some other kind of medical crisis from the pain and shock.
But it’s not all bad – they do take the victim to the prison hospital afterwards.
This is the system Malaysia seeks to preserve. This is the system into which the government is committed to sending people already traumatised by war or persecution. People exploited, beggared and sometimes enslaved by despicable opportunists. People who risk their lives to escape to a better place.
This is the system into which our government is prepared to send children who may not even have a parent to shelter behind.
Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke backed up Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in the media. It’s only a preliminary document, they insisted. It’s not the actual deal. There are lots of issues to work through.
But it’s what they didn’t say that made their performance utterly contemptible.
They didn’t say that children would be protected.
And they didn’t say that ensuring the preservation of human rights would be a deal-breaker.
The implications are disturbing, to say the least. That the government is prepared to even consider such revolting provisions shows just how far they are willing to go to grab back a few votes and appear ‘tough on asylum seekers’. It shows that they believe building up their image is more important than the safety, well-being and quality of life of the most vulnerable people.
There’s a word for this behaviour when it happens in the schoolyard. It’s called bullying.
Yes, Prime Minister – you are a bully. Your Immigration Minister is a bully. Your Population Minister is a bully. And every member of your party that doesn’t outright condemn you and fight to stop this terrible deal is guilty of hiding behind a bully rather than doing something to stop you.
What Howard did with the Pacific Solution was horrible, and his government should always be rightly condemned. He, too, was a bully.
But what Gillard proposes is far, far worse. In fact, it’s simply evil.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was asked today why she wasn’t out there marching in the streets leading people in protest against this deal.
It’s a good question. Australians were traumatised by seeing evidence of the unbelievable cruelty meted out to cattle in Indonesian slaughterhouses. They mobilised – and now we have enquiries, bans in place, bills to ban live export of cattle entirely, and any number of other measures are beginning.
Are we going to have to see a young teenaged boy tied up to a post and caned until he cries, bleeds and faints before we’ll do the same for asylum seekers?
Are we going to have to show many more videos like this one?
What will it take?