Saturday, April 30, 2016

Time to Manus Up, Australia

'Captive' by Pants, 2016

Gomer Pyle, late of Mayberry, North Carolina, invariably responded to the manifest unfairness of the world with a simple,

'What a mean thang. What a mean thang to do.'

Yep, that just about covers most pointless, spiteful injustices. Explain, it doesn't, but we'll get to that.

Last week, the five judges of the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea unanimously ruled that Australia's asylum-seeker detention centre on Manus Island is illegal and they've ordered an immediate cease and desist. Locking innocent people up and tormenting them is against the law? Who knew? Apparently not the Australian Government. Our national leaders appear to think it's okay as long as you pay some money for it, like trashing the environment or bypassing the taxation system. Elsewhere they think of that as bribery. For us, putting our responsibilities as international citizens on the national credit card makes them  'someone else's problem' - for a while. It's like when you transfer your balances to one of those new cards that offer you 'no interest for two years'. And we know that never ends well.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, the Spanish contractor that runs both the Manus Island and Nauru Detention Centres, announced that it was pulling out of the tawdry business altogether. Gomer Pyle's superior in the memorable television show of my youth was Sgt. Carter. His response to even the merest hint of ideological dissonance was a bellowing,

'I can't hear you.'

After which, he usually got the reply he sought. Except when he was dealing with Gomer Pyle - an improbable, yet powerful convolution of height, idiocy and goodness.

PNG has offered permanent residency to those of the 850 men currently imprisoned on Manus Island who have been assessed as refugees, if they wish to stay. Unsurprisingly, they don't. Despite our demonstrable inclination to become a nation of Sgt. Carters at the drop-and-give-me-twenty of a hat, these poor souls still desire to live among us. No accounting for taste, but desperate times would appear to call for desperate measures.

Now we find that our government may face up to $1billion worth of claims for wrongful imprisonment. That's in addition to the multiple billions already paid to PNG and Nauru, not to mention the $55million deal with Cambodia that saw five refugees settled in that beleaguered place. Only two of them remain there. You can get a lot of social housing, job training and ESOL for that kind of money. And well, you know, we're not exactly pressed for space.

Now here's the bit I really don't get. Australia has been admonished by the UN whose Special Rapporteur on Torture found that our asylum-seeker policies violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Why can't our government just claim that the UN insisted we resettle these people in Australia? That way they can blame the UN for the whole deal. They'd get to brag about how great we are at 'doing the right thing' whilst losing not one jot of credibility with the electorate as we, apparently, expect them to patrol our borders with fanatical devotion.

I must say that was I baffled as to why they insist so needlessly on carrying on like pork chops until I read this interview with the President of the Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs. She explains what it was like trying to communicate with the finest political minds on offer here,
 
'I was unprepared for dealing with senior political figures with no education whatsoever about international law and about Australia’s remarkable historical record which they are now diminishing. We’ve got senior public servants who will roll their eyes at the idea of a human right. They say, “Look, Gillian, you’re beating a dead horse.” It’s not going to work, because they can’t talk to the minister in terms of human rights.'

Rolling their eyes at the idea of a human right. Let's pause while that sinks in. The commissioner goes on to say,

'Our parliamentarians are usually seriously ill-informed and uneducated. All they know is the world of Canberra and politics and they’ve lost any sense of a rule of law, and curiously enough for Canberra they don’t even understand what democracy is.'

This really does illuminate things for me. The answer is as simple as it has always seemed. They know nothing about democracy and are prepared to squander much of our money and all of our international reputation on demonstrating that. Donald Trump? Don't make me laugh. We've got a whole cabinet full of these little Trumpets right here. They would literally rather spend billions harming refugees than millions helping them.

Yesterday, New Zealand renewed its offer to resettle some of the refugees soon to be displaced by the closure of the Manus Island camp and, once again, it was rejected by our prime minister who read this human act of generosity as a cunning and underhanded attempt to sneak them into our big-island paradise, 'by the back door'. Should these humans become New Zealand citizens, they would be entitled to residency in Australia.

That really is a mean thang, a mean thing to do. And more than a little paranoid.

And now, a refugee has died after setting himself alight. He was driven to this drastic action after a visit from UNHCR officials. For reasons best known to themselves, the officials tactlessly advised the detainees to get used to the idea of being stuck there for at least ten years.

We all need to get a little bit Gomer - I mean gamer - or maybe I mean a mix of both.

Australia - yes, I'm talking to you fellow minions. Let's just get these people here, now. And we can worry about the next 850 next week. In my head I'm hearing Gomer exclaiming,

'Shame, shame, shame on you.' 

And I just know he's right.