The evidence is in. Any optimism for noble principle – as enunciated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Australian Constitution, the Rule of Law itself – is entirely misplaced.
As is to be expected under neoliberal policy settings, this month has seen disturbing attacks on separation of powers, human rights, and, such as it is, Rule of Law. To anyone who tries to avoid terms like “Orwellian”, or “police state” (or worse), or breaching Godwin’s law.: here is what is really going on.
Realpolitik is not cynicism.
There is a small-l-liberal-social-democratic heart that still beats away in this chest. I blame early indoctrination and an increasingly desperate and misplaced optimism that not every single liberal ideal has been a lie from day one, as well as viciously attacked – and those attacks also lied about – by its own representatives, those who call themselves liberals. Yet for centuries, there has been nothing liberal about liberalism.
Here is a hugely abridged timeline, which begins post-Tampa and September 11, events and legal proceedings which had indescribably heavy impact on the gross human rights violations we see today, as committed and promoted by successive governments. For yet more context on what is happening right now, see this post from a year ago.
2001: Immigration detention camps established on Nauru as part of the Howard government ‘Pacific Solution’.
2008: Immigration detention camps on Nauru closed by the Rudd government. The asylum seekers who were there at the time were granted residency in Australia.
August 2012: Immigration detention camps on Nauru re-opened by the Gillard government.
September 2012 onwards: asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat transferred to Nauru (as well as to Manus island) by the Australian government.
Saturday 3 October 2015: Nauru government announces that asylum seekers would be allowed to come and go from the detention centre without any restrictions from Monday.
Monday 5 October 2015: Nauru government announces it will process all asylum seekers in offshore detention ‘within the next week’.
Tuesday 6 October 2015: Reports being to emerge that the High Court of Australia will examine the legality of off-shore detention.
Wednesday 7 October 2015: High Court begins hearing submissions that the Australian government is effectively responsible for the detention of people we transfer to Nauru.
Thursday 8 October 2015: the two-day hearing continues. The government solicitor argues that the (four day old) announcement by the Nauruan government about “opening camps” and “processing asylum seekers within a week” meant that the plaintiff was not “detained”.
Sunday 11 October 2015: A 23 year old Somalian refugee known as Abyan is flown to Brisbane. Subsequent debate is horrendously dehumanising, but the uncontested facts are that Abyan is pregnant and she was flown to Australia because abortion is illegal on Nauru. The urgency of this medical procedure is, in all the circumstances, widely accepted to be on the grounds that she was raped and the rapist caused the pregnancy.
Friday 16 October 2015: Lawyers acting on behalf of Abyan file an injunction in the Federal Court to seek an order that the Australian government not force her to return to Nauru.
Friday 16 October 2015: The Australian government flies Abyan back to Nauru by chartered military aircraft.
Monday 19 October 2015: Reports appear that a Murdoch media employee, Chris Kenny, who holds positions across print (The Australian newspaper) and broadcast (Sky channel) arms of the corporation, has obtained access to detention centres, and spoken to asylum seekers and refugees, on Nauru.
Tuesday 20 October 2015: More reports, including the uncontested facts that Kenny, escorted by armed guards, went to where Abyan was staying, and questioned her about rape.
There is more, much more, and I would usually expend considerable energy on interrogating the viciousness of our polity; the apologia and faux balance of our mainstream media; the vicious misogyny and racism that we perpetuate. I would shout how this horror violates the most fundamental human rights of Abyan, and thus of black people and of woman everywhere.
But enough. There comes a point, long since passed, where any comment, including expressions of disgust at our government and those aggressively promoting its horrendous actions, are further violating and erasing the humanity of Abyan herself.
What we should be pondering now is that we claim to have a national culture, and values. We say we adhere to such high falutin ideas as liberal democracy, accountability, and the rule of law. It is said that we ‘inherited’ the Westminster system, and with it, the doctrine of separation of powers. In fact these noble ideas (by which I mean lies told by the nobility in England) were forced on this country and her peoples.
There are principles attached to doctrine. It is supposed to have content, and meaning. For example, the legislature passes a law. The executive in cabinet – that is, the minister – delegates implementation of this law to the executive government – that is, public servants (such as the Australian Federal Police). If that law is challenged (for example by counsel for concerned people, in a democracy) the High Court of Australia, in its original jurisdiction, is meant to be an independent tribunal of fact, which hears and decides on the legality of our government’s laws and actions under those laws.
In theory, in a liberal democracy, the media is the Fourth Estate. It has a job. A role. Its job is governed by public interest, and professional journalist ethics. The public has a right to know, for without information we can not decide for whom to vote, in a free and democratic election.
By the way, the first, second and third estates, are the church, the nobility, and the commons. As in, the House of Commons and the upper house members, who they actually call Lords, in England. Those who – as the House of Lords and the Privy Council – double as the court of highest appeal. Have we ever had separation of church and state, separation of legislative and judiciary powers? The answer is no, we have not. Not in the past, and if we continue to be gullible and naïve and invest in ahistorical narratives that focus on the daily outrage, not in the present or future either. Our so-called principles, the ones we teach and reproduce and promulgate and base life-threatening and life-destroying decisions on – are a sham. Non-existent. An empty shell, and a danger to (almost) all.
This, and much more, is what the white feeding frenzy around Nauru, and in particular around a single traumatised young black woman, is about. We white liberal-loving folk are in melt down. We thought our governments were basically good. They are not. We thought our governments, essentially, had our best interests at heart. Wrong. Take a look at the history of abolition, of womens suffrage. Take a look at Malcolm Turnbull, a man who has speechified on climate change and a republic and same sex marriage as though he would stake his career on addressing these urgent matters, the urgency being the destruction of the planet, and of human rights and interests. He will not. He will do the opposite.
Meanwhile, a young woman is repeatedly violated by all involved. The chatter will not cease. I admit my own complicity in this horror. What is the answer? Is there an answer? How is it that an identifiable group of people – and rich white married cishet ablist Christian neurotypical men are a tiny minority – are still in charge of households, corporations, countries, the planet? When they are demonstrably terrible at their job? Incapable of running any jurisdiction without harming everyone else?
Wherever we look in Australia, this dominant hegemony who set the agenda – in the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the fourth estate – will continue doing what they do, and to be handsomely rewarded for their actions.
It is possible that the human rights lawyers fighting the detention and control case in the High Court will succeed. They have a strong case, and I hope that they win. Lawyers can be heroes too. But being a hero is tinkering at the edges. If they win, they will celebrate. Something will change. Many other things will not. The destruction of the planet, and of most of humanity, will go on.