The scapegoating of refugees by political elites has plunged to new lows as life continues to worsen for refugees in onshore and offshore detention. Disturbing reports of violence against refugees released into the community on Nauru have also made headlines in recent weeks.
The situation on Nauru for refugees released into the community is getting worse every day. Refugees protesting their treatment have been arrested, and almost every refugee family living on the island has a story about being pelted with rocks or bashed simply for walking down the street.
The independent Moss Review and the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into children in detention have further exposed the atrocious conditions on Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru.
Widespread mental health problems, self-harm, rape, sexual assault and guards demanding sexual favours in exchange for drugs and shower access were just some of the disturbing details to come to light through these reports.
Despite revelations of many staff being fired for serious misconduct by detention centre operator Transfield and security firm Wilsons, the Abbott Government expressed full confidence in the companies. Abbott labelled the reports a political stitch-up, adding ‘occasionally, I dare say, things happen’.
The Abbott Government has targeted Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs to distract from these revolting revelations. They accused her of not being fit for the role and being partisan for calling for a Royal Commission into children in detention. Their carrot-and-stick attack on Triggs involved first offering her a bribe in the form of a senior government job, then subjecting her to vicious public attacks.
These attacks often took on an aggressively sexist tone. Liberal Senator Barry O’Sullivan kicked off his grilling of Triggs in the Senate by joking that ‘I thought you might like to hear a man’s voice’. Other Government politicians made repeated jokes about being accused of sexism.
Possibly the only truth uttered by Coalition MPs in recent months was their claim that there were as many if not more children in detention under Labor. This doesn’t let Abbott off the hook, but it does show that both the major parties are quite happy to use the racist scapegoating of refugees to distract from other unpopular measures.
The toxic culture of racist scapegoating, as well as the glib remarks and sexist jokes in response to serious human suffering, clearly demonstrate that we cannot rely on these big business politicians to end the system of mandatory detention and offshore processing.
Encouraging though were two recent protests at Melbourne airport by a small handful of people that successfully stopped the deportation of young refugees. If the thousands of people who oppose the mandatory detention regime got involved in peaceful mass action like this, much more pressure could be brought to bear on the government.
Despite the so-called budget crisis the government is happy to spend billions of dollars on the mandatory detention system. This is because they want to shift attention away from their own policies. They want to give ordinary people the impression that overpopulation and being swamped by refugees is the main reason behind budget cuts and a lack of jobs, homes and services. This supposed scarcity is the basis on which racism flourishes: ordinary people feel they have to fight each other for precious resources.
The truth is that there is more than enough wealth to go around. We need to campaign against the system that concentrates wealth in a few people’s hands, creates war and conflict and relies on racist scapegoating. We need to come together to fight for a system where people’s rights are respected, and where ordinary people control and share the wealth that exists.
By Chris Dite