Behind Morrison’s cruelty towards Afghans

Afghan baker in Kabul, 2005. Photo: Steve Evans/Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister Scott Morrison boasts that Australia is rescuing Afghans, resettling refugees and will implement humanitarian programs. However, this is cover for cowardice.

The closure in May of the embassy in Afghanistan told the world that Australian would cut and run. It meant that Afghans who had supported military personnel and who needed to apply for visas, would face an arthritic bureaucracy (assuming they could find one).

Australian Defence Force officers who had served in Afghanistan plead that visa applications be treated as a matter of urgency. But Defence Minister Peter Dutton warns that no Afghan is admitted who would threaten “our” security.

It is always about the risk to us. Selfishness is oozing from every page of the hymn book, also used by the Prime Minister.

In a league table measuring generosity on the resettlement of refugees, this federal government comes a dismal last.

Canada and Britain will admit 20,000 Afghan refugees, whereas Australia is promising to take just 3000.

Compared to previous Prime Ministers’ attitude to refugee crises, Morrison is miserly: Malcolm Fraser admitted 55,000 Vietnamese refugees; Bob Hawke gave refuge to 42,000 Chinese following the Tiananmen massacre; and even Tony Abbott admitted 12,000 Syrians during that country’s civil war.

Germs of deceit also infect the Morrison resettlement proposals.

The decision to admit 3000 Afghan refugees is from the existing 13,750 humanitarian program. It is not an addition.

Political calculation and sleight of hand craft the generous pretence.

When asked about the plight of 4200 Afghan refugees with temporary protection visas (TPVs) and the 53 currently in detention, Morrison demonstrates a cruel stigmatisation.

Afghans might expect a modicum of compassion in this catastrophe. Instead, the PM rasps that Afghans already in Australia will never be allowed to stay.

To justify this, he repeats the coward’s formula: “I want to send a very clear message to people smugglers in the region, nothing has changed”. But, if asylum seekers come by air, Morrison has no problem.

Morrison and his Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who says he wants to be flexible but has never known how, show “strength” by insisting that Afghans on TPVs will also never be allowed access to family reunion schemes.

If the wretched of the earth arrived by sea, they will be deported.

Cruelty is behaviour usually expected of psychopaths. A psychopath displays little or no understanding of the feelings, let alone the misery, of others. Their behaviour is unhindered by reflection or conscience.

Presented with the possibility of deciding that a refugee should always live in a state of uncertainty and never be reunited with their family, a psychopath would gladly make such a decision.

The traits of the psychopath cannot however be traced entirely to a psychological disposition.

Bipartisan politics over the last few decades have become the breeding ground for a culture of indifference to human rights.

Powerful people are not being held accountable for their bullying and deceit. The mainstream media pretends that such practices never occurred, or do not matter. The denial of cruelty ensures they continue.

Appalled by the government’s lack of compassion towards Afghans fearing for their lives, trade union and business leaders argue that it has a “moral obligation” to act.

Notions of morality are ignored or interpreted selfishly by Christians such as Morrison and Hawke.

It could be argued that it is unfair to comment on a politician’s religious beliefs and that religion must be separated from politics.

There is a cruel irony in the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan and the federal governments’ taste for stigmatising and punishing the vulnerable.

Given highly conservative interpretations of religions, links between religiously-influenced views and attitudes to the “other” are obvious.

Yet, if Morrison’s was even slightly influenced by the Christian teachings, he would be admitting 20,000 Afghan refugees, granting citizenship to TPV holders and declaring that family reunions must be approved.

At least the Labor leader is insisting that Afghans on TPVs be given permanent citizenship. Anthony Albanese has also implied that in the current refugee crises, promoting kindness and hope could be his party’s policy priorities.

At every media conference, Morrison plays to his nationalist, discriminatory, isolationist political base and their too easy selfish views that as long as we are comfortable in our suburban homes who cares about citizens stranded overseas and powerless, fearful Afghans.

In a multicultural, allegedly fair-go, human rights-respecting country, the Morrison brand of selfishness and cruelty should have no place.

[Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney, a recipient of the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize and author of the recent Policy Press book Cruelty or Humanity. This is slightly abridged from an article first posted at Pearls and Irritations on August 23.]