While the architect of Australia’s detention system Liberal Senator Jim Molan was rehearsing his lines to promote this cruel system on ABC’s Q&A, a woman was arrested for the crime of standing outside and peacefully holding a banner reading “Close the Camps, Bring Them Here”.
Police cited “obstructing the footpath” as her transgression, although no one had any problems walking past her or her banner. The only time audience members, clutching their questions in hope of a minute on TV, gave her a wide berth was at the sight of police officers standing menacingly next to her.
I despise Q&A, a national platform that gives the greatest advocates of Australia’s border policy a chance to lie through their teeth unchallenged, while never giving committed refugee activists a chance to articulate an alternative.
My tweet of the arrest, despite being in the top several #QandA tweets late into the night, was never picked up by the ABC. It seems another refugee activist arrested and silenced is not newsworthy enough.
Neither was the 300th consecutive day of protest by refugees on Manus Island that happened the following day.
Interestingly, another of my tweets did make it onto the TV screen: “Technical reason is it is part of a cruel, racist system
It was a response to Molan flatly telling two brave women from Biloela that Priya, Nades and their daughters were taken from a town that loved them in the early hours of the morning and locked in detention because of a “technical reason”.
Molan would go on to say most Australians support the current border protections of offshore detention and boat turnbacks. In essence, he was arguing that racism and cruelty towards refugees is a vote-winner and the Liberals will go full throttle on border protection in the next election.
These two events, one on the cold street and the other in front of ABC’s cameras, starkly reflect the two sides on this issue and what refugee activists are up against.
Somewhere in the middle is Labor and MP Ged Kearney.
Kearney appeared emotional, commended the Biloela community for their campaign and called indefinite detention “appalling” after a photo of children trapped in Nauru detention centre was shown to refute claims from Peter Dutton that there are no children in detention.
As an aside, when Labor was in government it also said there were no children in detention, so a group of us travelled into the desert to Leonora Detention Centre in 2011 where we saw kids behind barbed wire fences.
Ultimately, Kearney refused to oppose Labor’s policy of mandatory detention and boat turnbacks, while saying she supported the Biloela campaign. The fact is, deportations are part of what makes the detention system tick.
There are some rumblings inside Labor over its policy — a debate the Liberals are trying to blow up to create “divided Labor Party” headlines and distract us from bad industrial laws and greedy banks.
The Labor leadership has set out to quash this debate within its ranks until after the next election, with leader Bill Shorten, Labor right and the CFMEU shutting it down at the Victorian state conference. With their national conference postponed, it is difficult to see a break happening in Labor due to internal pressure before the election.
It appears certain Labor’s policy in the next election will be support for mandatory detention and boat turnbacks, a continuation of the policy it developed in the early 1990s that has shaped bipartisan immigration policy ever since.
Herein lies the challenge for the refugee movement in the lead up to the next election.
Molan and the rest of the Liberal Party are prepared to promote this policy mercilessly. The lies they spout, often unchallenged, are staggering.
For instance, Molan said refugees can just go back to where they came from, as if they are tourists. The point that refugees are refugees because they have fled war, torture, death and persecution and cannot safely go back is constantly ignored in this discussion.
Molan also said they can go to the US. In fact, under the deal not everyone will be offered safety in the US and, in any case, the US is not accepting Iranians or Somalis.
The Liberals have front pages of the Daily Telegraph urging them on and only veiled criticism from an ABC fearful of more budget cuts. The campaign of misinformation is well and truly rolling on.
Shorten has again committed to a policy of “A Labor government will stop the boats”. Hoping Labor will change its policy before the next election, let alone implement it if it wins, is looking more and more fruitless.
Yet again, the path for the movement is difficult but clear, a mass movement on the streets that unites diverse communities from the inner city to rural towns and makes this policy too politically difficult to implement for either party.