New asylum seeker law marks new shameful low

July 3, 2015
Asylum seeker children protest against their detention in Nauru detention centre.

The Border Force Act came into force on July 1. Under this Act, people working in immigration detention centres risk two years’ jail for disclosing evidence of the horrendous, inhumane conditions in those places.

Such a “law” is a travesty of law. It permits the government to undermine human rights and promote behaviours that are not acceptable in a fair and just society. It protects the perpetrators of crime, such as guards who abuse detainees, rather than the victims. The victims themselves can bear no witness, and have no recourse to justice. The law is intended as a deterrent to whistleblowers, people who merely want to tell the truth about what is happening.

This law sides with the strong against the weak and with the oppressors against the oppressed.

It pushes those workers who feel compelled to act upon their conscience, and disclose mistreatment and maladministration, into a no-win position. Either they try to ignore the horrors they witness and are thus compelled to evade their responsibilities, or they lose their jobs and possibly go to jail. This law also constrains those for whom reporting the abuse of children is mandatory in Australia.

Why? For what great cause? For what greater good?

The “borders” they are protecting are a sham; an unholy licence that does not serve our nation. Our borders are a form of waste disposal. They are designed not to define our country but to create dumping grounds for people who are surplus to the greed of the 1%. Our borders are designed to keep asylum seekers and refugees out of our triumphant order of secret trade agreements and resource-driven geopolitical alliances.

The Border Force Act ensures that Australia no longer permits any fairness and equality, any suggestion of sharing boundless plains or giving anyone a fair go.

There are some who argue that the best we can do is to make remote, offshore, indefinite, detention “kinder”; that to protest for an end to this monstrosity is futile. They are of the opinion that the current order is simply practical.
Is it a waste of time to argue that the billions our government spends on this horror fuels profit; that it funds corruption and faceless bureaucracy; that it is costing us much more than we’ll ever be able to hope to gain?

It is time to declare as citizens that there are limits to our patience: we will not tolerate oppression becoming law. We will not consent to tyranny. We refuse to allow this inhumane treatment of our fellow human beings.

In a speech on the 4th of July 1852, American civil rights campaigner Frederick Douglass, speaking of the persistence and legality of slavery said: “The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

For the sake of people without liberties, rights and a voice, the hypocrisy of the Border Force Act must be exposed in the severest, most emphatic terms.

It demands vigorous opposition because now, on our ignominious first of July, we stand where Frederic Douglass once stood and say: “The conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed.

[Niko Leka is the convener of the Socialist Alliance Newcastle Branch.]

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