Monday, August 15, 2016

Punishment Over Reform: A Twisted Morality

When the stories of abuse of Indigenous children at Don Dale juvenile detention centre broke last week, outrage and shock flooded our screens. Anyone following the story on social media may have observed that structural racism and white privilege is still defiantly espoused and resolutely defended in Australia.

Against a backdrop of colonial brutality and a history of racial discrimination and violence, author Tony Birch writes, “that it was a shock to many people is itself a stain on the nation.” Indeed, many Australians adopt the mentality advocated by broadcaster Kyle Sandilands, who says that we should simply, "get over it, it's 200 years ago." This argument denies the ongoing colonialism imposed through policy by every Australian government in history.

In Australia, successful rehabilitation programs are shut down in favour of locking more and more people away for as long as possible (with Indigenous members of society particularly targeted). Perhaps it will encourage 'jobs and growth?' Pray tell, Mike Baird. Undoubtedly the private sector is making a killing out of the commodification and outsourcing of cruelty.

Kathleen Maltzahn tells us that the current culture in Australia allows and indeed implicitly approves of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of prisoners. She asks us to consider whether prisoners really deserve it. I think it is hard to argue that our culture is not simply one that approves of a punishment ethos, and that this is what makes people ignore abuse. 'These are our values', wrote Antony Loewenstein of Australian society's malaise.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and the Nauru files scandal erupted. The scale of trauma being inflicted on asylum seekers in offshore concentration camps has been laid bare. Financed by Australian taxpayers. If you were to listen to the government, you would hear that it was the asylum seekers' fault, or the government of Nauru's fault, or the contractors' fault. In turn, those being paid to carry out Australia's punitive policy maintain that they are simply doing a job and diligently reporting abuse to those stakeholders ultimately responsible. Ferrovial, Broadspectrum and Govt of Nauru maintain their claim to innocence and professionalism.

Will we see the closure of Nauru and Manus? It really makes no sense financially to keep the camps open, considering the military-style turnback operation that is underway to prevent arrivals. Every argument that is put forward to demonise refugees has been repeatedly debunked. We arrive at the fact that they are simply there to be punished; men, women and children. Is this justice? Is this western morality?

We can hope that we are reaching a breaking point, but realistically there is bipartisan political support to continue abusing the most vulnerable in society. Until we decide collectively to fight back and be heard, soulless politicians will not deviate, and corporations will continue to profit from abuse. This SHOULD be an election issue; not as to which party will punish asylum seekers the most, but as to which party will be most welcoming and will work to solve core issues causing displacement in the first place.

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