So much for that quintessential
Australian phrase ‘a fair go for all’. It doesn’t exist in the minds of
our policy makers, writes Jennifer Wilson.
In general, it’s always seemed to me that when governments or
individuals take an increasingly hard, harsh and inhumane stand on an
issue it’s a clear signal that they’ve actually lost the battle, and are
on their way to losing the war.
In a political sense, I’m thinking of the current situation
in detention facilities on Manus Island. New Immigration Minister Peter
Dutton is promising to maintain Scott Morrison’s “hard-line” against
asylum seekers who have resorted to self-harm and protest, methods which
are, in reality, their only means of expression, as the Australian
government has virtually denied them access to legal process and natural
This hard-line against asylum seekers protesting their fate began in
Woomera and Baxter detention centres in 1999, at the instigation of the
Howard LNP government. It was maintained by the ALP governments led by
Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Sixteen years of both major parties taking
a hard-line against waterborne asylum seekers has achieved absolutely
nothing any of us can be proud of, and it won’t.
Similarly, the hard-line threatened by the Abbott government against the young unemployed that
will see them starving and homeless as they are denied benefits for six
months will achieve nothing any of us can be proud of, and will ruin
lives for a very long time and likely permanently.
Taking a hard-line is very rarely necessary, and very rarely useful. A
hard-line shouldn’t be the default position. Instead negotiation,
mediation, conversation, and communication are civilised and humane
methods of approaching difficulties. When all else fails, by all means
try the hard-line, but to do this first is cruel and inhumane, and shows
a lack of intelligence, imagination and skill.
Human beings have a tremendous capacity for good will and
understanding. It’s a great shame our leaders don’t value this capacity,
and instead believe our strength lies in brutality. It doesn’t. It
never has and it never will. ‘All cruelty springs from weakness’, as the
philosopher Seneca noted.
If governments and individuals are too weak and cowardly to sit
across a table from other human beings in an effort to resolve
difference and difficulty, they will inevitably resort to cruelty of one
kind or another. Ignoring another human being in need is just as cruel
as taking direct and punitive action against him or her. There are
countless stories of asylum seekers achieving success and making
considerable contributions to Australian society when they are given the
opportunity. Instead we destroy them because our governments believe
the destruction of human lives and human potential demonstrates
political strength and determination.
Peter Dutton may well congratulate himself for emulating Scott
Morrison’s abhorrent tactics against those legally seeking asylum in
Australia. But emulating a bully is no great achievement. Australian
governments have for sixteen years now proved themselves to be capable
only of bullying behaviour towards human beings in the greatest distress
and need, be they asylum seekers or their own citizens. Cruelty is not a
strength. It is the most appalling, base and destructive weakness.
This article was first published on Jennifer’s blog No Place For Sheep.