CRIME CULTURE: Is hate, fear and ignorance the new Australian way? Or, are present-day fears around asylum seekers and refugees an undying ember of an even darker past? True Crime News Weekly correspondent Gary Johnston takes a look at the new documentary film, Border Politics.
There are not as many criminals in our society as we think there are. Of course, there are a few. Spend a morning in almost any local court in Australia and you’ll see some of them. People who made bad – stupid – decisions, usually not for the first time. Perpetrators of the sort of irritating, uncomfortable behaviour that makes the rest of us scowl, wince and condemn. Fuckwits who drive drunk, pick fights, thieve, break, transgress and commit all sorts of other abominations; they are out there and they are infuriating and they are – sometimes – dangerous.
Far worse however are the crooks who never have to answer to their crimes. The bankers, executives, financiers, tax dodgers, usurers and asset strippers who operate within the terms of the law but are nevertheless responsible for significantly more heartache, despair and vexation than a B-double truckload of petty crims.
And at the top of the tree – make that the bottom of the cesspit – are politicians.
Such is the message in this thought-provoking and frankly horrifying film chronicling the plight of refugees worldwide. Narrated by Julian Burnside and with an initial brief to investigate Australian’s evil policy of off-shore detention in Nauru and Manus Island, most of the documentary portrays the situation elsewhere, highlighting a few instances of humanitarianism, but mostly focusing on the Western World’s arrogant and sadistic political lurch to the right.
Don’t imagine however that this approach lets Australia off the hook. As Burnside travels and talks to activists, it immediately becomes apparent that our Government’s policy of ‘stopping the boats’ supported and endorsed to its eternal shame by the Labor Party, remember, is acknowledged internationally as the most barbaric and short-sighted refugee strategy in the contemporary “civilised world”.
Despite being a large country with a small population, despite being essentially a nation of immigrants, Australia – to all of our shame, Burnside concedes, brazenly ignores the basic concept of human rights, preferring instead to fund and operate detention centres (read: concentration camps) that differ from prisons in only one aspect.
No one in there, is guilty of anything. No sentence, no release date. No hope.
Why? Well, we know why. The politics of fear, the politics of hate. But most and worst of all, the politics of deception. Just about the only thing our present politicians, whom Burnside categorises as “misleading bastards”, are halfway good at. Castigate and misconstrue people you don’t know, especially if they come from a different culture, or, are a different colour or follow the rituals of a different religion. It’s an easy sell, especially with the implicit assistance of a national mass-media largely co-opted by Rupert Murdoch”s News Corp whose reports on the situation have the veracity and accuracy of your average Facebook post.
Keep them out. Stop the boats. Fuck ’em.
It’s not just an Australian issue. But the fact remains, we’re the worst.
The worst country in the Western world in term of the treatment of refugees. The absolute worst. Think about that.
After the 2nd World War, the United Nations passed ‘The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees’; a multilateral treaty that defined refugee status and set out both the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant it. In essence, the Convention specifically requires Australia as a United Nations member to apply domestic laws that establish border integrity in such a way that persons fleeing persecution for specific reasons are protected, with a dictate that the human rights of children in particular, are acknowledged and safeguarded. It’s a stone-cold sobering thought that the very existence of the detention centres on Manus and Nauru flagrantly breaches the terms of this treaty.
Why? Again, we know why. It’s popular. It buys votes. Especially if the un-imagined horror of detention is hidden from the public – which with a national press so conveniently in the pocket of the politicians – it’s like a fountain pen that’s run out of ink.
If a nation is not shown the truth, it’s easy to sell them a lie. Play on their fears, their insecurities, their dread. Portray compassion and humanity as ‘misty-eyed sentimentality’ as Malcolm Turnbull has, and continue to purport an untruth that refugees are more than likely to be criminals and terrorists, despite the fact, as Burnside points out, that most of them are refugees, because of terrorism.
A criticism of the film is that it at no time attempts to engage with the proponents of hate and fear as a political issue. But then, again, what could they add to the argument? Every politician in this country who supports the notion of detention recognises it as a flawed concept. It doesn’t address the issue and cannot be sustained indefinitely. It’s expensive to the tune of billions of dollars and, quite simply, it doesn’t work. It’s inhumane and morally abhorrent. People are dying. Children are traumatised. There’s a price to pay. And, in the future, a greater more invidious one. It’s not at the horrific scale of the Holocaust but the moral compass is pointing in the same direction.
It’s utterly wrong.
And they know it.
But it buys votes. It inspires people – ordinary people who would no doubt claim to be open-mined and tolerant – wear t-shirts, I saw one just the other day – which proudly proclaimed the cringe-inducing, crasser-than-Channel 9 message: ‘Refugees? Fuck off, we’re full’.
No one who sees this movie could fail to ask themselves the question about how and what we are, as Australians. And why.
Sadly, for as long as this nationally embarrassing and shameful reality is conveniently passed over by a mainstream media which becomes more reactionary and less investigative by the day, the people who need to know the truth, who have to know the truth almost inevitably never will.
And if that’s not criminal, then I don’t know what is.