The New Republic: Australia is bad for celebrity puppies, worse for actual humans

The New Republic: Australia is bad for celebrity puppies, worse for actual humans

My latest at TNR is about Australia’s treatment of refugees, and why they ought to be shamed for it on the world stage:

Australia’s treatment of refugees has been repeatedly criticized by the U.N., with the offshore detention program coming under particular fire recently. In March, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture reported that the Australian government, “by failing to provide adequate detention conditions; end the practice of detention of children; and put a stop to the escalating violence and tension at the regional processing center, has violated the right of the asylum seekers including children to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” The Australian government, the U.N. concluded, is in violation of the Convention Against Torture.

In response, Abbott said that Australians are “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations.”

It’s not just the U.N., though; plenty within Australia have called for an end to the practice of turning away refugees and of imprisoning them for seeking asylum, which is explicitly not a crime. This Easter, Tim Winton, one of the nation’s most renowned living novelists, gave a Palm Sunday address in which he declared “that what has become political common sense in Australia over the past 15 years is actually nonsense. And not just harmless nonsense,” he went on. “It’s vicious, despicable nonsense… Australians have gradually let themselves be convinced that asylum seekers have brought their suffering and persecution and homelessness and poverty on themselves. Our leaders have taught us we need to harden our hearts against them. And how obedient we’ve been, how compliant we are, this free-thinking, high-minded egalitarian people.”

To go along with the “newly manufactured” political common sense that those people represent a threat to Australia’s prosperity, sovereignty, and national identity, Winton said, “is to surrender things that are sacred: our human decency, our moral right, our self-respect, our inner peace.”

But as in the United States, poor treatment of those seeking refuge is framed as necessary to protect the nation’s interest, and Abbott has gone so far as to argue that it’s the humane thing to do, as it will protect refugees from dying at sea or from attempting the dangerous passage in the first place. Which might be true, but it won’t give them a safe place to live, either. As in the U.S., openness to immigrants and the nation’s history, as one of millions of immigrant success stories, is built into Australia’s national self-identity. In practice, though, Australia’s comportment belies the promise of its national anthem, and its claim to being a modern and “fair go” society.

You can read the whole thing here.


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