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My country, my shame

By Peter Bowden - posted Monday, 28 November 2016


Australia has received an unprecedented amount of negative publicity in recent weeks. Amnesty International has accused us of torturing refugees on Nauru, Their report, titled the 'Island of Despair', has provided factual stories of the sufferings that are inflicted on refugees there. The ABC Four Corners program highlighted a similar story: The Forgotten Children. That story told us of the abuse this country is inflicting on children in Australia's detention centres. The New York Times has joined in the attack with an article on Australia's Poisonous Refugee Policy,written by an Australian Muslim.

But perhaps the most damming, yet most believable. is the recent report in the international newspaper The Guardian: The Nauru files: cache of 2,000 leaked reports reveal scale of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention.The report, sets out "as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty."

Our government, through what the Sydney Morning Herald terms the Department of Immigration and Torture, provides training for our public servants in handling the difficult situations that they face.The Department of Immigration's latest figures show workers' compensation claims from its employees for mental stress had more than doubled between 2014-2015. The Sydney Morning Herald asks:

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What does this appalling doublespeak imply? Accustom human beings working for the Australian government to torture and trauma? All it takes for evil to be done to others is for people of goodwill to close their eyes.

Malcolm Turnbull claims that our position is "compassionate". His assertion is questionable. A letter writer to the Sydney Morning Herald observes (Oct 19): Is it compassionate to close the air-conditioned school, send children into a violent hostile and frightening local community and give them no hope of a peaceful life in Australia?

Human Rights Watch's World Report 2016 condemned Australiafor its "abusive" approach to asylum seekers.

We have recently made the deal to exchange prisoners on Nauru and Manus for refugees from South America. But we have no idea whether the new US President will accept that deal.

The accusations that Australia lags the world in the fair treatment of refugees are correct. The accusers are major international organisations. The ABC has stated that Four Corners had "told the important story of the more than 100 refugee children who are living on Nauru in their own words and those of some of their teachers".

"As the Nauruan government routinely refuses journalists access to report on offshore processing, and charges prohibitive fees for media visas which are not refunded if the applications are refused, Four Corners relied on a range of sources for footage," the ABC added.

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But Nauru, Manus Island and our treatment of refugees are not the only issues. United Nations special rapporteur, Michel Forst, recently completed a survey of Human Rights in Australia. He wrote:

I was astounded to observe what has become frequent public vilification of rights defenders by senior government officials, in a seeming attempt to discredit, intimidate and discourage them from their legitimate work," he said. He called for an inquiry into the treatment of Professor Triggs.

Gillian Triggs, the Human Rights Commissioner was severely attacked by members of the then Abbot government. It was over her Forgotten Childrenreport. Her reply, documented in the Saturday Paper, April 23, 2016, is worth reading.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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