Day to Day Politics: Measuring one atrocity against another. – By John Lord

Saturday August 13 2016

On Wednesday the Guardian published the Nauru files, which reveal in staggering detail the scale of abuse and trauma of children in Australian offshore detention.

It is said that a picture paints a thousand words and so it was when the Four Corners programme revealed that horrendous footage of the boys being abused both physically and mentally in a Northern Territory Youth Centre.

Comparably the picture of a dead boy’s body being washed up on the shore by gentle waves that caressed his past, his  beginning and his end, said more than any thousand words.


syrianbeachboyIn this case the footage of the boys experiencing war like treatment by inhumane men triggered a response that cried “not in this country”. The word decency aroused our sense of fairness and our Government overcame its apathy and acted with a sense of urgency rarely seen. So much so that a Royal Commission was quickly convened.

Conversely this week the Guardian newspaper released 2000 emails outlining the abuse of Men women and children on Nauru.

The Guardian points out that:

“The Nauru files are the largest set of leaked documents published from inside Australia’s immigration detention system. They are a set of more than 2,000 incident reports from the Nauru detention centre, written by guards, caseworkers and teachers on the remote Pacific island. They set out every reportable “incident” on the island. Such events include attempts at self-harm, sexual assaults, child abuse, hunger strikes, assaults and injuries. While some of these cases have been reported by the Guardian and other news organisations, the logs set out in detail the totality of harm caused by prolonged detention in Australia’s notorious offshore detention camps.”

The difference between these two atrocities is that there are no pictures worth a thousand words from Nauru. There is no footage of a child having its innocence destroyed or a body hanging from a tree or the many other forms of abuse being perpetrated against crimeless seekers of a better life. All we have is words. Well we have emails of which there is no doubt about their veracity.

The Guardian tells us that there are 2,000 emails in total. Of these 515 are about incidents involving children but children account for only 18% of those in detention. The incidents include self-harm, sexual abuse, physical abuse, assaults and cruelty.

The evidence is unequivocally unambiguous. When a reasoned mind compares the events of the Northern Territory with those on Nauru the injustices, whilst not identical demand a similar response.

Kristina Keneally again writing for the Guardian lists a number of enquiries and concludes:

“And now the Turnbull government, sparked by harrowing footage from the Don Dale youth detention centre, is establishing a royal commission into the Northern Territory juvenile justice system.”

The point of course is that systemic abuse is being carried out against children both in the NT and Nauru. And adults in the case of Nauru.

Of the two atrocities, according to the Government, only one requires a Royal Commission. Why are they different? Why is there an immediacy for one and a turning of the cheek for the other?

David Marr writing for the Guardian:

“But secrecy has its purpose. It helps hold the political consensus together. The truth is terrible. The regime of official secrecy allows us – even when so much is known – not to face the facts. It’s a service for the squeamish.”

He goes on to say:

“Put simply: we think the horrors are worth it. First because both sides of politics tell us that only by detaining refugees out there will the boats stop coming here. And second, we’re assured there is somewhere in the world ready to take our prisoners off our hands.”

“Those are both lies.”

“The second lie is worse: that some country will take the prisoners on Manus and Nauru off our hands. The hunt for the “regional solution” for resettlement is up there with search for Lasseter’s lost reef.”

There have been many lies told in Australian politics. The one that the Australian Government is seeking to place for them in another country is the vilest.

New Zealand has offered to take them but have been knocked back. The fact is that the Australian Government for obvious reasons will not place then in a first world country and is happy to see them rot in detention centres as a deterrent to others.

Let me sum that up. Your Government has decided to sentence men, women and children who have demonstrably committed no crime, to life imprisonment. Furthermore they want those contemplating coming to Australia by boat to be aware of the atrocities being perpetrated on their predecessors.

In yet another article for the Guardian Helon Davison and Ben Doherty wrote that:

The Australian government has been widely condemned over its asylum seeker detention facilities on Nauru”

“Two United Nations agencies and dozens of human rights, legal, religious and medical groups have demanded the Australian government put a stop to the suffering of asylum seekers and refugees in its offshore processing regime, following the publication of the Nauru files.”

“A group of 26 former Save the Children staff released a statement on Wednesday afternoon to say they were the authors of many of the reports but the leaked cache was just “the tip of the iceberg.

Sean Kelly in The Monthly today makes these observations about Peter Dutton interviewed on 2GB:

“I’ve previously accused Dutton of the worst case of cynicism I have seen in politics so, having deprived myself of anywhere to go, let me simply lay out his words for you. Asked about a leak of incident reports from Nauru – which, in case you missed them, include “seven reports of sexual assault of children, 59 reports of assault on children, 30 of self-harm involving children and 159 of threatened self-harm involving children.”

Dutton responded by saying:

“I won’t tolerate any sexual abuse whatsoever. But I have been made aware of some incidents that have reported false allegations of sexual assault, because in the end, people have paid money to people smugglers and they want to come to our country. Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia. Certainly some have made false allegations.”


“Dutton wants us to be talking about asylum seekers and the awful things of which they are capable. Because if we’re talking about that, we won’t be talking about his government’s abject failure to protect children. Which, by the way, isn’t really worth our time, because most of that’s been reported on before.”

Dutton also faced questions about the differences between the Australian government’s swift decision to establish a royal commission into the juvenile detention system in the Northern Territory and the comparatively muted response to the release of the Nauru documents. Dutton responded: “There are considerable differences … Nauru is not part of Australia, so this is an issue for the Nauruan government.”

The difference of course is that the atrocities in the Northern territory and Nauru is that one had pictures and the other had words. But words still matter.

It is said that the first measure of any Government is how it treats the least well off of its citizens. I would have thought that this would also apply to those seeking the comfort of our shores.

It is really incredible, no disheartening, that this government contains so many members of the ilk of Dutton. Those lacking in empathy and compassion. And so many willing to toss away the welcoming spirit that has made this country great. Values that they defend when they deem it necessary but willing to divorce themselves from them for political gain. How rotten to the core they are. Any Government that would deliberately sentence innocent people to a life of incarceration deserve the loathing of the people they seek to serve.

Late on Friday a consortium of human rights groups has released legal advice that the Royal Commission examining Institutional child abuse has the power to examine allegations of abuse of asylum seeker and refugee children on Nauru.

My thought for the day.

In terms of social activism. The word wait should never mean never.”