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Australian Border Force cuts through the fence of law and due process


Australian Border Force officer from behindLast week two big new productions were set for staging. The Reform Summit, jointly produced by Fairfax and News Limited and starring business, unions and social services, was judged a great success.

Operation Fortitude, was to co-star the Victoria Police and the Australian Border Force, but was aborted following bad publicity. Both were responses to the perceived paralysis in Australian politics and public life.

The Summit responded to the incapacity of Governments to introduce reforms that will ensure Australia's continued prosperity.

Representatives of unions, Social Service organisations, and business, each with their own publics and interests, agreed to the principles that should guide reform in many areas.

The Summit was a very commendable initiative. It demonstrated that rival media groups and other organisations with diverging agendas can talk together and come to large consensus. In particular it offered a chastening example to the political parties that currently emphasise their areas of disagreement. They prefer to smash through, rather than think through, the problems that will affect Australia's prosperity.

The smash-through approach was on display in Operation Fortitude, which promised to have black-clad officers of the Australian Border Force searching out people without valid visas in Melbourne. The Australian Border Force is comprised of officers of what was once known as the Immigration Department, with power to detain, carry weapons and act without clear public accountability. It is mostly let loose on asylum seekers but Operation Fortitude must have been seen as a natural extension of its remit.

The response on social media was swift and devastating, and Operation Fortitude became Operation Deny Responsibility. The smash-through option clearly had its limits. Random questioning and racial profiling of the general populace still transgress them.

Developing policy by consultation and imposing it by force are antithetical. But to implement good policies demands other approaches that were lacking at the Summit and in Operation Fortitude. Both considered separate aspects of Australian life and emphasised technological solutions. They failed to reflect on the quality of the key relationships that will constitute a good society and on the priorities needed to encourage them.

The Summit named many agreed principles that enshrined the priorities of each group in a way acceptable to other parties. But neither the inter-relationships between these principles nor the priority of the challenges that they were to meet was clear. Unacknowledged differences on these points will surely lead to conflict.

The introduction of the Australian Border Force was grounded in disrespect for the humanity of people who seek protection. It was designed to cut through the fence of law and due process that protected people deemed hostile. It was natural and inevitable that would be used against other people. The scandal is not that Operation Fortitude revealed the true character of the Force but that it operates with the agreement of both parties. The relationships embodied in its activities are out of place in any good society.

In Australia today the central challenges have to do with the public relationships between Australians, the relationships with strangers, the relationships that we call the environment, and the relationships that we call wealth. These sets of relationships are interrelated, and each of them is in many respects dysfunctional.

The principal challenge that faces Australia is the threat to the environment. If not addressed urgently and effectively it will put under lasting, perhaps terminal, strain all the other relationships. But to do so will mean building trust and cooperation with other nations in which the welfare of their people matters as much as does our own. It will also affect the value we place on activities like mining and the development of renewable energy resources, and so the wealth of those who engage in them. So it will need cooperation and trust between Australians.

The second challenge that needs to be addressed is that of the increasing disparity of the wealth of the very few and other Australians. Disparity of wealth is accompanied by disparity of power and by the isolation of those with power from the powerless. In turn that disparity sours the relationships between Australians and those of Australians with strangers.

We have already seen how a lack of respect infects government and public life, beginning with our relationships to the most marginalised of strangers, and extending to relationships between different Australian groups. The mechanisms of inheritance, profit making, land owning, taxation and salary setting need to be addressed to make the wealth flow back into the community and so enrich all Australians, especially the most marginalised, not simply to a few individuals.

If these challenges are met, the spirit of the Reform Summit will drive away the spectre of black clad paramilitary forces.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.



Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, security, Australian Border Force, immigration, Reform, politics



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Existing comments

As you point out Andy, there relationships and there are vacuums. The servicing and health of relationships needs to be dialogic, not just absolute statements of what each member wants. The summit like the parliament needs to be ongoing to seek the best outputs from the ferment of all stakeholders. Along with the environment and the lack of commutative justice you mention is the status and accountability of those with power to do what we pay them and elect them to do. Democracy is not a spectator sport, but in these days of failing capitalism the average Oz would rather focus on the football circuses or the bread of consumerist market driven materialism. We are suffering the deprivations of comfortable satisfaction.
Michael D. Breen | 03 September 2015

It is an interesting comment on our media that I, who read several newspapers online every day, mainstream and alternative, had not heard of the Reform Summit until I read this article. I am glad to know it happened.
Janet | 03 September 2015

Money buys anything. Flying in high rollers to stay at luxury city apartments. Refugees get Nauru. Money buys political persuasions.
marlene | 03 September 2015

It's time our government officials and union leaders realise they are just as part of the service industries as restaurants, shops, hospitals, schools, etc etc - that without a properly functioning society with a healthy culture and economy, they wouldn't have a job or a purpose either. But they seem to have lost sight of their purpose and service role, and become an end in themselves. We've stopped the boats and people are now heading to Europe instead and drowning in the Mediterranean rather than the Indian Ocean, but we still want to stick the boot in and get a piece of the European action with hints of a police state mentality.
AURELIUS | 03 September 2015

Andrew, Would you prefer to have our borders unsupervised? And the colour of the ABF uniform is navy. What colour would you prefer them to wear? John
john spencer | 03 September 2015

Andrew, I strongly endorse your comments. Sadly our leaders are totally disconnected from reality. The situation in Europe is absolutely diabolical and at least partly of our own making . John Spencer, Please note that the majority of so called ' illegals' fly into Australia .They are visa over stayers , mostly from Europe or the US and Canada - virtually none are from the Middle East or Afghanistan .This so called Border Force is a wacky scary overreaction to a very minor problem.
Gavin | 04 September 2015


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