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Government hypocrisy on Anning and fascism

  • 14 January 2019


Imagine a situation where a wartime government rounds up and imprisons some poor minority group. This scenario is easy to imagine because it has happened so many times before. Australia is no exception to this foul history, having interned 7000 'enemy aliens' in half a dozen camps during WWI.

Our history as a British gulag left us with a taste for all things carceral, and so the internment camps reappeared during WWII with a vengeance. German, Italian and Japanese residents — some of them British citizens — were detained en masse until the camps swelled to more than 12,000 people by 1942.

The press made alien civilians into common folk devils. The belief that foreign nationals posed a threat to Australia's security was so powerful that when the HMT Dunera arrived in 1940, the government interned the 2000 Jewish refugees aboard into a POW camp.

These events have long faded into the convenient mists of white amnesia. Even when they are acknowledged, there is a comfortable certainty that modern Australia would not do such things — a brazen lie we tell ourselves to soothe a bewildering dissonance.

The government launders the ugliness of the Pacific Solution with polite euphemisms that are reified by uncritical repetition in the media. Illegal immigrants are placed in detention centres for offshore processing. 

These phrases have new lives as idioms, where their significance is not deducible from their meaning. So we understand that people who have committed no crime are illegal, that overcrowded camps are comfortable facilities, and that the state is attending to people it confines arbitrarily and indefinitely.

This protracted exercise in self-delusion is meant to distract us from one simple, uncomfortable truth about our offshore establishments: that they are wartime internment camps.


"It is lethally ironic to watch the major parties trip over themselves to denounce Fraser Anning's attendance at a white supremacist rally. They have for years eagerly intensified the security state and the border regime."


The passengers of the MV Tampa were left at sea for weeks while the Howard government decided what to do with them. However, after Australia declared war on a noun following 9/11, asylum seekers became a new, enemy alien. In a real sense, refugees are political prisoners of the war on terror.

The situation is this: a militarised agency seizes members of persecuted minorities and confines them to a small area with inadequate facilities. There is an exhausting number of reports of appalling conditions,