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Government hypocrisy on Anning and fascism



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.

Scott Morrison shakes finger at far-righters while overseeing his own inhumane immigration policy. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonOur 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, torture, rapes, violence, self-harm and a dozen deaths due to deliberate negligence.

While punters muse that White Australia is coming back in a big way, the government is operating internment camps filled almost exclusively with people of colour and Muslims. The wartime state tells us that boat people are a threat to Australian security, best kept out of sight, out of mind.

Some might say that offshore camps are not quite so bad as past internment. At least it's not citizens being rounded up, they might say, but this is a dollar-store apology. The moral distinction between capturing vulnerable people at sea and herding people like cattle on the mainland is negligible.

The government tries to wash its hands of culpability by contracting the maintenance of the prison camps to for-profit businesses. Another easy fiction: by paying the contracts the government holds all the strings. This subterfuge serves its purpose, though, because by the time concrete details emerge, public interest has inevitably moved on.

Another excuse is to say that it's all about people smuggling — some bright rhetoric courtesy of the Gillard years when Labor needed to sell internment to white, working-class folks. As if putting children in cages would, through some supernatural operation, affect human bootleggers a world away.

Of course, boat arrivals are a crisis of the government's own making. Howard rigged the visa system to disallow family reunion with temporary protection visas back in 1999. Where before one refugee might have made the arduous journey and safely conveyed family at a later date, government policy has forced whole households out to sea on rickety boats for years.

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

The pantomime serves a purpose. Politicians denouncing Anning for his explicit support of fascism distracts from years of slightly more democratic, somewhat less in-your-face ethnonationalism. Sieg heils in St Kilda are bad, offshore internment camps are necessary.

So the public finds itself hopelessly in denial about the systemic brutality of the laws it votes for at every election, and desperately willing to swallow government rhetoric which sanitises the unfathomable cruelty of Australian border policy.

When a future generation looks back on these camps, they will see them in the same light that we view internment during the World Wars. The same policies applied to new avatars of human suffering. So much off-white meat assigned a number in a camp.

If one thing is certain it is that mechanically echoing government euphemisms will not agitate change. Australian's may come to see border policy in a different light if we start speaking candidly about offshore internment.



Joshua BadgeJoshua Badge is a lecturer in philosophy at Deakin University. Follow him on Twitter @joshuabadge

Topic tags: Joshua Badge, Fraser Anning, Pacific Solution



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Existing comments

Great article Joshua. I am no fan of Anning's flag waving, he's a whipping boy for a Government in denial. Wikipedia reveals generations of his family took aboriginal land by squatting on it. Those who got in their way paid the ultimate sacrifice. But you are right, Manus and Nauru are monuments to both major parties egos and hang the Ferrovial annual cost of over 1 billion. The marginalisation of the Sudanese, their rejection by the establishment workforce, has led to the emerging gang mentality. In USA it happened with the Italians and the Irish. The Sudanese have to be welcomed into the armed forces, the football teams, the fishing fleets, Universities, factories, the AIS. All these should be government led initiatives. But to date this Liberal Government cant crow about job creation. Their only dubious achievement is raising the rainbow flag behind Elizabeth's skirts. When Victoria was on the throne and the miners groaned under the insidious yoke of British taxation, they were the despised underdogs who rebelled at Eureka. And as for the camps, they should be abandoned and the survivors taken in to assuage our national conscience. With parliament not sitting for 6 months its highly unlikely.

Francis Armstrong | 14 January 2019  

Please consider what the Australian Greens propose: “All of us, including people who are fleeing war-torn countries, have the right to live free from danger, be treated with dignity and be given help when we need it most. If only the major parties understood. Instead, Liberal and Labor governments have spent the past five years locking up people in offshore hellholes, perpetrating human rights abuses and separating families who have asked for our help -- all in a cruel attempt to win votes and divide our community. Unlike them, the Greens will always defend the rights of innocent people held in indefinite detention. We won’t stop fighting until the camps are closed and every person trapped is provided refuge in Australia. Our Plan: Close offshore detention Close the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres and bring every single person man, woman and child to Australia. Fair processing Introduce a 7 day limit for onshore detention and provide support so that people can live in our communities. Helping those who need it We will increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 50,000 per year and re-introduce Permanent Protection Visas. Work with partner countries Establish a system for assessing claims for protection in partner countries in a timely way, including investments in the UNHCR and other agencies in our region.”

Grant Allen | 14 January 2019  

I blame lazy journalism in the Main Stream Media. Their interviewing of Ministers is pathetic. The other day Minister Dutton said in recent years our Border Force had turned back 80 boats. Nary a reminder that the policy was Stop the Boats in order to undermine the People Smugglers. Nor a question about what happens to the "Turn Backs". The People Smugglers continue to exploit desperate people. The MSM in its coverage of migrant activities within Australia doesn't let facts or statistics get in the way of sensationalism. Great article.

Uncle Pat | 15 January 2019  

A great article, thank you. Clear and concise and making connections to the past that my lazy thinking hadn't thought of.

Heather McKean | 19 January 2019  

Three cheers for this! I have downloaded and sent it to an ethno-nationalist acquaintance, who generously donates to the St Vincent de Paul Society and would rather Fraser Anning's Sudanese bugbears not have been granted asylum here. An Anglo-Indian of light complexion - though this fact may be incidental to her prejudices- she has bought into the prevailing neo-colonial view of Australian history, which states that we are not multicultural but British and, accordingly, those permitted to stay ought to conform to 'our' ways. Needless to say, her views on 'gays' and other minorities are equally unfathomable in terms of any working definition of human rights. To complete the composite picture, she dismisses evolution, prominently supports creationism and challenges the scientific view that carbon-dated evidence backs the view that Indigenous Australians have been here for 40,000 years or more. Added to that, the fact that she is 93 years old and promises to live forever raises the uncharitable thought in me that it would be better to pray for her imminent demise rather than for a change in her attitude. Please pray for my unworthiness to handle this existential crisis, and may ES publish more of the estimable Joshua Badge!

Michael Furtado | 20 January 2019  

My ancestors were German and interned. After the war's heated passions, they were accepted. They blended in. The best analysis of evidence about the Australian people's deep support to migration and refugees is the Markus report. Australians support of migration and refugees is higher than any other nations, including Canada. https://www.pc.gov.au/research/supporting/sustainable-population/19-population Support for boat turn backs and offshore processing was about control. To many Australians, it aroused suspicion. Not that the boat people weren’t desperate people. That it made any sense; that they reflected a broken system. A system that benefitted the fit; the wealthier; the more risk taker. The male. The young. The Liberal government added the cruel twists and cruelty. Robert Manne's analysis is the most comprehensive and accurate analysis. Its a shame, definately. Its cruelled sensible discussion as well. Anning is rejected by the vast majority of Australian's but the partisan and the dogmatists will use it to prod the Australian people. Linking issues that are barely linked. The election of the ALP will see Australia become the major supporter, per capita, of the UNHCR [its $500 million support proposal.] 900,000 refugees and their descendants successful integration in Australia since 1947 suggests the claim to “humanitarian avoidance” is not quite this simple. Betts and Collyer in their book Refuge: Transforming a Broken System make the best analysis of the asylum system. A must read for those interested in fact based, contemporary analysis of this issue.

John Kilner | 24 January 2019  

John Kilner's 'German orderliness' thesis doesn't stand up to interrogation. Most refugees until the 1970s were White, providing a fundamental basis for selling Australian refugee-resettlement policy as assimilative or, as John naively terms it, 'blending in'. The Markus Report findings are now overturned by contemporary research, published on The Conversation website, demonstrating that it is misinformation on social media that has 'cruelled' the debate. There is no pecking order - indeed no orderliness at all - when it comes to fleeing Sudan or Syria. Moreover, any social analysis of the problems in the Middle East and Africa can be traced back to colonial and postcolonial interference. Add to that the most crucial teaching of the Catholic Church that the goods of the Earth are God's alone to dispense to all Creation, regardless of national boundaries and economic inequality, and the right of host nations to protect their borders pales into quibbling insignificance. Furthermore, refugees are in breach of no law, other than those that are artificially manufactured to preserve the mean myth of 'just desserts'. Robert Manne's analysis is a far superior one to that of Betts and Collyer. He reveals Labor practice as just as bankrupt as the Coalition's.

Michael Furtado | 25 January 2019  

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