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The view from outside glass house Australia


Jakarta Post 'Australian hypocrisy' headline

Complaints about hypocrisy are rarely edifying. They are usually made to draw attention away from the harm we are doing by pointing to the bad things our critics are doing.

But Pierre Martinus’ charge made in Saturday's Jakarta Post, that ‘Canberra is merely trying to save their own “subject bodies” from the firing squad, while slowly disposing of “abject bodies” it does not want through inhumane detention camps or returning them to foreign regimes that will probably finish the job for them’, is not so easily dismissed. 

He rightly deplores the brutality both of Indonesian and Australian treatment of drug traffickers and asylum seekers respectively. Both are based on the logic of deterrence – of potential drug traffickers and of people who seek protection from persecution.  

Pragmatically, it must be admitted that deterrence works. Manus Island is its showpiece. The camp on Manus, with its isolated and claustrophobic location, long delay in processing applications, and best option of an uncertain residence in PNG, is a gold-standard deterrent. No one would cheerfully choose to end up there.

Deterrence, like execution, is a transaction between human beings. So it is important for us as Australians to look beyond the language of policy with its antiseptic formulations of push and pull factors, unlawful boat arrivals, transferees, migration zones and security of borders, to reflect on how the deterrent value of Manus Island and of execution is played out in human lives. Only when we have weighed this will we be in a position to applaud the effectiveness and wisdom of our policy or deplore its inhumanity. 

Manus Island is an effective deterrent because people who seek protection from persecution can imagine from personal experience what life on Manus Island may be like. They have lived in fear, are familiar with prisons and licensed callousness, know what it is like for all relationships and projects to be put on hold. Because they seek freedom, hospitality and the opportunity to begin a new and productive life in a generous society, they can imagine the despair of being rejected by that society and being transferred to a prison without trial, with no access to law and no guarantee of any future anywhere. Manus Island will surely make them think again.

But few of us can imagine the effects that the passing of time in detention has on the spirit. As Patrick McGorry famously said, detention centres are factories for producing mental illness. When people, often already traumatised by the past experiences of persecution and flight, have infinite, idle time to feel guilt because they can do nothing to help their families, to feel dread that they may be returned to danger, and to feel frustration that they must live in total dependence and passivity, they naturally feel prey to depression and rage. In an environment like Manus Island that they perceive as hostile, this distress is exacerbated. 

Of course what potential asylum seekers do not see and cannot easily imagine will not be an effective deterrent. But mental illness often finds public expression in destructive activity. In enclosed and isolated situations it leads to self-harm and to aggressive behaviour. These increase the anxiety of officers responsible for keeping people locked up in an orderly way, and are often met by further restrictions on their liberty. This can escalate to organised protests and to their forced suppression. 

Where there is no access to independent information, Government spokespersons minimise the incidents, blame them on the people who seek protection and on their supporters in Australia, and reiterate their determination that no one from Manus Island will settle in Australia. Accounts given by the people themselves of what has happened to them necessarily lack context, and are discounted as self-serving and hysterical. 

In Australia these incidents and the response to them pass without much notice. But they constitute an effective deterrent.  People who might seek protection from Australia will notice the lack of serious attention given to death, injury and arbitrary imprisonment, the implacability of the Government and the impotence of its critics. 

Most recently the sending of people involved in the protest to a PNG jail without trial underlines the powerlessness and imputed worthlessness of the people imprisoned and their lack of recourse to law. It also focuses the minds of others who may seek protection in Australia on the fate that may await them in PNG if they are found to be refugees. Together with pushing back the boats, in Manus Island Australia has devised a very effective deterrent. 

These are the human considerations that must be taken into account when we judge whether or not to applaud or condemn the policy of which Manus Island is the emblem. Deterrence, the keystone of the policy, rests on using the suffering of innocent people there to deter others. Supporters of the policy will argue that such a cost is acceptable. I disagree - human beings should never be subject to such a calculus.

But those who agree that the cost to asylum seekers is acceptable will find it hard to argue that the lives of two young, reformed Australians are an unacceptable price for deterring others from trading in drugs. 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street



Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Manus Island, Sukumaran, Andrew Chan, mental illness, asylum seekers, PNG



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Existing comments

A point well made.

Russell | 28 January 2015  

It was “intellectually dishonest” said Cardinal Muller, for Catholic theologians and politicians to allow, or justify turning a blind eye, to abortion and contraception, as long as these were simultaneously accompanied by opposition to the death penalty or promotion of economic development for the poor—issues also part of the fabric of Catholic moral teaching. Today, political correctness enforces intellectual dishonesty even within the once-proud Catholic intellectual tradition. Consider the recent case at the Catholic Jesuit University, Marquette, in the USA, where a student was muzzled from objecting to same-sex marriage in a philosophy class. Since the time of Socrates, freedom to examine even fixed philosophical positions has been unquestioned. When the student complained to tenured Professor of Political Science, John McAdams, who sided with the student and criticized the philosophy instructor for restraining free discussion, McAdams himself was suspended, his courses cancelled, and he has been banned from setting foot on campus. This, at the same time as the pro-abortion tenured Professor Daniel Maguire teaches in the theology department without restrictions. When Catholics teachers regain some consistency in their teachings they can expect to be taken seriously. Courage is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Cowardice is not.

Ross Howard | 28 January 2015  

Australia has now completely turned the protection of refugees under the refugee convention into the persecution of one group of random refugees so that others will stay home and die.

Marilyn | 28 January 2015  

What hope do we have as a mature nation when we are governed by a man who is besotted with the history of the UK & the Royal family which has reigned over it's outrageous Colonial policies .Including our establishment as a penal colony when many of the ships passengers died in conditions worse than provided by modern day people smugglers . Could we kindly suggest our PM consider re-migrating to his motherland where he can wallow in it's history & save our society from being totally corrupted by this man ,seemingly devoid of a moral compass

john kersh | 28 January 2015  

The Jesuits have gone a long way from the founding principles of their order, i.e. sentire cum ecclesia, thinking with the Church.. It seems that there default position is now sentire contra ecclesia, thinking against the Church. I am glad to see that people outside of American are aware of the appalling double standards of the Jesuits.

Peter M | 28 January 2015  

Recently a survivor of the holocaust summed up the path to the mass killings, noting that it began by disparagement and rejection of their human rights. This seems very similar to the path adopted towards asylum seekers. We can only hope it is reversed before it reaches even more deplorable consequences.

Robert Liddy | 29 January 2015  

Andrew, what's up with THEM? Can't they see it? I'm old and can't do more than cry and that I do. M.

Mahdi | 29 January 2015  

amazed Peter that you seem to be seriously confused between 'thinking against the corrupt Hierarchy within the Church ' compared with 'thinking with the Church proper ( the Children of God )',at least the majority of them .Excuse me if I have totally misread your comment .

john kersh | 29 January 2015  

Dear Andrew I applaud your article. The difference between the Bali 2 and Manus Island, is we know the Bali 2 story. People on Manus are nameless and unknown. Howard started this when he sent SAS troops to the Tampa. It is our shame., out of sight out of mind. Keep up your good work, .on behalf of the Anawin of this world.

Catherine Crowe | 29 January 2015  

The writer in comparing killing a human being with detaining a human being is comparing apples with oranges and betrays a complete lack of understanding of the what human life is. In its invalidity it really doesn't deserve commentary, Both the drug smugglers and the voluntary, fee-paying refugees have undertaken the courses they chose deliberately and with full knowledge of the risks and consequences, in the hope of personal gain of a largely personal, material nature quite unlike those thousands under the suppression of radical Islam being summarily executed for their beliefs and the refugees in their millions who have not had such a choice. Your post, Ross Howard initially surprised me in its reporting of the apostasy that apparently exists in a Catholic university, despite the fact that it is in the USA, until I recalled an article in ES some little while ago entitled " Why I don't preach against abortion". Sadly the Jesuits seem in some quarters to have been seduced by the flawed interpretations of what post-Vatican II social justice really means.

john frawley | 29 January 2015  

Alas Andrew you once more highlight our hypocrisy. It appears that whenever it suits us we demand that wrongdoers in Australia be subject to our legal system. Why should not the reverse also apply? We may not support legal executions here but how dare we demand that other nations accept our stance toward the use of capital punishment? If it is about respect for human life then why do we show such little respect for the lives of asylum seekers. Andrew you are right: we do live by double standards.

Ern Azzopardi | 29 January 2015  

What a contradiction the name Man-us island is ... and how typical is the brinkmanship of two monarchical systems (Australia and Indonesia) to challenge the higher moral ground ... when human beings' lives are at stake. No-one can cast the first stone ... the worthlessness of lives lost, here, for all the world to bear witness to ... everyone is diminished through these inhuman acts. There but for the grace of God go I.

mary | 29 January 2015  

The sympathetic comments about asylum seekers are out of place particularly in view of the fact that Martin Place siege gunman Man Haron Monis got asylum in Australia and also many of those fighting with the IS in the Middle East also got asylum in Australia or are born in Australia whose parents got asylum in Australia. Even if ONE per cent of the asylum seekers turn out to be terrorists like Man Haron Monis, government's steps as deterrence would be justified. Think again!

Biku | 29 January 2015  

john frawley:"comparing killing a human being with detaining a human being....." They CAN be made to sound quite different. But 'inhumane detention camps that drive them to self harm and even attempted suicide or returning them to foreign regimes that will probably finish the job for them', . seem to look much more alike

Robert Liddy | 29 January 2015  

Andrew Hamilton sj mentions glass houses and double standards and instantly attracts a bucket of anti-Jesuit ratbaggery dumped over him. It reads like a case of unresolved resentment and rage from the old 'Australia Incognita' days.

David Timbs | 29 January 2015  

Thank you, Andrew Hamilton, for your article illuminating the inhumanity of Manus Island's 'success'.

Anna | 29 January 2015  

A very useful parallel tha tyou have drawn, Andrew, between asylum seekers condemned to a situation that might well be described as "a fate worse than death" and those who will swiftly die for trading drugs in a land where that punishment was well known. How dare anyone condemn asylum seekers sight unseen. A high proportion of us in Australia are descended from asylum seekers, as well as from gold seekers. The Martin Place gunman was not an asylum seeker - he came here on a visa and was granted citizenship[ just like thousands of others who got it last Monday. The mental torture applied to the Manus Island and Nauru refugees is inexcusable. The damage to their mental health will last a lifetime of misery for them and those around them.

Mike Foale | 29 January 2015  

Very forceful argument, comparing and contrasting asylum seekers ill-treatment on Manus with two Australians on death row in Indonesia. However Australia’s asylum seeker policy is driven by cheap not political opportunism, which does not drive Indonesia’s drug trafficking policy. This is a good article in forcing one to think – the problem is that the focus is on the means (deterrence, execution)- not the ends: who deterrence serves, and why. Australia’s aylum seeker policy has nothing whatsoever to do with asylum seekers. The focus on asylum seekers is simply an easier choice than bikies, single mothers, Indigenous people, dole bludgers. It’s the tired game of bread and circuses to distract us all from the fundamental crisis: environment, economy, and war. How it works is terrifying. The bureaucratic technology of indifference is effective not through its cruelty but through –as the article says- “and the impotence of its critics”. In other words, the idea that saying “NO” is futile. That standing up and protesting is silly. But many of us, cannot stand the weight of their jackboots on our necks, trying to crush our hope for another world. Many of us would rather endure every cruelty, than give in to hopelessness: whether we sacrifiice our lives, our dignity,or cling to faith- but no matter what the cost, never give up our hope, never be deterred from having hope.

Niko Leka | 29 January 2015  

I would think that citing an anti-Australian rant by a Jakarta-based hack to condemn the detention of asylum-seekers on Manus Island does little to help the pro-asylum-seeker cause. And equating the fate of two about-to-be-executed Australians with that of incarcerated self-selecting economic migrants at the Manus detention centre does even less. Detaining such asylum-seekers on Manus Island, with the possibility of settlement in PNG has certainly stopped the boats and almost certainly saved several hundred lives, including those of scores of children. It has also meant that there are now far more spaces for genuine refugees who really need our help such as the Yezidhis. The use of such a moral “calculus” is unfortunately necessary and one that must be enforced with tough deterrents. High death rates and denied asylum to genuine refugees should surely take precedence over the incarceration-induced frustration of those who are mostly not. What’s the alternative? Tens of thousands more coming as occurred under the Labor Government, 1200 drowning in the process; few spaces for genuine refugees who have to remain rotting in refugee camps. Go figure!

Dennis | 30 January 2015  

I remember a time when we said that Australia could never replicate the conditions of persecution from which people have fled. We believed it and on that basis said that deterrence could never work. How wrong we were. Manus and Nauru -gulags of deterrence- effectively so terrifying that no one dares to come. Success is claimed by the asylum seeker haters and the politicians. Look away- nothing to see here on Manus and Nauru where little children are prescribed anti-depressants to deal with their misery and pain, where women are flown to Australia to have abortions becasuse they cannot bring them selves to bring a baby into a Nauru tent camp of heat, no water and possible death, where men rage and self harm and attempt to end their lives so great is their pain. As successful a policy in another way as the horrors perpetrated on particular groups of people throughout history who have been so denigrated and dehumanised that no one opposes cruelty towards them . God help us- no one else will

pamela | 30 January 2015  

The only comment and rebuttal I can make concerning the emotive and facile words of Peter is thank God for the Jesuits. I was fortunate to have done all my primary and secondary education under them and they allowed me to move into a world where blinkers were unnecessary and I could think for myself. They taught me that the journey one makes to the mystery of God is a faith based not on security and certainty but one where we experience the truly sacred when we are involved in the world and people. Ideology is dangerous and those who nurse security and safety at the expense of the Gospel message fail completely to comprehend the nature of an Incarnational God. Isms do not work in the divine plan. It is in the way the Gospels become a practical marker that determines all. Thank God for Pope Francis, for the Jesuits who have influenced me over 70 years and for the wonderful and honest article of Andrew Hamilton. John Hill

john hill | 31 January 2015  

John Frawley - social justice is not a subjective political concept but a core aspect of Christian/Catholic teaching based on biblical values. Our God-given dignity as human beings extends far beyond breathing air and staying alive. Being shot by a firing squad might be regarded as more dignified and quick end compared to some of the inhumane outcomes our refugee detention policy has caused. And take note, Peter M, welcoming refugees is basic church teaching - both for the hierarchy and the people of God. Christian charity does not allow for political calculations - it involves opening our doors even to the point of foolishness and risking hardship ourselves.

AURELIUS | 01 February 2015  

Peter M might care to explain the relevance of his assertion to what Andrew Hamilton has actually written.

John | 01 February 2015  

Deterrence, the keystone of the policy, could equally be achieved by funding Manus and Nauru to become decent economic units as per the Millennium Development Villages. The offshore centres could become a kernel for regional development rather than a focus for odium.

Sarah | 01 February 2015  

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