Image for NATION: Stop the boasts ...

‘Focusing only on border control and deterrence will not solve the problem. It is the duty of any government to ensure security and to manage immigration but these policies must be designed in a way that human lives do not end up becoming collateral damage … an exclusive focus on security and targeting criminal activity only risks making these journeys even more dangerous.’ Antonio Guterres UNHCR

Tony Abbott never stopped the boats, although he never got sick of repeating the lie, ad nauseum, often apropos of nothing, a type of Tourette’s tic, more prevalent when he became stressed as in his last Leigh Sales interview on ABC 7:30. Nothing could stop his mad boast. It was his party piece. With it came the lie that ‘tough border protection’ saved asylum-seekers from drowning.

Instead they would suffer sexual abuse and violent assaults in arbitrary detention while being denied their rights, even denied access to medical treatment

Safe from drowning at sea, asylum seekers would be raped, water-boarded, bashed to death and driven mad in detention centres while laws were changed to make it illegal for doctors and other workers to report abuse. Inquiries would be howled down as politically motivated while secrecy was stepped up by a government keen to hide or deny its unspeakable and mindless cruelty. 

Abbott parroted his boat-stopping lies non-stop. So frequently were they heard that they have become widely accepted, part of the dodgy mental furniture of the coalition party room. Now they are traded upon by his more plausible successor the silver tongued, silver-tailed self-admirer Malcolm Turnbull, as he works to win over his party’s boat-stopping faction. He needs to stop, cease and desist immediately if he wishes to retain any vestige of credibility. We cannot turn back the clock but we need to make amends immediately for our policy of deterrence.

Now that our failed King Canute Abbott is back on the back bench, where he belongs, it is time to turn back the boast. It is time to put the lie to myth that tough border protection saved lives, or that it saved anything ... not even Abbott’s hide.

Arrivals by boat fell sharply, certainly, after 19 July 2013 when Kevin Rudd announced his PNG resettlement scheme, which meant asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat would never be settled in Australia, a trend which has continued to the present day. Yet that decline is nothing to be proud of. If fewer boats were to arrive in Australia, there was no decline in numbers desperately putting to sea, even if we were to become very practised in concealing the truth; putting the suffering and torment of others out of sight and out of mind.

... our moral and legal responsibility ...

The myth of stopping the boats entails a wilful denial of the facts as well as a collective self-deception. The pernicious fiction, moreover, involves some shabby behaviour. The boat narrative entails the willing abrogation of our moral and legal responsibility as a civilised nation to provide refuge to others in distress.

We shun our humanity and thumb our nose at international refugee conventions. We perpetrate the cruel hoax of intercepting boatloads of needy and suffering fellow human beings only to return them to almost certain persecution.

Some we send back with limited fuel in a barely sea-worthy, floating coffin. Others we have decanted into fibreglass, purpose-built ‘boomerang lifeboats’, consigning crew and cargo to the mercy of the open sea. Who knows how many ‘turn-backs’ have ended in disaster? What can be certain is that we never better the lives of those we turn away. Nor we do anything but diminish ourselves.

We incarcerate men, women and children in poorly-run gulags we call detention centres which it suits us to pretend are run by nations we have paid to do our dirty work, nations, in the case of Nauru which struggle with the rule of law or the administration of justice. Sexual favours are traded for hot showers. Women are raped. Men die.

Iranian Reza Barati, 23 once had high hopes for a new life. Instead he was bashed to death by a guard who has not yet been brought to justice. 24 year old Hamid Khazaei died because medical aid was delayed because a visa application had to be completed before he could be taken to hospital in Brisbane. Children become chronically depressed to the point where RCH staff in Melbourne refuse to return them to further torment. It is not a record that anyone in his right mind would want to claim credit for. Yet Abbott and his crew have bragged about stopping boats and saving lives at sea so often that these two lies have entered folklore; become accepted as fact.

If Abbott is to be credited for his true contribution it should be for raising the number of boat arrivals. His opposition to the Malaysian arrangement in 2011 led to thousands of new arrivals in the following two years.

...lie that our policies have saved lives…

Yet facts have never stopped boasts. The Coalition, under Turnbull, is pleased to continue with its bragging; repeat the same slogans with better elocution. It is even prepared to repeat the lie that our policies have saved lives.

Our heartless yet enthusiastic prejudice, (let’s not dignify it with the word policy) towards men, women and children who are driven by desperate necessity to flee their homes and to put to sea in unsafe vessels has done nothing but cause harm to refugees and to Australia’s reputation for fairness and humanity.  It is to our national shame and regret that we turn away from the poor, the needy, the wretched of the earth, who reach out to us for help in their time of crisis. Instead, from those who have already lost everything, we take their freedom, their dignity, their future happiness. 

Regardless of what Malcolm Turnbull wants to pretend in public, our ‘tough border protection’ has not prevented refugees from drowning or perishing in other dreadful ways. There is no evidence whatsoever for claiming that news of Australia’s ‘tough policies’ are any form of deterrent. Growing numbers of displaced persons are desperately putting to sea in our region to seek refuge. According to the UNHCR, more people boarded boats after former PM Abbott introduced punitive ‘deterrence’ policies, not fewer.

At least 54,000 people boarded boats in South East Asia, our region according to the Foreign Minister, in Jan-Nov 2014, an increase of 15%  over the same period a year earlier. Around 540 people died trying to get here in 2014.

They starved to death. They perished from a lack of drinking water. Some were beaten to a death by crew members and thrown overboard. Many drowned when their unseaworthy vessel sank. Hundreds more died in camps in Thailand.

... a despicable act of duplicity ...

Yet our government is in complete denial. Despite promising respect on seizing power Malcolm Turnbull insults our intelligence less than a month later in parliament by defending coalition immigration policy. It is a despicable act of duplicity from a politician who is more interested in courting support from his right wing ‘boat-stopping’ party bigots than in facing the truth.

Expect demonising of asylum-seekers to continue unchecked as party pocket xenophobes assuage our guilt with lies about boat arrivals being devious, unworthy ‘back door’ applicants for entry to our bounteous and fair-minded nation. Expect further fruitful diversion in tales of demon people smugglers when what is needed is attention to the suffering - and a good hard look at ourselves.  Our new PM made the right noises when he seized power.

‘We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.’

Turnbull promised to be a Prime Minister who respects truth or who respects the nation. Instead, he recycles Tony Abbott’s tired old lies; repeats the same disgraceful untruths rationalising our capture and imprisonment of asylum seekers. This is contempt, not respect. Contemptuous and cynical also is the cruel hoax perpetrated on the Australian people of ‘toughness’ as some sort of necessary evil which deters others driven out of their homelands from attempting to reach safety by sea.

The deterrence argument is an outrageous, guilt-assuaging rationalisation of the government’s cruelty and inhumanity towards some of the most desperate and needy people in the world. Not only is it a totally spurious case, it is condemned by the UNHCR and by other bodies that monitor international human rights abuses. Yet the coalition has made it their mantra for two years.  It is a shocking breach of good faith by a new PM who promised advocacy and respect. 

...a proper response is needed…

On Monday, Greens MP Adam Bandt asks when the government will stop holding children and babies in ‘mental illness factories’. Turnbull is unable to make any coherent, sensible reply except to sloganeer. Nor does he give any sense he knows a proper response is needed. He repeats the shamefully false claim that immigration policies such as the Greens’ lead to people dying at sea in the attempt to reach Australia.

Ignored is the logical conclusion of his argument. If we do save people from drowning, it is only to send them to the hell of indefinite detention, a perpetual torment of deprivation and uncertainty, a nightmare which more have escaped through dying than through successful resettlement.

Adding insult to injury, the PM chooses words which draw attention to his flagrant lie. He describes his utterly unfounded assertion as ‘the melancholy truth’. ‘That’s not a question of theory,’ Turnbull continues as he proceeds to dig himself in further, pointing to changes tried by Labor.

A new sitting of parliament presents a chance for Turnbull to show that he is any more trustworthy than the promise-breaking, prevaricating, junkyard dog who was his predecessor. Turnbull is on his second and final chance to prove himself after his failure to last more than a year as Liberal leader in 2009 when having alienated his colleagues by his imperious and superior personal style, he split the party over his support for a carbon reduction scheme.

Yet Turnbull fails to rise to the occasion. Disappointed as many hopeful voters may be by the new PM’s failure to rise to our expectations, we should, perhaps not be surprised. A soufflé cannot rise twice, as Keating said of Andrew Peacock’s second attempt to become Liberal leader in 1994 . abdication of real leadership…

Far from achieving any form of elevation Turnbull lowers himself by using an old propaganda technique: repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it. It is a base form of deception which history will not forgive. It is an abdication of real leadership at a time when the nation is crying out for a humane and enlightened politics.

In offering more of the same denial and dereliction of duty towards others that is our immigration policy, Turnbull does a lot of harm. Rather than deliver much needed, much overdue real reform, Turnbull has betrayed his promise; dashed the hopes of those who supported his coup.

Above all he has betrayed a nation who dared to hope for better; a leader who would not encourage us to further turn our backs but, rather, one brave and principled enough to help us to change our course; to do our best to reach out and help others in distress. It is the only way we will rediscover our own humanity; reclaim our self-respect.

Waleed Aly, SMH: Doctors’ protest over asylum seekers shows us what real morality is all about

Guardian: Medical bodies call for all places of detention to be opened up to scrutiny

Anne: Sign the petition calling on Prime Minister Turnbull to cancel this project and rule out using taxpayer money ...

Six weeks ago the project hit a hurdle when the Federal Court ruled that Environment Minister Greg Hunt didn’t follow environmental laws when he approved the Carmichael mine.

Minister Hunt has just locked in increased dredging, dumping and shipping on our Reef.

Despite millions of Australians saying they don’t want this mine to go ahead this government has gone and delivered the mining industry exactly what they wanted.

And they could be handed this project on a silver platter, with the new Turnbull Government now considering using your money to pay for it.

Sign the Petition here