A reflection on A year of eroding precious values
which as published in the Sydney
Morning Herald on December 29, 2003. The author was Robert Manne.
"In the name of security thousands of Iraqi civilians died and refugee children here were kept locked
away. ... Almost everything about (the) invasion (of Iraq) was unsettling and strange.
The Anglophone democracies invaded Iraq on the legal basis of certain United Nations Security Council resolutions, despite the fact the Security Council was opposed to the invasion. The invasion was mounted in order to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, which now appear not to exist. When the weapons could not be found, the occupying powers began to argue that their non-discovery was of no great consequence as the real purpose of the invasion had been to remove a monstrous tyrant from power.
We all know what followed. As Manne said,
"it proved relatively easy to remove Saddam Hussein,
(but).....with the abolition of the Iraqi army and police force, law and order simply broke down. Largely because of robbery, rape and murder, 94 per cent of Iraqis surveyed said they now felt less secure than they had under the gruesome regime of Saddam......
By the end of this year what was always obvious to common sense became clear, namely that the plan to create a model Western-style democracy in Iraq was little more than a fantasy of the neo-conservative imagination."
That December summation seems even more obvious now in mid 2004 than it did
when Manne was writing in the end of the year. Manne was intrigued by the
fact that the political headaches for Blair and Bush caused by the invasion
"left John Howard untouched." Although things are much worse in
Iraq now, (June 2004) with the torture scandal, Howard still seems to
be managing his teflon "no one told me" approach and largely succeeding.
He has applied that to all sorts of issues including the "children
overboard" affair. Yet he has been well aware of what Manne
characterised as an "overshadowing" event of 2003, namely
the" continuing, cruel and completely purposeless Howard Government treatment of the 10,000 or so unfortunate human beings who, between 1999 and 2001, sought refuge in Australia..."
I quote the remainder of his piece in full:
A little under 9000 of these people, found to be genuine refugees, are being asked to prove for a second time their protection needs. If they fail, most face deportation to the chaos and the danger of post-invasion Afghanistan or Iraq.
Hundreds of those whose asylum claims, for one reason or another, originally failed, but who are too frightened to return to their homelands, have now been languishing in Australia's detention prisons for several years. A further 300 or so asylum seekers have spent the past two years in hell, imprisoned in the tropical detention camp on Nauru. Among the detainees in Australia and Nauru are more than 200 children, whose lives have slowly been destroyed.
The mercilessness of the Howard Government policy has been revealed by two brutally frank judicial comments in recent weeks. In the High Court, the Solicitor-General, David Bennett QC, pointed out that there was no reason in law why asylum seekers might not be detained "until hell freezes over", that is to say, for the remainder of their lives. In the same court, Justice McHugh pointed out that there was no legal impediment to the repatriation of asylum seekers, even to certain death.
In Australian history the disconnectedness between law and justice has rarely been stated with such little embarrassment.
Of all Western societies, Australia is now almost alone in having no asylum claims from unauthorised arrivals. Since Tampa, there has been, quite simply, no asylum seeker "problem" here. By offering permanent homes to refugees on temporary visas and to those presently indefinitely detained in Australia or on Nauru, absolutely nothing would be lost - but 10,000 lives would be redeemed. Surely for 2004 this is not too extravagant a hope.
I am reminded this morning
of a story I read of a child about the first vessel approaching Japan toward
the end of the Second World War. This destroyer (USS
Laffey) was attacked by a large
number of Kamikaze planes. If they had flown of further they would
have been able to attack the main fleet and cause enormous damage. But for
some frenzied reason they attacked this one vessel, fixated on it
alone. Our government seems to do the same to refugee people. A
few are made an example. There is a frenzied destructive fixation on keeping
the "law" as opposed to common sense and mercy. In the odd case of
the Kamikaze plains, the American ship survived! Not so for some
Iranians already sent back if report are true. But perhaps there is a warning
for Howard here: your are fixated on the wrong thing. For Australia
the question remains as it has for years: How can we be so merciless and
ethically lacking to allow this to go on.