12 November 2015
Somewhere along the way this week the plot got well and truly lost. Uproar in Parliament, walk-outs, protests and people shouting at and over each other may be all good theatre, a modern form of gladiators in the arena if you like, but after it is over, the fact remains, nothing has changed as a result.
Moreover, the issue itself seems to have become secondary to the noise it has generated. And the issue here is simple: Australia is treating people in its detention camps – in the main New Zealanders awaiting deportation – in a way that is appalling, no matter which way you look at it. Yes, there are definitely very evil people amongst them who have committed unspeakable crimes, with whom we would not usually wish to associate, but they still have the same basic human rights as the rest of us. The argument should be focussing on how these rights are being upheld in the detention camps. On the strong face of it, the detainees are now worse off than when they were in prison, even though they have presumably paid for their crimes in Australia. This cannot be just.
And that is the real issue here. Are these detainees being justly treated, and if not, what can we in New Zealand reasonably do about it? There has always been a more frontier approach to justice in Australia, as the treatment of their indigenous people has shown, and the current treatment of boat refugees continues to show. I suspect most New Zealanders are far from comfortable with the notion of holding such people captive on offshore islands, and would not let a New Zealand government even consider doing so.
That different approach is where our focus needs to be. The modern concentration camp approach Australia has taken is simply wrong. It was wrong when the British tried it in Northern Ireland in the 1970s; it is wrong in Guantanomo Bay, or in Israel today. Australia is no different. The right to due process and fair and open trials is inalienable. So New Zealand needs to be asserting basic human rights and freedoms, not stooping to the name-calling and abuse that has passed for debate over the last week.
Australia is a sovereign state. We cannot automatically require it to change its laws, just because they affront us. The Prime Minister is right on that score. But we can, and should, be speaking out as loudly and frequently as we can against abhorrent practices, especially given the mantle of family the Australians like to drape upon us. After all, most families are blunt with each other and speak out about what they do not like. We should be as well.
The political civil war of the last week has done nothing at all for any of the detainees on Christmas Island. Rather than turning their guns on each other to pointless effect, the Government and the Opposition need to be turning on the real villains of the piece – Ministers like Peter Dutton and others in the Australian Government who continue to promote and support such savage and inhumane policies.