For those who've come across the seas

It took Australia roughly twenty-four hours to end the live export of cattle on boats to Indonesia. The public were horrified by images of brutal treatment in Indonesian abattoirs. They cried out in rage. Within a day, live exports were banned. 

I can’t help but draw a comparison with the live export of people in boats from Indonesia (usually) and the treatment of asylum seekers at our hands. There is public clamour, but no unified voice of outrage; the louder cries seem to come from those who object to sharing our boundless plains with ‘illegal’ arrivals, and those who endorse the mandatory incarceration of men, women and children in places like Maribyrnong, Woomera, and Christmas Island, for indefinite stretches of time.

Mandatory detention has been in place since 1992. For nearly twenty years Australia has wavered in and out of breach of the UN Convention (to which we are a signatory), tacitly approving hasty legislative changes enabling the breach. We have allowed successive governments to farm out to foreign regimes and private companies (specialising in prison management) the protection of refugees’ rights. We have broken several resolutions to at least get children out of detention, even if we can’t summon the moral gumption to release adults detained without charge for years at a time. We have tolerated and supported the deceptions, exaggerations, ignorance and bombast of those who use the plight of asylum seekers to float their own political boats.

Today is World Refugee Day. It is now not unthinkable that one day might be enough to release those seaborne travellers treated brutally by the moral lassitude of our leaders, by our indifference.