A Phantom Human Rights Act

by Michelle

copyright Michelle Cahill

copyright Michelle Cahill

On Saturday I did not attend the rally at Town hall to protest against mandatory detention and the recent, violent death of Reza Barati on Manus Island. I spent a quiet afternoon gardening and baking. But like so many friends in the arts community I’m almost numb with shock, appalled by the crimes being committed against vulnerable asylum seekers by our country, our government and the regressive legislations that are further entrenching the denial of natural justice. The Guardian’s exclusive footage of the sub-third world standard medical response reveals limp bodies lying on stretchers on the concrete floor of a wharf turned makeshift ward while the team operates by torchlight to triage the emergency amid cries for Kurdish translators or gunshot wounds. It is harrowing to watch.

What kind of life do we think is worth living? Have we become so dehumanised as a society that we escape into apathy, universalising slogans and post-truth politics? What is so unconscionable is the number of children who remain in detention ‘facilities’: 1006 in total with 132 on Nauru Island and 424 on Christmas Island. Their access to education, contact with visitors, to recreation, legal aid or counsellors is extremely limited. They are at risk of sexual and emotional abuse, self-harm and irreversible long-term mental health issues. On visiting a closed detention centre you experience the brutality, remoteness, inhumanity, corruption and despair that sentences these innocent people, many of whom are Hazara, Tamil or Rohingya refugees fleeing war and persecution.

This week the Migration amendment bill goes to the Senate with the potential for removing the power of the RRT to appeal on behalf of refugees again adverse security assessments.

I am grateful for the posts on Facebook by Janet Galbraith, Chris Raja, Angelo Loukakis and so many others which has provided sources of information unavailable to the page 7 news.

So many of us feel disempowered as we witness the tyranny of a weak government spreading fear and bigotry amongst the majority. We know that as a society we need to revise the definitions of national citizenship, to open the boundaries of our political community to aliens, strangers, newcomers, refugees. Can we really make a difference to this democracy? By boycotting Transfield or Wilson Parking? By polemics, protests, lobbying, rallies, by discourse? To Biennale or not? How to dissent?

What happened to the phantom Human Rights Act we so desperately needed to prevent these breaches from happening in Australia and off-shore where we have no qualms about exporting our most serious violations of justice to countries with their own economic and legislative burdens? I quote from an essay by Julian Burnside published in Meanjin, 2007:

“How can a law in a civilised nation require that an innocent child be jailed indefinitely, even when psychiatric opinion says that this will damage her profoundly?”