CAVAN HOGUE: Why is Mr Dutton afraid of Australian children?

Nov 5, 2019

The Australian women and children facing danger in Syria are not being brought home because it can’t be done or because they would be a threat to Australia but because of cheap domestic politics. As H.L. Mencken observed: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Our SAS could do the job and the expensive white elephant on Christmas Island could keep them and us safe while they are processed.  

Our Government’s approach to the problem of Australian women and children in Middle Eastern camps seems to be based on domestic political considerations. Both Herman Goering and H.L. Mencken have pointed out how governments of all kinds like to create an apparent threat so they can tell people they will save them from it. The current Australian Government clearly understands this. Thus, we are told that the women are a potential threat to our security and presumably the children are too. They cannot be safely processed in Australia and it is all too difficult to get them out of the camps. Mr Dutton does not want to risk Australian lives in an attempt to rescue people who brought it on themselves and should be left to stew in their own juice. The children must have been child prodigies!

I am not a lawyer but I wonder about the legality of denying Australian citizens the right to return to Australia. They are ours whether we like it or not and if they have committed crimes, they should be returned to Australia to be tried in our legal system rather than being left to rot abroad. The answer to this dilemma is surely simple. We have a very expensive white elephant on Christmas Island which so far has one family as its sole inhabitants. The women and children could be processed in that facility where they would be safe and where we would be safe from dangerous women and children. In due course, those found to be safe could come home and those who should face trial should do so. Most of them have families who would look after the children and the mothers who were not jailed.

As for risking the lives of those sent to rescue them, I have more faith in Australian SAS and Commandos than Mr Dutton obviously does. The Government doesn’t mind risking their lives in futile exercises like Iraq and Afghanistan but not in a humanitarian operation. I am sure there would be no shortage of volunteers. Similarly, DFAT could provide Arabic speakers. Other governments have managed to get their people out and journalists have got in and out of the camps safely. We can count on full cooperation from Turkey, Iraq and the Kurds. While it would not be easy, getting the women and children out is possible and would have been much easier had it been done earlier. The major handicap is not the complexity of the operation but the albatross of cheap Australian politics.

Cavan Hogue is a former Australian diplomat and immigration officer.

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