John Menadue. Asylum seekers – institutionalised cruelty, the banality of evil and immorality.

You might be interested in this repost.  John Menadue

The recent statement by the Australian Catholic Bishops on asylum seekers says ‘The current policy has about it a cruelty that does no honour to our nation … Enough of this institutionalised cruelty … We call on the nation as a whole to say no to the dark forces which make these policies possible.’

In her book ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’, published in 1963, Hannah Arendt refers to the ‘banality of evil’. Her thesis is that Eichmann was not a fanatic or sociopath, but an extremely stupid person who relied on cliché rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology.  She says ‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil’.

In his post in this blog on February 17, reposted below, Hugh Mackay speaks of ‘international brutality … why not call our asylum policy what it is – immoral?’

Our policies towards asylum seekers – cruel, evil and immoral- depend on our first dehumanising and then demonising asylum seekers. They are not like us and do not deserve empathy and protection.  It is an attempt to dull and chloroform our consciences.

  • Asylum seekers are illegals and akin to criminals. We launder our language to hide the cruelty and brutality of our policies. Even the Department of Immigration now uses the term ‘illegals’ which they are not.
  • Asylum seekers are so devoid of humanity that they would even throw their children overboard.
  • Journalists are excluded or deterred from visiting detention centres because we might hear of the hopes and fears of vulnerable people.
  • How can we have sympathy for asylum seekers who buy the services of people smugglers?
  • They are Muslims.
  • They are ungrateful foreigners who riot in detention centres.
  • They commit crimes in the community and should be treated and listed like paedophiles.
  • They bring disease and wads of cash.
  • They throw documents overboard and don’t tell the truth.

As this day by day process of demonization proceeds the spark of humanity, decency or the divine in each of us is snuffed out. We are made to look foolish and soft if we respond to “our better angels”.

Our leaders are not just determined to dehumanise asylum seekers but play mind games with us by suggesting government policies are designed to save people drowning at sea. If only there was the smallest bit of truth in this the government would be sending out ships to rescue desperate people at sea and ministers would be waiting hopefully for the UNHCR or the Nobel Prize committee to make a humanitarian award.

Through political spin and by good people staying silent, we are losing our moral compass on what is right and decent. As Lord Lane, the former UK Lord Chief Justice put it ‘Oppression does not suddenly stand on the doorstep with a toothbrush moustache and a swastika armband. It happens step by step.’

It is happening despite our asylum “problem “being minor compared with other counties and particularly poor countries like Pakistan.

In allowing evil and cruelty to win our political terrain we could  recall the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller who was imprisoned by the Nazis ‘First they came for the communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.’

We don’t seem to care that perhaps in a decade we will be as ashamed of our present asylum and refugee policies as we are now for what we did  to our ‘stolen generation’.

Where is our anger and concern?

I recall a speech some time ago by Bill Moyes, the former host in the United States of the Weekly Public Series on PBS. He said ‘What has happened to our moral indignation. On the heath, King Lear asks Gloucester ‘How do you see the world?’ and Gloucester who is blind answers ‘I see it feelingly.’  I feel it feelingly also.  The news is not good these days. I can tell you though that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free – not only to feel, but also to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair; the cure for cynicism … What we need is what the ancient Israelites called hochma – the science of the heart – the capacity to see, to feel and then to act as if the future depended on you.

And it does depend on you and me.

We are acting cruelly and immorally. Evil now has an everyday face. But we pretend it is not us. Yet the opinion polls tell us that it is us – that we want to treat asylum seekers this way. Scott Morrison tells us ‘I get so much encouragement when I walk through Cronulla, go down to the beach or up to Miranda Fair’.

Hannah Arendt said ‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.’  That “sad truth” is happening in Australia today. We are standing by and letting it happen.


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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15 Responses to John Menadue. Asylum seekers – institutionalised cruelty, the banality of evil and immorality.

  1. Avatar Liz Holloway says:

    I deplore our return to the inhumanity of the howard-ruddock years

  2. Avatar Tim Davies says:

    This is certainly a wonderful article, clearly outlining the questionable policies of our federal government and the shameful belief that many Australians exhibit in the treatment of the migrants who go to enormous lengths to flee danger in an effort to improve the lives of both themselves and their children and/or families.

    However, is it time to take these powerful emotions and move them beyond words, instead turning them into actions that can make a real difference in the lives of both asylum seekers and refugees? This requires a strong personal commitment to demonstrate that there is a real alternative to the current policies that can finally move our great nation beyond the “them vs us” argument and back to the “we” solution.

    In September 2012, my wife and I made this commitment to each other and our 5 young children that we would work towards finding a solution to this problem. We both left our careers, and pulled together a team of 15 volunteers who spent 12 months researching the challenges facing migrants (refugees and asylum seekers not in detention).

    Our research indicated that the most critical need was to help migrants find meaningful employment, particularly work that reflected the past work skills and life experiences that each individual migrant brings to Australia. Meaningful employment also allows migrants to find safe housing, financially support their family members (both in Australia and home countries), improve their own mental health, and importantly reduce the significant risk created by long-term welfare dependence (this may be a surprise to many Australians, but people who have escaped war and sat in a refugee camp for up to 25 years did not do it to simply access our welfare system and live on $14,000 per year in Sydney!!!). Finally, our research also identified that a significant number of migrants (>100,000 people) had prior work experience in the agriculture and hospitality sectors; both of which were facing critical skilled labour shortages and were sourcing significant numbers of staff offshore through 457 visa schemes or employing backpacker labour.

    In October 2013, we began building a team of skilled employees and started Bright Employment, a labour solutions company that works solely with migrants (refugees and asylum seekers with work rights) and assists them to secure meaningful long-term employment. At Bright, we felt it was essential that every workers must receive 100% of their weekly earnings, and that they were properly trained and safe in the workplace. Finally, we set out to achieve our ambitious goal of securing meaningful employment for 5,000 Australians by 2020 WITHOUT taking any funds directly from the federal government.

    In December 2013, Bright Employment placed our first team of Hazara workers onto a fruit farm in Tasmania. Whilst it certainly had significant challenges, over the next 12 months, Bright employed 120 migrant workers from the Bhutanese, Afghan, Burmese and African communities. Gradually, farmers began to see the enormous productivity improvements of employing local workers. Additionally, the wider Tasmania community has also benefited from higher local employment and has reduced its dependence on hiring foreign workers in the agriculture sector (90% of food harvested in 2012 was by a foreign worker in Tasmania).

    Bright Employment is now entering our 2nd season in Tasmania, and this year we will employ over 350 local Tasmanian migrants on approximately 25 fruit farms and vineyards. Over the next 2 years, our goal is to expand this workforce to over 800 people in Tasmania, thereby assisting the dairy, fruit and seafood industries meet the enormous long-term market demand for clean, high quality food from China and the broader Asian markets.

    Bright Employment has recently expanded into the Sydney hospitality sector, and has developed a 6 week pre-employment training program that has successfully lead to over 80% of graduates securing full-time employment in commercial kitchens across Sydney. Since our programs launch in June 2014, Bright Employment has received extremely strong support from hotels, restaurants, cafe’s and food manufacturers. Our current program will train almost 200 new workers every year, and we are excited about launching a second training centre in June 2015 that will target the +40% migrant youth unemployment issues across Western Sydney. This project will be in partnership with a large Australian property developer. Longer term, our goal is to train and employ over 1000 migrants every year in the hospitality program. With 200,000 new hospitality jobs forecast to be created in Australia over the next 6 months, Bright Employment is barely scratching the surface of demand. The alternative is to import enormous numbers of foreign workers on 457 visa’s.

    So why am I telling you this? Whilst its essential that as caring humans we speak up when we see injustice, the team at Bright Employment felt that a better solution was to stand up instead and do something about it. Often actions do speak louder than words.

    We feel there is an easy solution to helping to solve the problem of aiding asylum seekers (with work rights out of detention) and refugees to move forwards in their lives. If you are a small or large business owner, and are looking to hire staff, contact the asylum seeker centre in Surry Hills, and enquire about hiring an asylum seeker for the position. Alternatively, contact us at Bright Employment and we can direct you to additional migrant support groups that can assist you with finding an incredible employee for your company. If you are a hospitality operator, please contact Bright Employment directly and we will help you to find an amazing, hard working employee.

    If every company in Australia made this decision to consider and hire asylum seekers and refugees for their organisations, as a nation we could quickly demonstrate to the federal government and other fellow Australians the power of the “we” solution once again.

  3. Avatar Milton Moon says:

    Thank you Hugh Mackay (again) and thank you John Menadue (again.) Yes, it is obvious what the government ‘ spinners’ are doing and it is shameful that they re succeeding. I speak to decent people every day and they come back with the same government ‘lines’ that they use to excuse their shamefulness – yet they are, otherwise, decent people. Why do so-called Christians in our government not feel shame and why do so many of us let them hide behind their smug hypocrisy. I for one feel ashamed.

  4. Avatar Dion Manthorpe says:

    You John, Hugh Mackay, Hannah Arendt & others are spot on in my opinion. The current policy certainly is a “means to ends” solution by our morally lax politicians but there is another factor I believe at work here, so far unstated. ie. an underlying racism within Australia. If the majority of the boat people were from the UK, for instance, I suggest we would not be witnessing this apathy from a public acquiescing in this appalling Abbott/ Morrison immigration policy.

  5. Avatar Caroline Storm says:

    Thank you. What we are doing should lead to strong action from the U.N. casting us out from any connection with their views, conventions. We, one of the ‘luckiest’ nations, should be severed from that body and seen globally as the pariahs we have become.

  6. Avatar Milton Moon says:

    This suggestion from Eva Cox is very sensible and might (should) allay a lot of resistance. Long-term migrants explain, to me, their main objections to ‘boat arrivals’ protesting ‘At least we came here properly.’ Yes, we need a proper solution, and sooner rather than later, for our sake as well as theirs.

  7. Avatar eva cox says:

    We need to offer alternative ways of coming to Australia that are safe, civilised and offer non existent options. Why not process in Indonesia and bring 10,000 more in, and also process on shore if people buy return tickets and give people the right to apply for a visa

  8. Avatar pamelacurr says:

    But how to stop it?
    But at what cost?
    At what point is enough enough?
    Is it possible that another cornelia will appear to shake our sensibilities or are we past redemption?
    Questions which trouble the soul

  9. Avatar Robert Smith says:

    Thank you for an eloquent and morally grounded post. That so many of us appear to applaud this terrible policy will make the hangover all the worse when finally the balance tips back to a more humane approach.

  10. Avatar John MacKean says:

    I totally agree with every word of Milton Moon’s response. Our treatment of these desperate people today is a foretaste of what will be our response to a flood of climate refugees as the seas levels rise and the impact of climate change forces mass migrations of humans in search of a survival home. We have reached a tipping point in human history. We older people have had the best of it; we have totally neglected our deep responsibility to our children. There is so lttle time left to avert the unimagineable chaos of the most probable future.

  11. Avatar David Maxwell Gray says:

    I totally agree with both you, John Menadue, and Hugh Mackay that our current policies towards “stopping the boats” and many of the acts our Federal agencies have undertaken in pursuit of these policies are immoral. They shame us and our nation. I am aware that polls show that a majority of Australians are in favour of the “stop the boats” policy. I find it hard to believe, however, that this is a developed view, based on the evidence about the way the putative refugees are treated by us in detention and in evaluation of their status as refugees. Much of this evidence is not readily available to the public through normal media channels. I call on my fellow Australians to think again, to seek out the facts, and to listen to “the better angels of their nature”.

  12. Avatar Milton Moon says:

    Today I posted a response to the preceding Hugh Mackay article — it also applies here:
    If one judged Australian morality by the number of unsolicited racist emails that appear on my computer screen every week we have a fair number of racist citizens in our midst.
    If one were to judge our so-called Christian morality by the actions of some from both sides of the political fence it would indicate the compassionate core of religion is either not understood, or is totally disregarded. We will be severely judged by history.
    Those of us, like me, who are now old can think back to the days when there was an influx of post-war arrivals from all parts of the world. Some resented their arrival, but the passage of time shows that they enriched our social lives and matured us in so many ways which we now accept as the norm. Why do some of us still resist what is there for even the most stupidly bigoted to see.
    Finally, it is shameful that the counting of votes determines our moral values.

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