There are many precedents for the thuggish pre-dawn raid in Biloela to remove a harmless Sri Lankan couple from their home and support base. While the incident has shocked fair minded Australians such heartless behaviour has become increasingly normalised as part of an uncaring political culture.
On ABC television this week, Jewish survivors of fascism in 1930s Germany remembered similar treatment at the hands of people they believed were their neighbours. They remembered how parents were separated from children and the despair and terror this caused. The treatment of the Biloela family is a textbook example of this kind of terrorism. The Holocaust survivors were all still mystified how and why such things could happen. Initially attacks on Jewish people were carried out by cowardly militias and then became government action.
Historically, policies towards Indigenous Australians have displayed a similar disregard for human rights. Thankfully, the tragic injustices of the removal of children has been acknowledged and in the Rudd Government elected in 2007 gave an apology to the Stolen Generations. That was a proud moment for most Australians but some Coalition parliamentarians refused to associate themselves with the gesture. Among those abstainers was the man who as Minister is responsible for the pre-dawn raid.
This is not the first time an asylum seeker family been removed from the community and placed into a detention centre. The treatment of people seeking asylum here has been appalling. Part of the problem seems to be that the law which now must be protected at all costs is itself unjust. To make a policy refusing residence to anyone who came here by boat is to effectively remove Australia from international conventions on asylum seekers. The right to flee persecution and seek asylum is an acknowledged and basic human right.
The Prime Minister, defending the decision to remove this Sri Lankan family, did not attempt to deny that the action was harsh. He clung to the assertion – well tested politically but untestable in practice – that making exceptions would open the floodgates and encourage the activities of people smugglers. The irony is that while these politicians try to frighten uninformed Australians about threats to our way of life, these heartless actions are a much greater threat to our way of life than thousands of asylum seekers might bring. The pre-dawn raid is a feature of fascist states, not democracies.
The Prime Minister had some moral authority after the Coalition’s election win in May. He was even characterised by some as ‘the Messiah from the Shire’ as though he had worked a miracle. The Prime Minister professes some form of Christianity but his performance over this incident contradicts any number of Christian tenets. It was devoid of any trace of compassion or sympathy or any reference to justice and relied on the simple political rhetoric about stopping the boats and protecting borders. Mr Dutton might well be sitting quietly on his leadership ambitions and rejoicing in the cracks in Mr Morrison’s image.
Dr Tony Smith is a former political science academic with interests in elections, parliament and political ethics.