John Stuart Mill on Nauru
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Nauru Files. Think the Panama Papers but with more human rights violations. It’s almost as if the Department of Immigration had a quick glance at the layout and function of Auschwitz and thought, “what the hell, let’s see if we can make it work.” I can understand how it is easy to put this kind of thing out of your mind. These people are hundreds of kilometres offshore, without a voice and without a presence in Australian society. But there comes a point in any morally debased, government-led enterprise when the responsibility must be borne by the people. The abuse and neglect detailed in these papers, the majority involving children, is sickening and depraved. And the worst part is, we did this. We elected successive governments that told us that offshore processing was going to happen, and then we re-elected them after hearing countless stories of violence and immorality. You and I, we are responsible for this. You might be thinking that you didn’t vote for this government or that government, or you didn’t know what was going on, or you voted informally because your vote doesn’t count right? The problem is that both sides of politics are guilty, and we’ve known about this problem for half a decade. We didn’t demand change, and they didn’t offer it. Sew, reap. If we continue to endorse and condone divisive language and politics, if we continue to see asylum seekers as other, there will never be justice for these people. Even if you think that there should be some sort of screening process before people are allowed into our communities, I challenge you to look me in the eye and say that you would run such a scheme like this; that you would force children to harm themselves because they saw no other way out of the hell of Nauru.
Do you think it’s just for people to escape from the nebulous cataclysm that is the Middle East, only to find themselves trapped on an island in the middle of the Pacific, confined to a tiny compound that resembles a prison in both aspect and function? Do you think they should have their chance at a new life ripped from their bloody fingers by an administration that is either ignorant or apathetic to their cause? Search your mind, scour your soul, and tell me that what these people have to endure is humane. Tell me that they deserve it. Tell me that you would be happy in their place. Tell me that you would be happy as a guard at this concentration camp. But I’m not here to beat you into the ground with the weight of responsibility. We caused this, and we can fix it. John Stuart Mill once said, “bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Do something. Write to your local federal MP or your local federal senator. Write to them again if they ignore you. Call them, show up at their community events, go to their office and demand to be heard. Individually, we have no power, only opinions. But together, if we demand change, the people who serve us will have no choice. They depend on us for their livelihood and power. If we can’t appeal to their humanity, then appeal to their self-interest, and remember their motivation the next time you are considering their name on a ballot paper.
This all sounds a little revolutionary, and that’s sad. We shouldn’t have to revolt to stop a system that institutionalises abuse and apathy. But that’s what it feels like right now. And if you don’t act, you won’t be punished. But when you lay your head down at night, think of the girl who sewed her lips shut in protest against her conditions; think of the girl who, aged 10, invited a group of men to violate her. Think about the men, women, and children who are being treated like human detritus for having the temerity to seek a better life in Australia. That will be punishment enough.