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Guardian

Jul 10, 2014

Rundle: it is time to betray Australia

Australia has crossed a moral Rubicon in its treatment of asylum seekers by returning Sri Lankans to a country where they could be tortured or even killed. It is time to turn traitor.

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During World War II, several delegations of exiled European scientists went to various American congressmen and senators to warn them of the dangers of a German atom bomb and the need for a program in the United States. They found it hard to get a hearing for many reasons, not least because the politicians — many of whom had no great quarrel with Nazism — could not believe that people would be so “traitorous” to their country as to want to help it to be bombed. The willingness to actively turn against your own country, as opposed to merely criticising government actions from within, is not something to be taken lightly.

But there are times when that decisive shift seems necessary, and that point may have been reached with the return of a shipload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers to the place from whence they had departed, and the consequent establishment of this as potential standard practice from now on. If that is to be the case, Australia’s relationship to the world has changed, and so should ours to Australia.

Put simply, a new focus of high-profile refugee advocates now has to be not the argument within Australia, but one outside it, in high-profile venues — all the way up to the United Nations and the newly (somewhat) liberalised Vatican — to denounce and censure Australia and begin the process whereby real international sanctions could be applied to our country. This shift is not related to the incidents of self-harm or suicide attempts on Christmas and Manus islands, even though these demonstrate what we have always argued about the use of detention as a deterrent to asylum seeking — that such places inevitably descend into brutalised psychological torture camps. However appalling, that did not give a trigger to turn the attention to Australia from the outside.

The “refoulment” — a euphemism — of the Sri Lankans is another matter entirely, because it now means that we have decisively abandoned the most basic principles of the Refugee Convention and demolished any moral limit that would prevent us from handing people back to their possible torturers, and eventually, murderers. It’s a measure of how crazily lawless and amoral we have become — and how easily that is being normalised within Australia — that people are being picked up in international waters by the Royal Australian Navy merely on the basis that they might be coming to Australia. This is an expression of the demented exceptionalism Australia has adopted — that we license to ourselves any measures to preserve some pristine notion of the country, while the rest of the world copes with refugee flows vastly in excess of anything we could imagine. When a white Australian tourist is arrested in some country with shady police, we scream blue murder about international norms. Now we are the shady police. The hypocrisy is total.

“Sometimes it is not only permissible to act against your country, but absolutely essential to do so.”

Internally, the more wanton and amoral the Abbott government becomes — the waters ably prepared for them by the Rudd/Gillard government — the more hardened, irrational and plainly neurotic a section of the Australian public becomes about this. Externally, the Sri Lankan return — to a place where it is a felony crime merely to leave in the way they did — marks a point at which we have become simply outlaws, corrosive not merely to our own political culture, but to the practices and principles for the treatment of refugees, as established by the Refugee Convention, a document that we not only signed, but had a hand in drafting.

This breach of international practice gives a chance for Australians to turn the heat on Australia from without, in the highest forums they can get a hearing in, to attempt to get some material international action and sanction towards us. Attention can then also be drawn to the psychological torture factories we have created as a deliberate part of refugee policy. Australians from within will scream traitor, but there are times when that risk must be taken. Not to preserve the honour of Australia, not principally to shame the majority of the population into better action — if anything, it may make things worse — but simply because when the country has abandoned any notion of morality, the demands of loyalty are broken, and the demands of morality take precedence.

And no, this is not a breach of Godwin’s law — I am not comparing the Abbott government’s actions to Hitler. But the general approbation by history of the German and Italian scientists who did help build the US atomic bomb shows that we all recognise this moral demand — sometimes it is not only permissible to act against your country, but absolutely essential to do so. For leaders of Australian refugee advocates that time has come.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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70 thoughts on “Rundle: it is time to betray Australia

  1. Guy Rundle is usually quite clear headed (and accurate) in analysing where the Left has made mistakes. This desperate piece (despairing?) is very much the exception.

    The Left has failed politically on refugees, comprehensively – and in doing so it failed Australia. This is our tragedy. It has given Abbott (and the Scott Morrison) their powerbase – and it did so precisely because of the attitude on display here.

    Anyone “betraying” their fellow citizens will only concede further ground.

  2. Today we have had two excellent pieces from Guy Rundle and David Marr. Thank you to both for raising the seriousness of these issues. The matter of refugees is not and never has been simple, especially since both Liberal and with the complicity of Labor have made the most vulnerable – the refugee the focus of xenophobia. At some stage – if only to fully understand and hopefully recover our dignity as a nation, we need a Royal Commission to fully uncover the lies, deceit and those responsible – (back to Tampa perhaps) for denigrating this once great land. People in government must be held responsible for this malevolent behaviour.

  3. Now he’s hi-jacked and defined “thinking Australians” as those that “Wouldn’t want his government capitulating to moral blackmail”? After the way he’s used it?
    …. or is that “defiled”?

  4. Guy Rundle is absolutely right. The challenge we face, however, is not only an immoral and inhumane government, but the 48% of Australians who support its actions!

  5. to the place from whence they had departed, and the consequent establishment of this as potential standard practice from now on.

    whence means from where, hence “to the place whence they had departed”

  6. From the UN’s convention on the law of the sea.
    I’m not a Lawyer, but it seems to me the only possible “OUT” that the government might have to avoid being charged with piracy is (D) (without nationality)

    1. Except where acts of interference derive from powers conferred by treaty, a warship which encounters on the high seas a foreign ship, other than a ship entitled to complete immunity in accordance with articles 95 and 96, is NOT justified in boarding it unless there is reasonable ground for suspecting that:

    (a) the ship is engaged in piracy;

    (b) the ship is engaged in the slave trade;

    (c) the ship is engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and the flag State of the warship has jurisdiction under article 109;

    (d) the ship is without nationality; or

    (e) though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.

    2. In the cases provided for in paragraph 1, the warship may proceed to verify the ship’s right to fly its flag. To this end, it may send a boat under the command of an officer to the suspected ship. If suspicion remains after the documents have been checked, it may proceed to a further examination on board the ship, which must be carried out with all possible consideration.

    3. If the suspicions prove to be unfounded, and provided that the ship boarded has not committed any act justifying them, it shall be compensated for any loss or damage that may have been sustained.

    4. These provisions apply mutatis mutandis to military aircraft.

    5. These provisions also apply to any other duly authorized ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service.

  7. Ah the creativity refugee activist club. Don’t intercept a boatload of asylum seekers on the high seas and it’s a “SIEV X” style criminal act by a government pandering to stupid western Sydney voters.

    Intercept a boat of Sri Lankans who were, how did Guy put it, “Picked up in international waters by the Royal Australian Navy merely on the basis that they might be coming to Australia” (good one, that) and it’s an “expression of the demented exceptionalism” not far off piracy and must be taken up in The Hague.

    I reckon it would be great for refugee activists to take the debate to international forums. It will increase the chances that this out of date anachronism of a convention can be put down and an new convention that enables governments around the world to better manage the millions of people moving from the third world to the first world can be established.

  8. I agree with the substance of the article but consider the betrayal has already occurred, not by those standing up for decency but by successive Governments of both political colours. I am very tired of the Government line and those pushing it that they are somehow saving these unfortunate people from themselves. It never seems to occur to them that there were and are other and better methods open such as making a real attempt to set up regional arrangements, efficient processing in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and offering air travel to enable processing in Australia Countries like Canada seem to achieve this without engaging in cruelty like Australia and Germany has recently agreed to accept 40,000 Syrian refugees

  9. Where do I sign!

    I have been thinking along similar lines in the last few days..

    A wristband we can all wear which says ” Not in my name Tony and Scott!”

  10. Yeah, look, it all went beyond the pale with Howard and the Tampa incident.

    When you are ashamed and embarrassed by the activities of your government, is there a question of degrees.

    I opted out years ago, I refuse to support the entire system wherever I have the slightest choice, and will be looking to emigrate to anywhere with a conscience once the retirement age kicks in.

    Damn them all to hell.

  11. Hey Rick,
    The other authorisation your post doesn’t cover is if a warship is going to the aid of a vessel that is in distress.

    As the asylum seekers contact their mates in Australia and the government agencies to say they are in distress while still untying from their port of despatch, it is almost certain that the interception of these two boats occurred under the “in distress” reason. After all, being intercepted is a required part of the people smugglers’ business plan.

    Hey! maybe Guy has a point! If we had just left them alone they would have sailed away!

  12. This is not about stopping people drowning at sea, it’s about keeping out those people who are not white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon-Christian-Judaeans. The drownings at sea could be stopped in a flash and less than half the dollar outlay – bring refugees in by plane or ocean liner, we’ve done it before and it is economically sound policy. Our country is full of economic refugees who made good -like Abbott’s parents (and mine), our hospitals are full of skilled personnel who come from o/seas. John Howard birthed a monster when he called on racists to reject the refugees on the Tampa. That monster has grown to devour us all in its irrational hatred of the vulnerable people who have turned to us in their desperate search for safe haven. Politicians have used irrational prejudice and fear to promote themselves as our saviors. How do we make it stop?

  13. Good one GUY.

    And I find it extraordinary how many people writing to other on-line news productions, are full of self-justification and pouring vitriol on people who think like Guy. The worse things get under this sorry excuse for a government, the more these shrills get to justify the unconscionable actions of Mauler Morrison and his mentally challenged handler, Tony Abbott.

  14. You are right David Hand, apparently the first boat of 41 (all but one not Tamils) wanted to sail to NZ, but Australia was in the way… On the evidence of Guy’s article, and the shrill echoes from the Crikey cheer-squad, it seems some people desperately want this issue to stick around like an toxic boil. Which means people continuing sail here: then maybe die, but definitely to be put behind bars… How incredibly sad, few if any of the ever hopeful immigrants recruited in Indian camps for those trips know that they are nothing more than $$ for the smugglers – and then pont-scoring pawns for politicians and pundits here.

  15. Unlike some, I can still remember the sport to be had, revelling in government embarrassment when that government was Labor – of course that was all Right then?

  16. Agree . . all recent Governments (and Media) wear in part responsibility for walking ‘the path too far’. Our current Government’s total lack of accountability exceeds all!
    It IS TIME to “Bell the Cat” and arm International opinion. Abbott has trashed multiple, critical facets of our national cultural identity. Impact of Climate Change inevitably, will sweep this government away. Generations to come however, inherit the societal damage that the Australian Nation, before Peers, must accept responsibility for. Politicians have failed we the people . . Public Servants must restore the trust. Observers need become Participants!

  17. Is it time to enlist the expert who is holed up in the Colombian embassy in England? Much of what has written by Guy and in the comments seems to align with Wikileaks’ philosophy.

  18. I don’t get it. There is massive poverty and cruelty at the lower end of Australian society. People trying to live with homelessness, malnourishment and the constant fear of violence. And there’s isolation and abandonment due to age, or mental illness. No access to lawyers. Limited access to medical services and an inadequate education. There’s young people with no realistic hope for a reasonable job being demonised and driven to suicide, one way or another. Their minds and bodies are wrecked from chronic stress. Of course, it’s all their fault. They deserve it. These bottom feeders are the ones who bare the brunt of the negative consequences of immigration. They wouldn’t know compassion if it hit them over the head. And people wonder why Abbott got voted in? It’s seems to me it’s just class warfare and apparently Crikey is on the side of posh.

  19. It would seem the only way now is going to be to humiliate our Government, especially if it comes from nations a we have high regard for. Perhaps this is why the Coalition is cultivating all these new relationships/trade partners, they are a backup for when sanctions might start.

  20. Oh pleeeease, quit using that annoying word when someone does not agree with you ” shrill” has been done to death along with dare I say repeating oneself, dare I say it.

  21. These bottom feeders are the ones who bare the brunt of the negative consequences of immigration.
    Sorry mate, I don’t agree, been there, if you could send
    your comment to the IPA you may end up with a well paid job. hi hi.

    Thank you Guy, I am very pleased now I subscribe to Crikey.
    Sanity you write, gives rationality to my mental instability.
    Dennis.

  22. Guy, you an unlikely traitor mate….too talkative.

    Which country is this latest boatload escaping from???

    I thought it was India!!!!

    What threat does the Indian Govt pose to Sri Lankans on Indian territory? None that Guy or Julian Burnside, David Marr or Mr Manne have drawn to our attention. If that is not the case why aren’t our human rights warriors bashing India???

    The boatload being ‘pirated’ on the high seas by Oz are really seeking a better life rather like millions of other third world people. After reaching the country of first refuge-India, they leave there as economic refugees using people smugglers to bypass our existing refugee system.

    Most of the first boatload were not even Tamils but the Singalese who are supposed to be threatening the Tamils- so what is going here?

    This is a bizarre story….We have boatload from India run by smugglers with satellite phones dialling Australian lawyers from the middle of the Indian Ocean to gain High Court injunctions in Australia on their behalf !! What other contacts do they have in Australia and how do they get paid?

    I would have thought these so called humanitarian lawyers as evidenced their actions to aid and abet people smugglers to risk life and profit by their trade, could and should be charged with a criminal conspiracy. Anyone like to put their hand up to join them?

  23. Well said. I am just waiting for Scott Morrison to now say that international law does not apply to Australian Navy vessels as long as they are on the high seas sporting the Jolly Roger rather than the White Ensign.

  24. I really do not get it! I have read most of the replys and only one expressed concern about opening out borders to refugees. I think the borders issue is the only think the Abbott govt has done I would support.

    I know its tough but there are 7 billion people on this planet and all nations (including ours) are overpopulated by people. Australia can never be the solution to Sri Lankas’ problems. If they would stop having children they can not feed then they would not need to risk their lives at sea. Misdirected foreign aid and opening out borders to refugees will only encourage them to continue their irresponsible policies on family planning.

  25. For some time now I’ve felt ‘un-Australian’; it began when our politicians in both houses of Parliament went on show whilst debating Gillard’s Malaysian Solution. The weeping and wringing of hands, emotional declarations about defending unaccompanied children etc stuck in my craw and proved the theory that words are cheap.

    As for this phoney blather about preventing deaths at sea, it’s ever so convenient and equally as unconvincing as their performances in the Malaysian debate.

  26. 64 magpies – this government has declared open season on the most disadvantaged in our society while scapegoating asylum seekers. You’ve bought the party line hook line and sinker.

    Zur – it started with me when Beasley voted for Howard’s border protection bill post-Tampa.

  27. David Hand – no man is an island. you simply ignore another’s plight just because it might cause you some form of discomfort and I’m not sure even how it could cause you any discomfort.
    Ken Lambert – these people are Sri Lankan – that means they will go back there not to India.
    Robert Jameson – It’s not about family planning at all. It’s about two ethnic groups having a civil war as their leaders want power and influence NOT about how many kids they have. Sri Lanka can easily feed itself and even export food but cant given the disruption of the civil war. These people are fleeing persecution based on their ethnicity. My concern is the you represent the average Australian that has only been to a resort in Bali and has no clue on what happens outside your own suburb.

  28. David Hand, please share the secret with the rest of the world. Just how did you manage to be born as a white Australian? I’m sure if more people in the third world countries knew that secret they would simply avoid being born there.

    “to better manage the millions of people moving from the third world to the first world” – just how did it come about that they are the third world, you heartless, xenophobic prick? It would not have something to do with colonisation and mismanagement that followed, would it? This sense of entitlement is no different to that of Hockey’s leaners.

    From the global perspective, Australia position on refugees is absolutely abhorrent. The only thing that makes us special here is that we are tucked down under in the butt of the planet. It’s just an unfortunate consequence that so many Australians decided to put there heads in their own butts too, when it comes to compassion, empathy and responsibility for the future of us all, because in the end there is no first, second or third world.

  29. MalSt – so much of what is execrable in the current ALP began under Bumbler Beezlby – from his hot & sweaty love of things that go whoosh & bang to his apotheosis, “sink the Tampa!”
    He hadn’t the wit nor ability to anything except mewl “Howard delenda est” in his prolix manner, thus incurring the derision of all.

  30. You’ve got me Lubo.
    My conscience is “pricked” to use a term.

    Here’s what I think we should do.

    Let’s combine Australia’s and Sri Lanka’s GDPs and population. Then let’s calculate the GINI coefficient of the combined countries. Then let’s put in place economic policy and wealth redistribution so that the GINI coefficient falls to about .2.

    What do you think of that, Lubo?

  31. I won’t bother with the figures for Bangla Desh but Sri Lanka has virtually the same population as Oz but an area of slightly less than the Merkin Isle (65Ksqkm/68Ksqkm).

  32. No idea David. Let’s not. Let’s try to be less arrogant and let’s get a little bit of a historical perspective. Being smart-arsed got us where we are now.

    Do you believe that the Portuguese, Dutch and British occupation of Sri Lanka has nothing to do with what is happening there now?

    Hmm comparing GDP’s of both countries. Where would our GDP be without all the minerals? Just how did you David contribute to the fact that the Australian continent contains a large amounts of mineral resources? Does that make you entitled to send Sri-Lankan refugees back where they are likely to be tortured or killed?

  33. Here are the numbers comparing Australia with Sri Lanka.
    Sri Lanka population 20,263,723. Per capita GDP US$2,004
    Australia population 23,527,265. Per capita GDP US$43,000

    This is a great idea and all you bleeding heart lefties can enthusiastically embrace. Combine the populations and the GDP and calculate the GINI coefficient.

    After all, the GINI coefficient is a much loved vehicle of the left to beat up the rest of Australia as it makes the words of Jesus true. (Matt 26.11, For you always have the poor with you).

    Then in the true spirit of sharing and caring for the disadvantaged we can transfer enough wealth to Sri Lanka to bring their per capita GDP up and ours down until the GINI coefficient is low enough for SHY to hold her head up at the next left green international conference she attends.

    After all, as Andrew Tasker insightfully said, “No man is an island. you simply ignore another’s plight just because it might cause you some form of discomfort”.

    As Lubor said, “When it comes to compassion, empathy and responsibility for the future of us all, …… in the end there is no first, second or third world.”

  34. I’m suggesting the inner urban leftie view is that we share all that mineral wealth with the poor of Sri Lanka through wealth transfers.

    That’s what you’re really saying Lubo, isn’t it?

  35. Lets play the ball not the man folks (me too). No matter how the situation developed in Sri Lanka we have some people fleeing persecution which for a Tamil in Sri Lanka is serious. They are denied the ability to work, study and live a peaceful life even if they took no part in their recent civil war and this situation looks set to go on for years. That is a fact not a point of discussion. Put the political spin and media beat up aside. Put aside your own selfish opinions of not wanting to share our extraordinary wealth and view this as a companionate human being. Because at the of the day this is what this is about.

  36. Andrew,
    In the absence of real wealth transfer from the first world to the third so that global GINI comes down and people no longer need to migrate in search of a better life, all this leftie talk of compassion, caring and venomous judgement of those who hold a different view as being evil is just one massive inner urban elitist group wank.

  37. David Hand

    Time to give the soft left Crikey hand wringers a bit of a sendoff David.

    Oz isn’t the solution to all those who can get $10000 to buy a ticket for a trip with the smugglers and their Aussie co-conspirators.

    All those who hold that Oz is the solution can put up their own cash and resources into the “Crikey sponsor an asylum seeker fund” and sponsor refugees from a regional UNHCR source in addition to the 13500 we already take.

    I am sure that the Abbott Govt would be glad of such assistance with the costs of each extra refugee saved, and kudos can be had by all the compassionistas.

    We will then see just how much your Burnsides, Mannes Frasers, Rundles and their Crikey fellow travellers rake up and how many extra refugees are saved by their efforts.

    Impress us all with your money where your mouth is compassion Crikeyteers!!!

  38. Well no Yclept and AR.

    How about a bogan and a leftie swapped so we can get rid of the Palmer and Green voters at the same time.

    If the patriotic south Vietnamese veterans who proudly march each Anzac day are any guide, the genuine refugee should be a natural Liberal-Conservative voter.

  39. Thanks, @guyrundle. @tonykevin The refugee crisis has divided Australia into two hostile, mutually uncomprehending camps, and the gulf widens daily. A good writer – yourself, David Marr ? – needs to write a book on this I.e. What is it doing to our nation? The correspondence evoked by your essay suggests some of the main themes. I tried to float this idea but it appears – at least, my former publisher thinks – that I have run out of juice. What about you?

  40. Well that doesn’t work. As much as I can’t stand Palmer, he and the Greens are the only thing keeping the Libs and Liberal Lite honest and providing some fine entertainment.

    Yeah, of course they’d vote for the big end of town that is so keen to persecute them.

  41. Congratulations to Guy Rundle. I am ashamed to admit it is time now that we all ‘rebel’ against Abbott and Morrison.
    They have gone too far sending boat people back to their executioners.
    I was embarrassed before, I ma disgusted now.
    Can he now write another article suggesting the best way we can ‘rebel’?

  42. What the whole soft left rabble wilfully or ignorantly won’t admit is that Tamil Nadu (in India) is a safe haven for Tamils escaping Sri Lanka and its only 58km across a relatively safe stretch of water.

    They then try us on with the fiction that Sri Lankans leaving Tamil Nadu to be smuggled thousands of km to Australia are in fear of their lives when the bleedingly obvious facts are that they are seeking a better life, like potentially millions of other poorer souls across the third world.

    And lastly, they scream moral outrage at the supposed brutality of those stating these facts and wanting proper control and safe refugee immigration.

    In fact, the moral argument is really on the side of those who want to see a necessarily limited number of refugee places filled by those poor souls rotting in regional camps who have no means to buy a $10000 smuggler’s ticket or ability to pay corrupt officials.

  43. Of course there’s another way to look at the Sri Lankan refugee problem. 1) We could open our gates wide and allow the entire Sri Lankan population come here. 2) Driven mad by a bureaucracy which is second only to Indian bureaucracy we could all leave the country and take up residence in the now vacant island of Sri Lanka.

    Depending upon your political/moral/ethnic perspective/s any one of you could pose, albeit hypothetically, stage (3.)