Mar 9, 2016

Border Force very sad about mean media comparing detention to Nazi concentration camps

Why is everyone so rude about Border Force? They're just following orders. (Where have we heard that one before?)

Josh Taylor — Journalist

Josh Taylor


They wear dark militaristic uniforms, are forced to pledge an oath upon signing up, wanted to conduct random street checks on visas, and spend millions of dollars on medals. But please don't compare them to you-know-who, secretary of the highly secretive government Department of Immigration and Border Protection has said, in a bizarre (and a tad sensitive) defence of border protection policy, detention centres and Border Force. For the second time in under a month, Michael Pezzullo lashed out at coverage of Border Force issues, sending out a downright weird press release on Tuesday defending the government's highly controversial policy of detaining asylum seekers -- in particular, children -- who arrive by boat offshore on Manus or Nauru. Pezzullo, using a line similar to the Nuremberg defence, stated that the department was simply following the law of Australia and government policy in detaining children. He said that the department and its "uniformed operational arm", Border Force, operated within the law and was not an "immoral 'rogue agency'". Pezzullo did not specifically reference what prompted the release, however it appears it to be in response to an article published in the Australasian Psychiatry Journal in January by UNSW senior lecturer Michael Dudley. In his article examining the role of healthcare professionals in immigration detention, Dudley said that the detention policies "show reckless indifference and calculated cruelty". He said they "promote public numbing and indifference" and compared the policies to Nazi Germany, and detention to Soviet gulags. He said that keeping children and adults in detention contravened Australia's endorsement of international conventions on refugees, civil and political rights, torture, children and disability, but he noted that no dissent or impartial evidence had swayed successive governments to consider alternatives. He said the ethical aims of healthcare and detention were incompatible. Healthcare workers in detention centres are forced to sign secret agreements, which sabotage their independence and compromise their ability to provide advocacy and confidentiality for their patients. The part that seems to have most hurt Pezzullo's feelings is a comparison to how health professionals in World War II helped the Nazis. Dudley wrote:
"Nazi-helping professionals were usually normal people, not psychopaths or villains. Peer and situational pressures, careerism and ideological commitments motivated them. Euphemism, bureaucratic routines and missionary zeal facilitated psychic numbing and denial."
Pezzullo said it was highly offensive to claim detention centres were like gulags and that detention "involves a 'public numbing and indifference' similar to that allegedly experienced in Nazi Germany". When there was confusion to what experiences in Nazi Germany Pezzullo believed to be "alleged", the department put out a second press release clarifying that "the term ‘allegedly’ was used to counter claims of 'public numbing and indifference' towards state abuses in Nazi Germany and the link to immigration detention in Australia":
"Any insinuation the Department denies the atrocities committed in Nazi Germany are both ridiculous and baseless. This has been wilfully taken out of context and reflects deliberate attempts to distort this opinion editorial to create controversy."
Pezzullo stated that the resources devoted to providing medical and support services "undercuts emotive and inflammatory claims to the contrary". He said there was "enhanced oversight" for the care given to asylum seekers in detention, with the department's chief medical officer, Dr John Brayley, giving advice to Pezzullo. In a Senate estimates hearing in February, Brayley said it was "deleterious" for children to be held in detention, and those suffering from PTSD should not be held in detention. Pezzullo said the department's goal was "the same as its critics" -- i.e. to get children out of detention -- and he noted there were now just 58 children in detention, down from close to 2000 in 2013. The 80 children in Australia for medical treatment, who are due to be returned to Nauru following a High Court decision, will be returned to an "open centre" on Nauru. There is security at an open centre, but the government of Nauru says asylum seekers are free to come and go as they please. Asylum seeker advocates are quick to point out, however, that the island of Nauru is 21 square kilometres -- smaller than Melbourne Airport. Pezzullo was not the only one to take issue with Dudley's Nazi comparisons. Last month Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot said that it was a "disappointing" comparison to make.
"Whatever validity there is to criticisms of Australia’s detention centres, it is undermined by making such comparisons."
Mike Godwin, the man who popularised "Godwin's Law" -- which describes the likelihood of online debate invoking hyperbolic comparisons to Nazis or Hitler -- has previously said it was not trivialising to compare Australia's asylum seeker policy to Nazi Germany.

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15 thoughts on “Border Force very sad about mean media comparing detention to Nazi concentration camps

  1. JMNO

    The constant comparisons made by Dutton et al with the 2000 in detention in 2013 is misleading. Arrival numbers were very high in 2013 and everyone was detained initially for health, identity and security checks. Until Gillard hardened her Government’s policy and decided to put all new arrivals offshore, the people in detention were generally released into the community once/if the checks were clear.

    Meanwhile, according to anecdotal reports, the Department is continuing to cleanse itself of people with immigration experience and replace them with Customs staff.

  2. Peter Darco

    I wonder about the incidence of PTSD in staff of detention centers.

    Perhaps Dutton would like to spend a day a month working in the detention centers to find out.

  3. wellsy32

    I always love how wounded the hierarchy of Border Farce feel over any criticism. We are not allowed to know of their practices, we are not allowed to see life in the camps but be assured, the deaths, the rapes, the suicides and the despair are all part of a well run, humane detention centre.

    We’ve had some shameful episodes in our history but our recent response to desperate people seeking asylum may turn out to be our worst.

  4. Norman Hanscombe

    Your devotees are still with you Joshua so you’re not alone tripping the light fantastic in your castles in the sky.

  5. softgrow

    In this climate of secrecy and inhumane conditions, how many personnel are moving beyond their remit? Even if we accept the planned inhumanity of it by the department/government, how many miscreants are moving beyond (and thriving) in this sort of environment? We need to start collecting evidence for our own Australian “Frankfurt Auschwitz trials”

  6. parrick

    I came off a Qantas flight from Dubai last Friday morning in Sydney to be met by two black-shirted, bebooted, positively glaring border force goons. They gave us all the fierce once-over glare as we filed past. Perhaps it has to do with the number of middle-eastern people on the plane – after all it was from Dubai. I don’t know what the new arrivals thought. Welcome to Australia.
    Luckily just before the duty-free shop we were then greeted by two massive ‘Priscellas,’ all glitter, glam, extraordinary eyelashes, high heels and deep voices welcoming us to Mardi Gras city. I still don’t know what the new arrivals thought but I was happy to see the two of ’em. Now that’s the welcoming Australia I know and love.

  7. Bob Joyce

    The biggest problem for the Dept of Immigration is that anyone possessing both intelligence and a moral compass has already left to work elsewhere. Border Force is staffed by the dregs of the public service, so cockups are normal.

  8. dennis

    How long before border force, around the country, be pulling over people, more that likely leftie’s, to check passports and license papers or whatever they desire to pull you up for. Yes laugh now and maybe it wont happen,just maybe.

  9. Pedantic, Balwyn

    Only a Royal Commission will finally deliver the truth about what has and is still happening in offshore detention centres. Will one happen, unlikely!
    Labor started the awful process and our now Treasurer made it a militaristic organisation that would stop the boats at all costs. However Morrison is not alone, the whole Liberal Cabinet agreed to the policy and should be asked to explain their lack of humanity and basic decency.

  10. Xoanon

    Border Force! [HONK]

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