Federal

Jun 25, 2018

Australia has weaponised suicide and Peter Dutton just admitted it

What happens now that the man in charge of Australia's immigration and asylum seeker policies has said if we want to stop the boats, we cannot stop the suicides?

Chris Woods — Freelance journalist

Chris Woods

Freelance journalist

Barely a week after Fariborz Karami died by suicide on Nauru, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has warned against Australians extending a “single act of compassion” to people detained in offshore detention. After five years of running Labor’s camps, it is the Coalition’s latest, perhaps most honest, admission that our immigration system requires continued and deliberate human suffering.

It is important we take the Home Affairs Minister’s comments in context. The Department of Home Affairs has recently buckled to pressure to bring a dying asylum seeker to Australia for palliative care, and failed to stop suicidal children from receiving care in Australia; in the face of those precedents, a suicide on Manus Island last month, and news that Australia chose to ignore months of warnings about Karami, Dutton is at pains to ramp up fear over boat arrivals.

He says that Australia is entering a fragile “danger phase” because people are still attempting to seek asylum by boat, specifically the 130 aboard a Sri Lankan tanker in May. “The hard-won success of the last few years,” Dutton said, “could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia”.

Basically, if we want to stop the boats, we cannot stop the suicides.

Of course, Australia has known about the mental impacts of indefinite, offshore detention for years now. They are inherent to our system of deterrence, one that has led to six suspected suicides and, according to the United Nations in 2016, rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD that rank among the highest recorded “of any surveyed population”. Even Dutton, who has overseen the US-Australia refugee deal, once publicly aspired to “be the minister that removes children from detention”, despite his department fighting that exact thing in March this year.

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Yet for many in the media, including Crikey’s own Bernard Keane last week, Australia’s policy of stopping the boats is one of the Coalition’s crowning achievements, something lefties just stubbornly cannot admit. This is because, despite all the deaths from preventable diseases and child rape and world records for PTSD, the boats have stopped (arriving).

Now, we can get hung up on the fact that, while dangerous, seeking asylum by boat is an inherent human right; that cutting off Australia as a destination has created an uncertain, clearly fragile bottleneck that doesn’t in itself help anyone. Or we can recognise that alternative, long-term policies exist. Yet whatever the complexities around immigration and the genuine desire to address deaths at sea, the problem with the current justification at its core is surprisingly simple.

Because even pretending for a second that “stopping the boats” is the utilitarian solution Labor and the Coalition pretend it is, the fact remains that Australian politics now treats suicide as a de facto limitless resource. Since 2013, the conditions at our detention centres have led six men to kill themselves. The seventh, when it inevitably happens, will be par for the course, merely another totem to ward off

Imagine seriously applying that logic — of destroying an innocent human being in the name of deterrence — to any other aspect of public policy. We don’t imprison survivors of car accidents. So why should our treatment of people asking for help be the exception?

Adam Bandt was not wrong when he called the current system terrorism. It wasn’t hyperbole, and not even a denial of the logic underpinning terrorism; it was simply an acknowledgement that Australia uses fear and suffering as a weapon.

And despite the lure of simplifying this as an either-or situation, what activists want right now is Australia to respect the sanctity of lives under our care and address deaths at sea. Political parties need to acknowledge challenging, holistic, and yes, even long-term, AKA utilitarian, alternatives, such as visa and carrier reforms, increased navy co-operation, or Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan’s recently proposed system of regional processing centres. Even systems of directly breaking up people-smuggling operations, on the explicit condition that people seeking asylum are not refouled but instead saved, would be a welcome solution to the drownings argument.

But weaponising suicide? That would be a cruel, hollow victory, a myopic abandonment of compassion Australians should never, ever admit “works”.

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18 comments

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18 thoughts on “Australia has weaponised suicide and Peter Dutton just admitted it

  1. Bobby

    The extreme left constantly complain that only fascists will defend borders, then a constantly surprised when voters hire fascists to do the job their political parties won’t.

    1. Fletcher Beverley

      Such a load of crock… “extreme left” aren’t the only one’s with a problem with offshore detention… (Who even is the extreme left? Are they still accepting applications?)

      More Australians oppose offshore detention than support it. It’s not a question of “voters choosing”, quite the opposite. Voters have chosen and been studiously ignored.

      The Australian Institute survey found only 22% of Aussies supported the bipartisan Labor/Liberal policy of offshore detention.

  2. JMNO

    What stops the boats is boat turn backs and how many people die in this process, we do not know. However keeping people locked up on Manus and Nauru has not stopped the boats. Is it 23 boats that have attempted to reach Australia since they were locked up? Both major parties have said they will continue boat turn backs. However there is no reason why those in detention cannot be released because their imprisonment has not acted as any kind of deterrent.

  3. JMNO

    What stops the boats is boat turn backs and how many people die in this process, we do not know. However keeping people locked up on Manus and Nauru has not stopped the boats. Is it 23 boats that have attempted to reach Australia since they were locked up? Both major parties have said they will continue boat turn backs. However there is no reason why those in detention cannot be released because their imprisonment has not acted as any kind of deterrent.

  4. Marilyn

    1. regional processing is a sick joke Australian politicians continue to peddle, there is no such thing as they claim – to seek asylum here you must be here, you cannot shout cooee from overseas and hope someone hears you. We already have ”regional”, it’s called our miniscule humanitarian program and people cannot by law apply directly at any embassy overseas, they have to be referred by the UN and can be refused, and most often are. You should learn what we already do before waffling.
    2. the thing that must be protected is the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution without fear of prosecution.

    The rest of what passes for debate is hogwash.

    And stopping boats is illegal, immoral and utterly repugnant even though our racist media think it’s awesome, the sea is not inherently dangerous because millions and millions of people use the oceans for travel every year – it’s only dangerous for refugees it seems.

  5. AR

    Fun with fakts & figoors might put things in context about this country being overrun, the roads clogged and the services swamped.
    Fewer than 60,000 people arrived during the Labor interregnum – in the same period almost 1.5M came as immigrant plus an unknown number of over stayers from the various shonky visa scams… sorry schemes.
    Put things into proportion.

  6. maxcelcat

    This just makes me sick to my stomach. That man is the worst human being in the country.

  7. klewso

    When Trump told Turnbull “we” were worse than him was he talking about the minister and/or policy?

  8. edumf

    After 5 years of indefinite detention, the asylum seekers on Manus are less refugees, and more so now, political prisoners of the Australian government. That Dutton will not let them be re-settled in New Zealand sadly reinforces this state of affairs.

  9. mongoose

    If there were no bombs raining down on them, killing their families and smashing their homes or if there were no looting of their lands causing famine and hardship there would be no refugees. They do not want to live in Australia, or anywhere else. They want to live in their own country with their own people, in peace and security.
    Making terrifying sea crossings in rattletrap boats, risking their very lives and those of their children, is an act of desperation for the greater majority of these people. And then they are hated and incarcerated when they come for help. We turn a blind eye to refugee woman and children being raped and think its a good solution when these poor broken people kill themselves. We have a lot to be ashamed of. This is not the Australia I grew up in where mateship and lending a hand, gladly lending a hand, was soul of this country.
    I say put Peter Dutton on a boat.

    1. klewso

      They’re not refugees – they’re “Examples”.

  10. Tony Ridler

    #WhaTiF-“Pity is underrated”, and, #SnowFlakes find sarcasm patronizing?

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