Having resided at the Mantra Hotel in Preston, where around 60 refugees have been held for eight months, the temptation is to make the joke that everyone who stays there is tortured in some form or another.
The place used to have a standard business hotel section and an el cheapo option called, ironically, “Breakfree”, which had small studio rooms in the style of a Scandinavian prison. It tended to be block-booked by social services with troubled families and recently released prisoners.
The Mantra is the “upmarket” wing, home to mid-level businesspeople and prisoners of the federal state charged with no crime.
Well, the refugees — 60 or so people medivacced in during the few months before the medivac law was repealed — are now on the move, relocated not out of any humanitarian concern, but because the government contract with the hotel is up.
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There’s no word on where they’re being sent, with Peter Dutton and the Morrison government showing every desire to disappear them into the system entirely — hence the recent failed attempt to deprive them of mobile phones.
The regime has substantially been one of lockdown 23 hours a day, with little opportunity for exercise, access to nature, socialising, or much basic freedom to move around.
The Mantra 60 should be released into community living immediately (they have all been in detention for years already). The regime they are under shows why they won’t be. It’s torture, but that peekaboo sort of torture successive Australian governments have made themselves the world leader in, over a quarter century of this benighted policy.
“Look! They’re in clean, comfortable rooms! They have TV! How can this be called torture?”
But that’s the whole point of the exercise, of course. It’s to maximise the gap between the satisfaction of human animal needs — a warm bed, an endless supply of their wretched paninis — and the deprivation of all the wants of a human being, that serve to keep us human.
At the very least, a chance to have a community of sorts, a common space one can wander in and out of at will, to a reasonable degree. The lockdown that they have been under is psychological terror, pure and simple.
It is designed to simply abolish that in us which makes us human, and to render people as supine, somnolent, clinically depressed carbon.
How does a regime like this survive without mass outrage challenging it?
The aforementioned setting is only a part of it. The other part is that such a regime is surrounded by the wider principle of carceralism, in which the treatment of humans as warehousable objects has become normalised.
This is the infinite extension of the penitentiary, the Quakers’ batty idea from the 19th century that total isolation of prisoners would break the cycle of criminality. At least the Quakers believed in a God the prisoners could have a relationship with. Our use of such conditions is the reverse.
It is being and time as torture, a regime that leaves you little to do but contemplate the moment-by-moment wasting of your life.
Such prisoners are even denied a release date, which allows the convicted some sort of framework to make meaning of an incarcerated existence. Without that, the prisoners of the Australian state are in permanent suspension.
A day might be a hundredth of the time to be endured, or a thousandth, or a ten thousandth. Existence dissolves into nothingness.What is perhaps most immoral about this regime is that any utility — however cruel or calculated — has all but disappeared. The Medevac law is gone; there’s no promise “people smugglers” can make to would-be arrivals.
The Coalition could have released these people to the community 20 a week, for a month, months ago. Any electoral concern as regards One Nation, a null organisation in Victoria, are minimal.
With the stroke of a pen this great suffering could be abolished. But the regime has two remnant purposes, dark and squalid by turn.
The squalid one is easy: the Coalition right wants to own their own “moderates” (a Lib moderate believes that torture requires a court order), daring them to make a protest, putting them on the outs. And they want to maximise the referred pain of those who got the medivac law passed, against a Coalition government. Pure sadism, directed against multiple victims.
The darker push is to get the Australian public accustomed to, and accepting of, indefinite detention without trial. As the latest in an endless series of laws to extend ASIO and other powers to detain is put up, as the persecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K rolls on, as Julian Assange goes unspoken for by his government, the Coalition right are preparing for what they hope they can one day achieve here: a version of Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy”, in which fundamental rights are abolished.
Such regimes are always applied to the outsider before being turned inward. Those in the Coalition who claim to be liberals, dedicated to English rights and freedoms blah blah, are playing host to those who would abolish it.
One half dozen of them could stop this in its tracks, but doubtless the torture will continue, and they will do nothing but keep on reciting their mantra.