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On immigration integrity, the Australian Labor government must not fail

October 2022

Beverly Holmes-Brown

On immigration integrity, the Australian Labor government must not fail

The Australian Border Force was not created from a platform of honesty and transparency, quite the opposite. Double talk and trickery underlie the political slurs used to dehumanise and criminalise boat people resulting in needless deaths, agony and brokenness. Labor must return to truth.

Australia’s Border Force is stained by the corruption of terminology and decency that spawned it. To continue policies that were deceitfully framed and deceptively obscured from public view for so long would undermine the faith Australians want to have in their new government.

Social media issued a collective sigh of relief when Labor was elected to govern. Prior to the 2022 election Australians were weighed down with concern rooted in years of frustration; the Coalition government had consistently failed to do the right thing.

Deceitful power and money grabbing initiatives had grown so emboldened that they were thinly veiled and the 2022 Election Day boat arrival scare texts were the icing on a cake that had long since passed its sell by date. Scott Morrison had risen through the ranks on a boat stopping platform and now, ironically, his own ship had gracelessly sunk.

It is time to speak Truth now

Our Parliamentary Library website has clearly stated, since before 2013, “(boat people) have a right to not be penalised for their mode of entry.” Offshore processing centres morphed into offshore penal compounds where people were warehoused indefinitely because of their ‘mode of entry.’ We know this decision was political, deceitful and made to advantage those with vested interests in perpetuating cruelty.

Trust in government has increased under Labor but Aussies, like most victims of gaslighting abuse, are bruised and hyper sensitive. Labor cannot maintain trust whilst enforcing the litany of lies that created an unnecessary 9 year humanitarian crisis.

Australia’s Border Force overreach set its trajectory from day one

In 2015 their first public act, Operation Fortitude, created the first Twitter Storm I had seen. Plans to wander Melbourne’s streets checking visas enraged Tweeters and calls for a snap action created an inspiring momentum. “I am white so they won’t be stopping me,” was the response of many. Tweeters considered it a racist stunt designed to persecute. By 11am the ABF were backing down. By 1pm protestors were gathering in force at Melbourne’s Flinders Street station. Then came the inevitable “a staffer did it,” response and the gig was cancelled.

Years of border protection encroachment on human and civil rights had set the scene for this debacle. The audacious attempt to patrol the streets was merely a manifestation of the power drunk refugee-kicking euphoria that gave birth to the ABF.

In 2011, as Shadow Immigration minister, Scott Morrison (Scotty), jaunted off to Malaysia in search of anything that could discredit Labor’s proposed asylum seeker solutions. Having rejected opportunities for bipartisan negotiation, lest Labor get the glory, he returned with grave concerns that Malaysia would breach the human rights of refugees. Totally laughable, in a manically despairing way, for those acquainted with the hellish environments he designed when his moment of power came.

In 2013 Aussies were weary of messy political stoushes, after the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd coups. The Coalition, manifesting an authoritarian leadership style, contrived to persuade voters they were the stable alternative. Border protection was the hook they pitched their sails on and it worked, despite the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers finding that only 8 attempts were ever made to turn back boats, four succeeded and four didn’t. And, despite the fact Wikileaks had outed a key Liberal strategist boasting of plans to exploit refugee boats. In late 2009 he had popped into the US Embassy in Canberra and told staff how pleased the Party was that refugees boats were once again making their way to Christmas Island. The issue was fantastic, he said and, the more boats that come the better. He later admitted they were yet to find a way to make this work in their favour.

Surely now would be a good time to reveal the name of the Liberal Boaster!

One of Scotty’s first acts as Immigration minister in 2013 was to reframe media and government conversations about boat people and border protection. Hansard details this.

In 2013, after being sworn in, he demanded boat people be called “illegals.”

Labor Senator Kim Carr questioned the new terminology during Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee hearings. Michael Pezzullo, CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service confirmed they had not generated the term. Border Protection representatives confirmed it is not a criminal act to come to Australia without a visa. Michaela Cash, Assistant to Scott Morrison explained the legality referred specifically to the mode of entry.

Essentially – boats entered illegally but the people on them did not – no offence had been committed.

Double talk and trickery underlie the political slurs used to dehumanise and criminalise boat people resulting in tragic and needless deaths and a cacophony of agony and brokenness.

Early 2014, two Senior Manus Island guards declared the centre cruel, unsanitary and doomed to fail. The only foreseeable outcome, one said, is bloodshed.

Bloodshed followed in March 2014. Approximately two hundred crazed locals with betel-nut-high red eyes entered the camp with machetes, sticks, rocks and guns.

Reza Berati was murdered during this violent assault and Scotty’s first response was to blame him for his own death … until forced to retract.

In the aftermath the beaten and broken bodies of men and boys were laid out in their blood stained clothes to await medical help. Centre workers wept at the sight.

Many of those assaulted became the first large cohort of emergency medical evacuations to Australia – they were the first I visited in detention.

The Coalition government won the May 2019 election. I will never forget that day because I knew offshore refugees were avidly watching. I was driving when news began to predict a Coalition win and had to pull over. Dread gripped me as calls came in from Manus. Breaking the news to people whose lives hung on hope was awful. Medevac would now be repealed. The lies would continue. Those who were ill would be left on the islands and those brought to Australia for urgent medical care would enter a new round of callous games. We knew they would not get the treatment they needed.

Time, for the battered and broken cohort of people who wandered obliviously into a political game that, after 9 years, still ensnares them, is running out. They are terminally weakened by years of imposed limitations: lengthy incarceration, medical neglect, the inability to advance their lives (some denied freedom, some denied work, all denied study), the withholding of family reunions and regular ABF reminders, including recently, that they are not worthy of the right to live, love and prosper here and must leave.

Minister for Home Affairs, Clare O’Neil rebuked their recent insensitivity but a rebuke is not enough. She must allow the Truth to be told and set the record straight for all of our sakes.

Honesty, Decency, Transparency and Accountability were victims of the government we dismissed. They are the bastions of the future we want for our nation.

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