Stan Grant redefined the race debate in an address given in October but revived by social media on the eve of Australia Day, known to Aboriginal and other Australians as Invasion Day. In light of this, his powerful speech had a new immediacy, poignancy and relevance.
In my opinion, Grant said rightly the Australian dream was built on racism. He reiterated the appalling statistics on Aboriginal mortality and disproportionate incarceration, including children, in relation to the general population. Well done, Stan; that was an address requiring moral courage of a type not often seen in this country, where spin and sweeping under the carpet is the norm.
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A future in politics for Stan Grant?
Entering politics is a possibility but nothing is 'on the bone' says Stan Grant. Vision courtesy ABC television.
What has not been addressed is the raw and savage racism underpinning Australia's refugee "policies". Former prime minister John Howard set the tone with his smug and manipulative "we will decide who comes here" statement and his "children overboard" untruth, both predicated on a deniable racism. This played out with the extraordinarily lengthy and cruel periods of detention of asylum seekers in desert detention facilities over seen by then immigration minister Philip Ruddock. He set the benchmark for the appalling behaviour of subsequent ministers in that portfolio.
The theme of this year's Australia Day was "a fair go for all", quite at odds with the reality for incarcerated asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru as part of the unsustainable policy of deterrence, implemented under the malicious "doctrine" of no advantage. There are better ways of handling this compelling human need. As Grant and other prominent Australians have said, "we are better than this". The racism woven through refugee policy makes a farce of the Australian dream.
A 23-year-old Somali refugee woman, Abyan, under the protection of the Australian government, was raped on Nauru at a time she was already suffering serious physical and mental health issues. After she was flown to Australia for an abortion after a public outcry, the current immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said officers from his department assessed that she did not want one. People following the case were aghast.
Meanwhile, a human rights lawyer in NSW, Kellie Tranter, has obtained relevant documents under freedom of information law. She received them in December. The redacted documents show that officers from the department "believe" Abyan wanted to prolong her stay in Australia so that lawyers could help her case.
Tranter's research establishes that Abyan wanted to delay the abortion until she was fit enough to have one. She was apparently aware that she was neither mentally or physically in shape to have an abortion. Dutton was aware of this but misled the Australian people about the facts of the case. It is said that the period in which Abyan could have an abortion has passed and that she will now have the child.
In October 2014, then immigration minister Scott Morrison told the Australian public that nine workers on Nauru from charity group Save the Children had been "coaching" asylum seekers to fabricate claims of abuse so as to "embarrass" the Abbott government, a state of affairs that the government was able to achieve without help from anyone else.
Morrison had those workers expelled. A subsequent inquiry found that Morrison had acted without any basis in fact and that the workers should be compensated. It was an egregious case of bullying. Morrison misled the public; he is now Treasurer.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has a problem on his hands. Two of his cabinet ministers have been untruthful about issues of fundamental rights and information relating to the abuse of those rights. As Stan Grant said, these issues go to the core of who we are and who we believe ourselves to be as a nation.
Many prominent Australians have tried to change successive governments' policies ib tge deliberate cruelty directed at asylum seekers, particularly those men, women and children being left to rot in detention. Claims made on Australia Day about Australia being the nation of the fair go are self-serving propaganda.
In August 2014, prominent Australian Janet Holmes à Court delivered the Sandy Duncanson social justice lecture, titling her speech: "Asylum seekers: how did we come to this?" In seeking to answer that question, she noted we were treating asylum seekers as less than human; they were "left to rot, unseen and unheard, in an isolated cesspit somewhere in Nauru's jungle". She said: "Rather than 'no advantage', the government's own business model relies on its capacity to inflict maximum mental and physical disadvantage."
We are no better than apartheid South Africa.
Holmes à Court asked how we allow this to happen. How do we put up with the daily mistreatment and abuse of asylum seekers? It is because we believe in the equality of all men, women and children, and because we honour our international undertakings towards the disposed and downtrodden, much as the white South African government did under the policy of apartheid towards black citizens? We are no better.
Holmes à Court said that perhaps we didn't arrive here; like Grant, she said that maybe we always were here. She said that "for as long as we continue to slaughter one another, there will be refugees and asylum seekers ... When an enlightened and compassionate prime minister does emerge, there is bound to be a royal commission, an apology and compensation paid ... And what will we say? We didn't know or we did know, but did nothing. Does this sound familiar?"
And this from one of Australia's most-respected businesswomen and philanthropists. How can the government continue to ignore the arguments against its cruel and repressively racist policies towards Australia's most dispossessed and needy? The ball is in your court, Turnbull.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, retired diplomat and former member of the Refugee Review Tribunal.