Twirling towards freedom

Cambodian Holiday

Last week Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told Fairfax Media that he was trying to expand the “club” of nations willing to take refugees who, despite being apprehended by Australia, will not make Australia home. 

This week Phnom Penh announced that it has given “in principle” support for refugees arrested trying to enter Australia to be resettled in Cambodia. 

I don’t even know where to start. Clearly, it will surprise nobody that someone who is humanistic on the subject of boat people will find this upsetting. The sheer two-fisted inhumanity inherent in the decision puts it up there with Labor’s dud “people swap” deal with Malaysia. In this blog, I’ve accused Morrison of cartoonish hubris and moral vapidity, but, honestly, Scotty, Jesus fucking Christ. 

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, one still recovering from cataclysmic genocide, and one that depends on foreign aid to pretend to a decent standard of living for its citizens, much of which is received from Australia.  It boasts an atrocious human rights record and ongoing problems with poverty, slavery and exploitation of the disposed, including children. This is still a country where foraging for landmines is a career, where a key tourist attraction is a field of skulls. 

Courting Phnom Penh to resettle more than 1,000 refugees from Nauru to Cambodia, indicating that we will “pay almost anything” as reported by AM, is profoundly exploitative, both of a country in dire need of capital and people already suffering a dearth of hope.   It is a crass, predatory move by a coal-hearted and ham-fisted government that has repeatedly demonstrated its bastardry, yet somehow always manages to go one step further.

Churlishly guarding the quality of life for existent Australians is not enough. Those seeking to join our country must suffer for their aspirations. That’s why we waste our military and fiscal resources plodding our northern waters. It’s why we gave patrol boats to Sri Lanka. It’s why men, women and children persecuted as "illegal maritime arrivals" atrophy, suffer and die in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. It’s because Abbott and Morrison, and for that matter Bowen and the previous ALP government, appear to have wanted the very thought of asking Australia to live up to its humanitarian responsibility to reek of hell on Earth.

Presumably, the major parties are working with some latter-day Satanists to open a portal straight to hell, into which they can plunge derelict fishing boats as they limp into our territorial waters. There are rumours the Nazis embarked on similar research, but nothing came out of that. I’m sure that won’t stop the government in its efforts to rain hellfire on the vulnerable. 

No, wait. It’s lazy and unfair to compare any political regime to the Nazis just for practicing ludicrous, medieval cruelty. The Coalition is in no way like the Nazi party, who were a pack of vicious, scapegoating thugs who stormed to power by fostering fiscal greed and xenophobic scapegoating. No, after all, the Nazis had a Ministry of Science.

As everyone knows, the first to bring Nazis into any debate has lost it. And in this debate I and those who share my sentiments are clearly not winning. But Australia is better than this. We must be better. If we must be in a “club” it should be aspirational, a kind of moral socio-economic Club Med for others to aspire to, or we will be remembered as the nation that ruined our paradise trying to protect it.  

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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