Monday, September 2, 2019

Today by Elle Hardy

Our cruelty is the point
The Tamil asylum-seeker family’s case exposes the banal heartlessness of our immigration system

Source: Twitter

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce this morning appeared on Sunrise to call on the government to reconsider the deportation of the Tamil asylum-seeker family from Biloela in Queensland.

“I know that Minister Dutton is in such a vexed position, because of the boats coming in from Sri Lanka; the decision has been made that the parents were not qualified as asylum seekers,” Joyce told Channel Seven. “But that’s the parents, not the children.”

Joyce argued that Immigration Minister David Coleman has the discretion to allow the parents and their two Australian-born children to stay, and likened the situation to a police officer using their judgement as to whether they should issue a speeding ticket.

While Joyce was appearing on television, the government was busy running its tried-and-tested fear campaign that an armada of refugee boats was heading for Australia. It dropped a story [$] to friendly press that a boat carrying suspected asylum seekers from Sri Lanka had been intercepted – the sixth such boat since May. Except the boat in question was stopped some three weeks ago, on August 7. Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the cynical move in a press conference this afternoon, telling reporters that “the government releases information as it believes it’s important to do so. We followed a practice that we have in the past and I think that keeps the issue of the ever-present threat of illegal arrivals to Australia foremost in the public’s mind.”

That Joyce calls this “a special case” tells you everything you need to know about the curious bedfellows standing up for the Tamil family. Along with radio shock jock Alan Jones, who has also spoken out in favour of the family, Joyce wants to be seen as a champion for rural Queensland, not for a compassionate border policy.

While Joyce and Jones may differ with their government mates on the details of this one particular case, they are singing from the same hymn sheet (as is Labor) when it comes to hardline immigration policy in Australia.

It’s an echo we’re seeing in populist right-wing movements across the world. In a seminal 2018 essay on the Trump administration’s targeting of minorities and immigrants, American writer Adam Serwer noted that the cruelty is the point.

“[Trump’s] only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear.”

The cruelty is the point in Australia, too. And when it comes to asylum seekers, it’s a point that has been made repeatedly and emphatically since 2001. It binds political leaders with their supporters and is reshaping traditional political allegiances.

“It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united,” Serwer said of support for Trump’s explicit cruelty. “And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.”

The position that Joyce and Jones have both taken is not a turn towards a more humane border policy, but a minor disagreement on the same side of the political coin. They are heightening this cruelty, not rejecting it, because they are showing that our immigration system is arbitrary. They are underlining the central pillar of refugee policy in Australia, that asylum seekers do not have fundamental rights.

They only have good or bad luck. And any good fortune in being able to live in Australia comes at a hefty price. Your background will be scrutinised endlessly, the faces of your young children will be plastered across the media. Only with the right kind of people championing your cause may you have a chance at being saved by ministerial discretion.

Our immigration system has turned cruelty into banality. That it is so arbitrary is exactly the point.

“Eurydice herself should be remembered, as her friends will remember her, for her wit and her courage and for her kindness, not for her death.”

Jeremy Dixon, father of murdered Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon, spoke publicly for the first time following a life sentence being handed to Jaymes Todd for her rape and murder in June 2018.

“We are simply asking the government to make sure of the science before it implements such momentous changes with potentially devastating consequences for so many.”

Queensland’s most influential farm lobby group, AgForce, has backed calls for a review of consensus science on the Great Barrier Reef, as the state’s agricultural sector intensifies its campaign against proposed water quality regulations.

Badiucao, Chinese dissident
Months before the latest protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese government shut down an art exhibition by Chinese–Australian dissident Badiucao. This is his story.


A study has found that on an average day, only 1% of Australian news stories directly quote a young person. Given that around a third of news stories are about issues likely to impact young people, the study’s authors argue that it’s no wonder that so few young people trust the media.

European Union officials want the “respect and full implementation of the Paris agreement” enshrined in a new free-trade agreement with Australia, which is currently being negotiated. The EU is also pushing for us to clean up our petrol standards, which allow for dirtier fuel than India and China.

The list

“It says a great deal for Graham Freudenberg that a speech he wrote nearly 50 years ago still resounds today. It says less for Labor. Any number of reasons will be given for the devastating defeat this year. It’s unlikely the people investigating will decide that before doing anything else, the party should steel itself against the cultural trend, look hard toward the horizon and find an eloquent way of saying what they see.”

“The fallout from the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu was not looking promising ... The cruel and unnecessary decision to deport a Tamil family outraged even the permanently belligerent Alan Jones ... But then, right on cue, the smoking volcano of the NSW Labor Party erupted with a Krakatoa-like detonation, and Morrison was able to slide back into his silent communion with his quiet Australians.”

“A covert operative of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency conducted a secret affair with a senior Whitlam government minister who was of interest to America in the lead-up to the 1975 dismissal, according to a new book on the use and abuse of secrecy in Australia.” 

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at



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