Politics

America’s Anger About Trump’s New Border Policy Should Be A Wake Up Call For Australia 

Where did our anger go?

border policy

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Right now, it seems like the entirety of America is up in arms about Trump’s cruel new border policy.

The news that a new “zero tolerance” immigration policy is leading to thousands of children being separated from their families and detained at the US-Mexico border has, quite rightly, shocked everyone. All five current and former US first ladies have spoken out against the policy — including Melania Trump, wife of the guy responsible for it. In an opinion piece for the Washington Postformer first lady Laura Bush wrote that the policy is “cruel”, “immoral”, and “breaks my heart”.

It isn’t just the first ladies. Other commentators have started to call this Trump’s “Katrina moment”, referring to President George W Bush’s cold inaction as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina unfolded before him. Nationwide protests against the policy are in the works, and they’re not just for the left-wing youth. Conservative religious leaders are also stepping out to condemn separating families and isolating children, calling the move “disgraceful”.

The outrage, in short, is massive. It also shines an uncomfortable light on Australia, which has had similarly despicable border policies for years now. Where is our massive outrage? Did we ever have it? Where did it go?

This is not to say that Australia has not opposed offshore detention — there have always been protests here, some of them massive. The people and organisations who have maintained this rage deserve not to be erased. But if we ever had the kind of widespread public outrage the US is experiencing right now, it’s fair to say it’s faded beyond belief. Lucy Turnbull is not out writing opinion pieces slamming her husband’s terrible border policy every time an asylum seeker dies by suicide in our offshore processing centres, which is a sadly regular occurrence now.

Even our opposition party supports offshore detention — just last month, a Labor Party state conference shut down debate about at the very least limiting offshore detention to 90 days.

And make no mistake, our policies are as bad as, even worse than, what’s happening in the US. In fact, a phone call between Trump and Turnbull back in August arguably inspired some of Trump’s current cruelty — as Turnbull explained Australia’s border policy, Trump responded “that is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.” And we are. We’ve barred dying refugees on Nauru from coming to Australia for palliative care. We’ve stood by as twelve people died in our offshore detention centres, by murder or suicide or avoidable accidents. We’ve heard medical professionals tell us that children are depressed, even suicidal, because they are kept in offshore detention.

We’ve also somehow reached a point where none of those facts move us like they should. Today is World Refugee Day, and we aren’t moved by that either — if we were, we’d be moving to #BringThemHere, effective immediately.

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist and refugee currently detained on Manus Island, puts it better than I ever could: “Australia needs to reach a collective and national understanding that under no circumstances can one ever justify the violation of human rights – no excuses are acceptable.”

When we see this week’s news on the US, we need to think seriously about what it says about us. About where our anger has gone, and how we get it back.

Exactly how we do that, I don’t know. For a start, though, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s annual donation telethon is running until 10pm tonight. If you have even a few funds to spare, you should check it out.


Feature image vis Marisa Kabas on Twitter.