One of the justifications for the federal government’s scandalous attack on Prof Gillian Triggs was that she did not acknowledge in her report that the current government had transferred more than 1000 children to Australia. The Government’s opinion was that her concentration on the parlous condition of the hundreds who were left, was nitpicking.
They do have a point. If something like 90% of the children in detention have been transferred to Australia then that should be acknowledged.
But the acknowledgement should not stop there. Prof Triggs was not asked to investigate the conditions in which the children who were transferred are living. She may have delivered a far more damning condemnation of current government policies than her current report has done.
There are some things we can reasonably assume from the situation.
The first is that these children have now been separated from their parents, who remain in detention. It’s a rock and a hard place situation, really. Is it better to be living in a detention centre with your parents or living in a foreign country without them? Sen Ricky Muir was right when he said that it’s a terrible decision for someone to have to make.
The second reasonable assumption is that these children will be living with someone. Who this “someone” is has not been part of the public discussion of this issue. One possibility is that these children have been left with “illegal immigrant” families who have been settled in Australia and who are now living on 50% of the unemployment benefit.
If this is the case, it’s interesting that the government is prepared to shuffle responsibility for its policies on to one of the most reviled and victimised groups in Australian society.
The second possibility is that these children have been placed in some form of state care where the care providers probably do not speak their language and where conditions are for the most part fairly grim. It is to be hoped that they have been placed in foster care of sympathetic and compassionate people who will take care of them in the face of the government’s complete lack of concern for their welfare.
It is difficult to imagine the trauma for a young child who has fled their home country, presumably after a considerable period of persecution and then made the journey from their homeland to Indonesia and then from Indonesia to the detention centre in a dangerously unseaworthy boat. On top of this has been added trauma of living with their parents in almost sub-human conditions in the detention centres for a lengthy period of time.
The Abbott Government is currently working up fear and paranoia over the “radicalisation” of young Muslems. From most of the reports in the media, this small group of young men appears to be a group of badly educated thugs who live in impoverished conditions in the outer suburbs of the main cities.
This is not to underestimate the problem that these young men may represent. But in history, the problem of radicalisation and of the birth of the of violent revolutionary has not yet become as apparent in Australia as it has in other countries.
Radicals, revolutionaries, terrorists, call them what you wish, like de Valera, Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Mandela were born into lives of poverty, injustice, disadvantage and political repression.
Imagine a Magistrate somewhere in Australia, some 20 years from now saying, “I’m taking into account the trauma suffered by the defendant in his home country, as result of his journey to the detention centre on Nauru, his five years as a child in that detention centre and his impoverished childhood after that, when sentencing him for the crime of………” You can fill the gap with almost anything you like.
The result of the child detention policies of the Federal Government (ably supported by the Labor opposition) will be a group of young men and women whose profoundly traumatised childhood and adolescence will lead them to becoming social problems of the kind and dimension that we have not seen before in Australia.
Australia has dealt with successive waves of migrants, some welcome, some not so welcome, reasonably well. These people have undergone the often painful process of assimilation into Australian culture with relative success. It is a process that we are now turning our backs on. It is impossible to calculate the cost, in both human and economic terms, of this disastrous policy.