Let's Down Tools For Migrants And Refugees


It's time for workers to withdraw their labour to save the great Australian institution of migration. Migration made this nation, and we celebrate it as often as we can. And yet, every day there’s fresh news on how badly migration to Australia is being managed by the Commonwealth Government, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and its hundreds of contractors.

In particular, we're unable to deal with migrants who arrive by boat; those who move due to war, persecution, and poverty. They’re only known as "asylum seekers" because that’s the administrative category they are obliged to claim, as migrants crossing a national border, seeking safety and security where that is available.

These seaborne migrants are left idle in prison conditions, detained indefinitely, with “processing” of their claims riddled with errors and proceeding at a snail’s pace. Detention centre operators are plagued by successive scandals: allegations of sexual abuse, torture, and punishment, not to mention ubiquitous instances of mental illness, self-harm and post-traumatic stress.

Recently, the various efforts deployed to stop migrants arriving via the ocean included a botched “on-water” operation where Navy personnel entered Indonesian waters (compelling a military response from that country), the finding that up to 20 Navy personnel have associations with the fascist Australian Defence League, and the inability to hold onto lifeboats we purchased to ensure that boats are successfully “turned back”.

We’ve had all the inquiries. There’s more than a decade’s worth demonstrating that people who arrive by boat and request asylum have been routinely abused under Australian law and policy, particularly that of indefinite detention. It doesn’t matter. Misinformation is now fact. Most Australians believe that people who arrive by boat are a threat to the nation’s borders and deserving of poor treatment if not violent death, despite endless evidence to the contrary.

The Abbott Government represents this majority and claims to be carrying out the will of Australians. But they are mismanaging their own border protection policy so badly that they have our neighbours circling their warships. This is just one reason why workers in the immigration machine should take our spanners out of the works.

Another is the consciences of the thousands of workers who implement the “border protection” policy — the managers, programmers, contractors and other ordinary officers who operate the detention centres, the many others who keep this policy’s infrastructure running — do they also believe they are doing good work? I don’t see how they can.

I’ve followed the situation in various forms since 2002, when I lived in South Australia. Around that time, endemic malpractice at the Woomera detention centre began to be exposed. I did not condone any action that might compromise whatever paltry safety and security migrants in detention might have or need to hold onto. I wanted to protect their migration, their move to a land of safety and security. I knew there were workers in the system who were doing the same — and that there still are.

Just last week a former employee of the former Department of Immigration (now Border Protection), Lauren Smith, spoke in the media about her decision to leave her job in Department administration, unable to continue in good conscience. John Ingram, a senior Navy officer, now retired, says our application of migration policy at sea is "morally corrupt and totally indefensible".

Fifteen doctors charged with providing health care to people in the Nauru detention centre publicly denounced the conditions in the detention centre in a 92-page letter. Their outcry comes 10 years after Dr Maarten Dormaar, Nauru's head psychiatrist, quit the camp, calling it a "psychiatrist's nightmare". Even the Salvation Army doesn't work there any more, their contract ended not long after Salvos workers made their knowledge of the degrading conditions public.

Builders, lawyers, reporters, doctors, administrators, receptionists, policy officers, program managers, social workers, sailors, lifesavers, food suppliers, clothing suppliers, medical officers; the thousands of workers in this system that makes a mockery of the great Australian tradition of migration: it’s time to down tools. Refusing to comply with this dysfunctional and bankrupt policy is the only way to save migration to this country, an institution that has borne so much profit for so many of us.

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