Talk of shame
Peter Dutton says there are a lot of people who “have made a lot of mischief over a long period of time”. It’s true, but not in the way Dutton means it.
He does not argue when Ray Hadley says the first refugees to leave Manus for resettlement in the United States, “looked like a fashion show on a catwalk somewhere in Paris or New York”.
Instead, he lies. He begins an argument about these refugees being economic migrants, despite two separate processes now assessing them to be refugees. He puts at risk a fragile deal to make a cheap point about the legitimacy of people he knows to be legitimate.
“There are a lot of people that haven’t come out of war-ravaged areas,” he says. “They’re economic refugees. They got on a boat, paid a people smuggler a lot of money. And, you know, somebody once said to me that the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags [was] up on Nauru waiting for, you know, waiting for people to collect it when they depart.”
Dutton knows this is a lie, but it doesn’t trouble him. Either he is so used to lying on this issue that it has become his default, or he sees the margin of grubby advantage in it and has no hesitation in exploiting that.
“The reality is that these people have, at the generosity of the Australian taxpayer, received an enormous amount of support for a long period of time,” he says. “We didn’t ask people to hop on the boats. And we’re getting them out, including through this US deal. But we have been taken for a ride, I believe, by a lot of the advocates and people within Labor and the Greens who want you to believe that, you know, this is a terrible existence. These photos demonstrate otherwise. People have seen photos in recent weeks of, you know, those up on Manus out enjoying themselves outside of the centre, by the beach and all the rest of it. Quickly they take down the photos from their Facebook pages when they’re discovered, but there is a very different scenario up on Nauru and Manus than people want you to believe.”
It is difficult to know what Dutton means when he talks about “all the rest of it”.
Perhaps he means the suicides or the child abuse. Perhaps he means the days without proper sanitation.
Perhaps it’s the makeshift tents in which children have lost their childhoods. Perhaps it’s the women denied abortions or the pregnancies produced by rapes.
Perhaps he means the self-immolation or the murder by paid guards. Perhaps he means the mental anguish, the loss of hope, the calculated destruction of a few thousand lives for the sake of political gain.
The pictures of refugees leaving Manus Island are pictures of resilience. They are pictures of men with nothing but the backpacks they wheel in front of them, men who have survived what will one day be regarded as the great disgrace of this country’s past 50 years. To Hadley and Dutton, they do not look desperate enough.
There are other photographs, which Dutton doesn’t mention. There is the picture of Hamed Shamshiripour, dead in a forest, his eyes blacked out, his body shown as if after a lynching. There is the picture of Reza Barati, the last one his parents will ever see. There is the picture of Omid Masoumali, alight, calling for the world to end this.
Dutton does not mention these pictures because he does not care. He has presided over torture, and he does not care. He celebrates an incomplete solution, and mocks the men involved, because he does not care. All the rest of it is the stuff he doesn’t think about. All the rest of it is this nation’s unending shame.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 30, 2017 as "Talk of shame". Subscribe here.