A terrible day for Australia

So it seems that Australia is saddled with the noted misogynist, racist and homophobe Tony Abbott. I have to wonder what could possibly have motivated the people who voted for him: perhaps a combination of simple bigotry and a short-sighted desire for lower taxes. Whatever the reason, this is a tragedy for Australia and for the world at large.

It is well known that Australia has one of the world’s most appalling records on the treatment of asylum-seekers. Many are imprisoned in dehumanizing conditions on the island of Nauru, a practice condemned by international observers. At one time Julia Gillard proposed a “refugee swap” with Malaysia, despite the evidence that refugees in Malaysia are subjected to caning and other forms of brutal violence. The Rudd government subsequently concluded an agreement to resettle refugees in Papua New Guinea, leaving them in destitution in one of the region’s poorest countries. Things have been bad under the Rudd and Gillard governments, but given Abbott’s intemperate rhetoric about “illegal immigration” and “stopping the boats”, I can only foresee the situation worsening. He has already pledged to abolish legal aid for asylum-seekers in detention, and to scrap the Refugee Review Tribunal – effectively depriving people in life-and-death asylum cases of the basic right to a fair hearing.

The moral character of a society can be judged by how it treats its most marginalized members. All the Australians who voted for Abbott should consider their own complicity in the maltreatment of asylum-seekers – just as we in Britain need to consider our own complicity in the horrors of Yarl’s Wood.

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