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Australia: a nice, friendly, sunny place?

Human Rights
24.05.16-Moana Beac-590.jpg

Moana Beach, Adelaide. Les Haines under a Creative Commons Licence

There are many myths about the country that just don't hold up under scrutiny, Stephen Langford writes.

Omid, a 23-year-old from Iran, burnt himself to death on Nauru, where he was being held hostage by the Australian government. Like all the people in the Nauru camp, he had tried to get to Australia by boat. He had done nothing wrong.

The people on Nauru and Manus have been on those prison islands for 1,000 days. It took 24 hours for Omid to be airlifted to Australia. He died in Brisbane Hospital.

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court has unanimously decided that the Manus camp is illegal because of its violations of human rights, because it is imprisoning people who have done nothing wrong, and must close 'immediately'.

The Australian Minister for Immigration ('and Border Security') has said it is PNG's responsibility. Yet it is Australia that set up and pays a private company to imprison the 950 men. We remember Reza Barati, another 23-year-old Iranian, who was murdered there, two years ago.

I have, personally, been very lucky in this country. But it is impossible to ignore that Australia has institutionalized cruelty. We have no Bill of Rights.

Virtually anything can become law.

The Murdoch press has a great deal of influence over the public. It can misinform the population about people coming here needing our help. Murdoch does not mention that we take 200,000 business migrants each year.

Then the two major political parties pass laws that would not be possible in most other countries. Canada, for instance, cannot pass laws that violate human rights. We can, and do. Refugees and Indigenous people have been the main groups to suffer at our hands.

Meanwhile the land is desecrated by mining companies; farmland and sacred Indigenous burial sites alike. ‘Utopia’, John Pilger's excellent film, is relevant on this subject.

But isn't Australia a nice, friendly, sunny place? Yes it is, especially if you are white and middle class. But this is a country that also violates the rights of First Nations people, is the world's largest coal exporter, and is stealing the oil of one of the poorest, and bravest, countries, Timor Leste, by refusing to make an internationally adjudicated sea border with it.

And with our US bases, we seem unable to say no to being part of that country's military adventures. Former PM John Howard is honoured here. We forget that, like Bush and Blair, he is a war criminal.

As for Australian citizen Julian Assange, he is facing no 'charges'. The Swedish police can interview him by Skype, or in person, in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He has every reason to fear US 'justice'. It is not a surprise that the Australian state is not helping him.

But, yes, Australia is a nice, friendly, sunny place.

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