Stop the nonsense. Let’s get real about Border Protection.


They have not met people who seek protection and shared their food; they have not known of the gifts they bring and could share for our benefit; they have not seen shoulders straight and eyes bright shortly after completing the most momentous and dangerous journeys, and the same eyes opaque and body slack with depression after years in detention; they have never held photographs of the women and children in ruined villages and camps, whom their husband and father may never hold or help again; they have never sat with young men in community detention in fear of their 18th birthday when they are liable to be sent back into detention centres; they have not tasted the terrors of Manus Island.

If we saw, heard and tasted these things in the lives of our families and friends, they would surely keep us awake at night. Documented and transmuted into art by a Solzhenitsyn these things might tell a cautionary tale of a society gone awry. That as a nation we simply move on is a marker, not of our wickedness or of our necessities, but of a failure of our imagination.

Andrew Hamilton Eureka Street

Now that the Liberals in a fit of damage control have at last removed Tony Abbott from office, let’s get rid of some of the toxic verbal garbage from his era or the damage will continue. Let’s start with the often repeated, overused weasel words, Border Protection. Abbott did not coin the phrase but he and his government have given it such a flogging that it has now entered common usage and the Macquarie Dictionary. No it is not a cricketer’ deodorant.

Does it really matter?

This is not just a semantic quibble. The words are a matter of life and death. How we choose to talk about something determines how we see it; how we think about it and ultimately our world-view. At present we have been mentally conditioned to accept locking up men women and children in indefinite detention centres on Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island as well as on the mainland.

These poor, unfortunate people have committed no crimes yet we must punish them for the misfortune of being persecuted in their own countries. Our conditioning has moved into a phase where many Australians now proclaim tough border protection as something to be proud of – a good thing. It is in fact our national shame.

Some pioneers have even been sent to Cambodia at great expense to Australian tax-payers to prove a political point. The only certain way out of detention is to die. Of course you may return to persecution and in many cases almost certain death.

Words can kill. Nowhere is this more tragically the case than with Border Protection, a disgusting pair of buzz-words which cover a multitude of crimes against humanity. Use of the phrase by our politicians has shielded us from the truth; enabled us to accept that we must punish asylum seekers for their own good. Border Protection enables us, by proxy, to neglect our responsibility to other human beings in need; exercise instead a most callous indifference.

Use of the term by politicians allows them to pander to the lowest common denominator, fear. Promoting fear of asylum seekers can win votes from some sections of our community.

Border protection is a nonsense.

Australia has already the best natural border protection in the world. We are not at war. We are not being invaded. Our borders are not threatened – unlike many countries around the world. Use of the term, moreover  has also enabled Scott Morrison to create his own ‘on-water army’, our ‘Border Force’, a powerful paramilitary force with its own ideology, training and rank structure. Border Force seems to be above the law. It answers only to an immigration minister who will keep what takes place secret. No legal or constitutional checks and balances appear to exist outside itself.

Border Protection Case study

A recent Radio National AM morning panel includes a couple of fellow conservatives, Tom Switzer Amanda Vanstone who comfort themselves and their listeners that we are retaining our ‘tough border protection’. Malcolm Turnbull has clearly rattled Switzer and co by making a statement of compassion for inmates of detention centres. Next day he has made it clear these people will never settle in Australia. The panel breathes a sigh of relief that the new top banana was not going to go all soft and mushy on our war against refugees.

‘Tough on Border Protection…’

It’s said in a way that you might hear a parent tell a child to eat her vegies. You may not like them but they are sooo good for you. Yet there is nothing that is good about this phrase. It enables our collective inhumanity by blinding us to the sordid reality of our inhumane and utterly unjustified detention policies.

Why are we even using this term?

The euphemism allows us to condone brutality. Border protection is a glib phrase which covers putting women and children into prisons on the hell holes of Manus and Nauru Islands where rape and violence are added to the cruelty of endless deprivation. Death is a real and present danger.

Two men, Reza Berati and Hamid Kehazaei, lost their lives in these facilities. One was bashed to death. The other young man died because of delays in his paper work – delays in obtaining a visa to permit him to get off the Island.

In Australia, comes a knock on the door before dawn.

Others who have already arrived in Australia have been deported to Nauru or Manus Island. Our officials knock at the door before dawn. Terrified asylum seeker and their families get five minutes to gather up a few belongings. We are helped to do this by de-classifying human beings into UMAs.

What are UMAs?

On 19 July 2013, Rudd’s government changed immigration law to classify anybody who comes to Australia by boat after this time as an ‘unauthorised maritime arrival’. UMAs cannot apply for protection in Australia under the United Nations refugee convention . Regardless of whether they are found to be refugees, they cannot be settled in Australia. They must be taken to a regional processing centre – currently either in Nauru or on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea; possibly soon Cambodia.

There is no historical evidence that tough policies and laws have any effect on the flow of boat people to our shores. In years of tough policies under Howard and under the reintroduction of the pacific solution under Gillard numbers doubled.

Stopping boats arriving in Australia of course is not the same as stopping them setting out for our shores. If you listen to politicians from both major parties, however, you would be forgiven for this misunderstanding. In fact, the lie that tough border protection prevents drowning has been repeated so often that it has become accepted as fact. Worse, it is parroted regularly by influential leaders and public figures such as Warren Mundine on the Drum and countless others.

According to the UNHCR, more people boarded boats after Abbott introduced punitive ‘deterrence’ policies, not fewer. Over 54,000 people boarded boats in our region in Jan-Nov 2014, an increase of 15%  over the same period a year earlier. Around 540 people died trying to get here in 2014. Hundreds more have died in smuggling camps in Thailand.

Let us reject Border Protection and everything it stands for, everything it means in its highly secretive practices. Challenge the term Border Protection whenever it is used. Challenge the assumptions behind it. Our common humanity demands no less of us. Repeal those Abbott immigration law amendments which have made us a cruel and merciless people.

We could start by liberating those incarcerated on our island hell-holes. Declare an amnesty. Show compassion to the suffering. Welcome to our shores those whom we currently punish for being victims of misfortune beyond anyone’s control. Have mercy upon the wretched and the poor of this troubled earth. Or we may never be able to forgive ourselves; live with ourselves as truly autonomous, sentient, compassionate, moral human beings.


  1. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds that the structure of a language affects the perceptions of reality of its speakers and thus influences their thought patterns and worldviews.
  2. John Menadue, Stopping the boats, a graph for lazy journalists.
  3. The Facts about boat people The media and politicians are lying.