To those who blame a shipwreck on a lack of cruelty

To those who believe Australia is “soft” on refugees: clearly you have never visited any of our detention centres. Those at Maribyrnong and Villawood are thinly-disguised punitive jails, with privately-employed guards controlling every movement and even every word, not only of the detainees but also of visitors like me, in an attempt to stage- manage the event. The stories I heard there, while I was not being minded, were horrifying.

The infamous Woomera centre was little more than a crude prison camp, which due to its isolation, descended into hellish brutality, a process likely to be repeated as more “regional facilities” are opened.

Unlike a jail, none of these detainees have been convicted or even accused of any wrongdoing, in contravention of every local and international legal principle on arbitrary detention, making incarceration all the more bitter.

To those who blame a shipwreck on a lack of cruelty: short of actually, say, whipping detainees, how much hotter do you want to make the fire, in your determination to make other human beings stay in their frying pan?

Something has profoundly and sadly changed in the soul of a country which once welcomed thousands of refugees from wars in Europe and Indochina, but would now try do outdo the cruelties they are fleeing, build endless prisons, even fill them with children, rather than share the tiniest fraction of a percent of one of the richest nations on earth with some of its most in need.

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