Recently, I was pressed on my views about Manus and Nauru. Having recently seen the other side of people smuggling in Syria, I know that those for Manus are against logic and decency.



I was recently accused of being ‘too emotional’. Personally, I don’t know the line between ‘emotional’ and ‘too emotional’, but the bloke accusing me of it appeared to know. In fact he was very emotional about it.

We were talking about asylum seekers and refugees, in particular those currently detained and suffering on Manus Island and Nauru. I wondered aloud if the growing public sentiment against their detainment would force the government to change its stance. In response my mate called me ‘naieve’, referred to me as ‘a bleeding heart lefty’ and referred to himself as ‘a centrist’. I told him that logically everyone is a ‘lefty’ when viewed by those like him on ‘the right’, and that most people in our society, whether he’d think them ‘left’ or ‘right’, refer to themselves as ‘centrists’ because they consider themselves to be ‘reasonable’. He then confirmed that my perspective was somewhat reasonable. But he was being ‘realistic’.

Ah, yes, ‘realistic’. One of the great arguments given by those who ‘sympathise’ with caring for the persecuted and the vulnerable of our world but resist doing anything about it. Why?  Because ‘you can’t help everyone’ (so you may as well help no one.)

And why can’t you help everyone? Well, here comes the second argument, ‘because it’s not economically viable.’ Unfortunately for my ‘centrist’ mate this argument scores an own- goal when it comes to the detained on Manus and Nauru because reports state that detaining just one person there for a year costs close to half a million dollars, twice as much as detention in Australia.

This mathematical fact also quashes argument number three, that ‘the money we spend on the boat people could be spent on the needy in Australia.’ Because the answer to that is ‘Yes, it could.’

So my mate then went for the ‘detaining people on Manus and Nauru serves as a deterrent for other would be boat arrivals and saves lives’ arguments. Unfortunately, both aspects of this argument are unprovable by my mate because our government won’t give statistics on the number of boats that would have come but haven’t, or the number of boats that have tried to come but been stopped by our border security guards. And we cannot know whether or not ‘the deterred’, wherever they may be, are in fact still alive. Nonetheless, my mate maintained this argument even though, being unsupported by ‘facts’ he was not being ‘realistic.’ And was being ‘too emotional.’

Then, presumably, to deflect from the lack of facts to support his perspective, my mate espoused that theory that ‘the majority of Australians agree’ with his perspective. Sceptical that this perceived majority was the same  ‘majority of Australians’ who were supposedly opposed to Marriage Equality, and turned out to be largely imaginary and therefore a minority, I responded with another search for facts. I asked if he had a list of ‘the majority’s’ names. And he replied, ‘I don’t need to. They support the government’s stance so they must be the majority cause that’s how the government got in.’ ‘Oh,’ I pondered, ‘so logically when this government loses the next election it will prove that the ‘majority of Australians’ don’t, in fact, support the current stance?’

Seemingly undeterred, and indeed inspired by a nearby buzzing Ozzie fly, my mate then presented his penultimate argument,  ‘it’s unAustralian to support queue jumpers’. This, of course, assumes there is a queue that anyone can join. But life is not like taking a ticket to order a salad in David Jones food hall. Life is like … well life is chaos. On a recent trip to the Turkish border with Syria and the notorious refugee camp of Moria on Lesvos, I met people who’ve been smuggled, people contemplating being smuggled, people who’ve lost loved ones being smuggled and I’ve been privy to smuggling negotiations taking place. And I can tell you that, without exception, it was not the first option. It was a dangerous option, a desperate option and in their eyes…the last option.

Finally, my mate looked at me and said ‘you know people like me are just trying to protect Australia.’ And I know he means well, my mate is a good bloke. But it astounds me that he will target the spectre of unproven suffering that we will apparently endure as a nation by sharing compassion, hope and life with those in need… rather than recognising the malaise this country is currently suffering as a result of selfism, fear, competition and greed.

‘You know.’ I said with a grin, ‘A new cross-party campaign has just been launched in the UK to make politics more compassionate, and my research is starting to show that compassion is actually more profitable for a society and a nation than the current culture of self-obsessed competition.’ Well that’s just bloody stupid.’  Said my mate. ‘Is it?’ I replied.




Gretel Killeen is a writer and performer. You can also find her on Insta and Twitter.





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