Finding Outrage

I watched the news and like so many other Australians, I was outraged. Three Al Jazeera journalists, including one Australian, have been imprisoned for seven (and ten) years for doing their job. How could this happen? Wasn’t Egypt supposed to be moving towards democracy? Everyone is saying the verdict is, ‘Wrong,wrong, wrong.’ There is widespread international condemnation.

 Amnesty International monitored the trial and said, ‘the prosecution failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence.’

Injustice, rage, shock, horror. So much empathy pours out to these three men, and deservedly so. Yet I wonder at where this empathy has gone when we look at an equally unjust and merciless treatment of others who are labelled as criminals when all they have done is escaped from war and terror. The country they choose as sanctuary, one that was once prided itself on ‘giving everyone a fair go’ has become one that deals out punitive measures. We aren’t talking about a poor developing nation, far from it. And we aren’t talking about high numbers of refugees. The Australian government’s policy on asylum seekers that arrive by boat is to imprison them in offshore detention centres.

These detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru are grossly overcrowded, lack adequate health services and have inadequate water and sanitation.  Amnesty International and the UNHCR have criticised them as they do not meeting legal protection standards. These refugees can be held for years while their claims are processed and in 90% of cases they are found to be true refugees. In all these detention centres, those seeking asylum, people who are not criminals, are forced to live with less and less hope. Detention has led to deaths, self-harming and attempted suicide. The asylum seekers are subjected to

 “…cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment,” according to Amnesty International.

Where is our outrage?

Where is our sense of injustice?

In trying to make asylum in Australia an unattractive option, our government is neglecting its obligation under the refugee convention and it seems that it isn’t just our sense of fairness that is at stake.

I wonder at how our perception of justice and injustice can be moulded to suit our politics, economies and nationalistic self-preservation.


I throw a stone at the tree. It misses and bounces on to the road. My hand feels around for another stone, but I can’t find one. Gaz should be home soon and then I can get into the frickin’ house. I’m starved. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and even then Ma had only left out a packet of half-moldy bread and margarine. As if to make me think more about me being locked out and hungry, my tummy starts to rumble.

A police car is driving up the street. I wonder what has happened this time and hunch in behind one of the posts of our veranda. Always good to stay out the way. It’s bloody stopping right outside our house. Shit. I almost get up to go and hide round the back. But I haven’t done anything recently that would be of interest to them, had I? I shrink further behind the post. A man and woman get out. They aren’t looking a me. They head across the street to old Mrs Pauley’s place – or what’s left of it. It’s not as bad as our house, but it sure needs some work doing to it. She does keep the garbage out the front yard though, even when there’s more crap blowing down the street than there’s leaves on a fall day.

They are knocking on the door again and calling her name out loud like she’s deaf or something. I’ll bet she won’t open the door to them. They never come when there is a problem, like when that gang from the other neighborhood were smashing up the windows of the empty houses in the street. Didn’t come either when they cut the electric and Old Joe got in a fight with them electricity guys and those men in suits. He didn’t look too good after it. Didn’t think men who dressed in suits knew how to hit like that. Come to think of it Joe didn’t stick around long after that either.

“Mrs Pauley. We need to talk to you. You know you can’t stay here any longer. Could you open the door please.”

I know she’s in there. The upstairs curtain just moved but they are’t looking up there. “She’s gone out!” I yell across the street. Both of them turn and see me for the first time. They look surprised. Well why wouldn’t you be. There are only two houses left here with people living in them. Ma said they want to build a new shopping mall development, but we ain’t moving till they make her. She said old Mrs Pauley has been there for 40 years.

“When did she go out?”

I have to be careful now. “Must have been half an hour back.”

“Well you can tell her we’ll be back.” They were getting back in the car.

I knew they’d be back and I knew that we wouldn’t be living there much longer either. Ma had said that Uncle Hamhead told her we had three weeks before we had to get out. He heard me call him Hamhead once and Ma go angry and smacked me across the ear. It hurt too. He’s been good to us, was all she said. I didn’t think so now. We had nowhere else to go. Ma said Mrs P, as she called her, had four sons she could go to but she didn’t like a single one of them and wanted to stay put. She was a tough old bitch, Ma said.

The tough old bitch moved the curtain aside and laughed as the police-car went off down the  street. Then she gave a middle finger salute, as Ma likes to call it. I laughed too.