There’s one question we need to ask ourselves and our politicians today: Are we the kind of people, the kind of country, that will send 37 tiny babies back into detention?
If you are tempted to tune out, don’t.
If the phrases ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘off shore detention’ cause you to turn away, don’t.
As citizens of Australia – the prosperous, lucky country that it is – we can no longer look away. We can no longer tune out. What is happening right now is a national disgrace and it is not just about politics. It is about humanity.
And it is time for every single one of us to consider who we are as Australians and what we are willing to stand for.
Are we willing to send 37 babies born in Australia to a detention centre in Nauru or Manus Island where the conditions have been described by some of our leading doctors and legal minds as inhumane, dangerous and desperate? Watch: Mamamia Associate Editor, Georgina Dent on Let Them Stay. Post Continues after video.
Where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife?
Where we know children are suffering extreme levels of psychological distress and despair?
These are 37 babies whose only crime was being born to parents whose only crime was being born in a country they were forced to flee.
Are we willing to stand for sending a five year old boy, an alleged victim of rape, back to the place where he was reportedly raped? Where the alleged perpetrator still resides?
Are we willing to tell the international community ‘We know that detaining children is in breach of our international obligations and we will proceed anyway’?
Are we willing to accept that the children held in detention – under Australia’s care right now – ‘are the most damaged on the planet’ and continue to subject them to that? Children who are utterly traumatised, who have attempted suicide, who have self-harmed, who live with such hopelessness that they want to die?
Fortunately, there are some Australians who refuse to turn away and accept this.
This week, several of Australia’s leading paediatricians have risked criminal charges to speak out. To say they can’t stand for this any longer. They have seen the conditions in these detention centres up close and the devastated children on the front line. What they’ve seen is so horrific they are willing to ignore their legal obligation to stay silent.
Similarly Anglican and Uniting Church ministers are willing to break the law to offer these refugees asylum. Earlier today the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt, explained on ABC Radio why he is willing to risk being charged with an offence for obstruction to offer this salvation.
“We offer this refuge because there is irrefutable evidence from health and legal experts that the circumstances asylum seekers, especially children, would face if sent back to Nauru are tantamount to state-sanctioned abuse.”
He is right. The evidence of the damage inflicted on children held in detention is irrefutable.
Last year the Royal College of Physicians released a public position statement saying it expressly disagrees with the detention of children because of that damage.
It is true that there are far fewer children in detention now than there were under the Labor government. But it is also true that the children still in detention have been detained for far longer. And they have no scope for hope.
And they are our responsibility.
Today Professor David Isaacs, a Sydney paediatrician who is campaigning for the immediate release of all kids in detention, pleaded with our politicians to consider “if their wife or daughter was trying to bring up a baby there”.
Watch: Protesters at the #letthemstay rally in Sydney today. Post continues after video.
I despair if our leaders – or anyone else – can only be moved from apathy to care about children in detention by imagining it was their own family in that situation.
Are we not capable of compassion for a five year old victim of an alleged rape, irrespective of a personal connection? Are we not capable of recognising that any child attempting suicide is an emergency of epic proportions, regardless of whether we know that child or not?
If that’s who we are, then it is a source of grave shame. But it is not who we are. We are better than that.
We are better than subjecting innocent children to the trauma of what is effectively state-sanctioned abuse.
We are better than accepting this as a necessary or acceptable solution to anything.
At least we can be better than this. If we reject ignorance or indifference and demand change.
We can be better than this if we side with the leading minds on this issue, the brave doctors and nurses and healthcare workers and lawyers who are fighting for the innocent children and babies.
If we listen to what they are telling us and our leaders and refuse to accept the ongoing horror.
If you have never engaged politically in Australia, or even contemplated engaging politically, today is the day you need to.
You need to sign this petition, you need to contact your local MP, you need to join the #LetThemStay rallies around the country.
You need to join the masses who are calling for these babies to stay here, for these children to be released.
You need to tell our leaders that detention isn’t good enough. That the government’s lack of compassion is a source of national shame.
By staying silent on this issue, each of us is approving what is happening. Each of us is saying ‘I am ok with children and babies being detained, as awful as that is. I’m ok with innocent children being permanently damaged.’
If you’re not ok with that, you need to say something. We all do. Because if we don’t, it’s on us.
We can’t plead ignorance. We know what is happening and we know how vile it is.
If we don’t do whatever is in our power to change that, we’re complicit.
Watch Professor Isaacs speak about his concerns: