It might be legal to indefinitely detain children on Nauru, but it is not moral, and that should be a good enough reason to stop.
Malcolm Turnbull now has a choice.
Is he a compassionate, positive, thoughtful leader who is carving out a different legacy to his predecessor? Or is the substance of his government no different to the last?
I hope it’s answer A, but I’m pretty worried it’s answer B.
The High Court’s decision to throw out a challenge to the Government’s offshore detention model opens the door for the Turnbull Government to send 267 asylum seekers back to Nauru.
Thirty-seven of those people are babies.
Some of those babies were born in Australia. If those babies were born to any other mothers, they would be Australian citizens. Because of the decisions made by this Government, they face a bleak future.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It is time for Australia to stop torturing asylum seekers to make a point.
What point are we making anyway ? Is it that we are as brutal as the regimes, wars and oppression that asylum seekers flee?
Think I am exaggerating?
Doctors and other health professionals that have worked on Nauru are so concerned about the conditions there that they are risking jail to speak out.
David Isaacs, a respected senior paediatrician who heads the Refugee Clinic at Westmead Hospital says what’s happening on Nauru is akin to torture.
“It’s a deliberate harm and it’s torture. And there’s a real viciousness about that that is incredibly worrying,” he said.
“That’s not what you expect of a caring country, of a county that prides itself on being civilised.”
Professor Isaacs spent five days on Nauru, children (and adults) are spending an average of 417 days.
“The way we treat asylum seekers is truly reprehensible. It’s shameful and we should be ashamed of that. And I am ashamed of it,” he said.
“It makes me shamed to be Australian and I’m proud to be Australian generally. I don’t want to be treating people in that way.”
Watch David Isaacs talk about the conditions asylum seekers face on Nauru (post continues after video):
The conditions on Nauru are so bad that even children under 12 are self harming.
They aren’t seeking attention, they are simply desperate. They see no future for themselves and they are not being adequately protected.
Karen Zwi, a colleague of Professor Isaacs, says one of the children who now face the prospect of being returned to Nauru is a five-year-old rape victim.
His attacker is believed to be still on the island. Our Government apparently wants to send him back.
Let me make this clear: even if the Government decides not to send this particular boy back, sending the others some place where their peers are getting raped and abused is simply not okay.
Torturing people so we can “stop the boats” is not a moral high ground. The world is currently experiencing the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.
Asylum seekers are drowning in the high seas trying to flee horrific conditions every single day. Just because they’re not drowning in our ocean doesn’t make the problem go away.
To “stop the boats” we have had to make Australia a place that is known to signify a crueler fate than death or persecution at home.
The Government might have won in the High Court today, but in truth, Australia lost.
We lost a chance to force some compassion and morality back into this debate.
We lost a shield that politicians could have used to walk back the extremities of our asylum seeker regime.
But we can still fix this. The Government can choose to keep those asylum seekers here. They can close down offshore detention camps, and put a stop to the prolonged limbo faced by the asylum seekers in them.
Today is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to say: “I choose to do what is moral, not just what I am allowed to do under the law”.
And it is an opportunity for all Australians to say “enough is enough”. Don’t send those people back.
Because torture is never OK, and we should be better than this.