The federal Liberal-National Party government in Australia changes leaders, convinced that it cannot win a 2016 election with Mr Tony Abbott as prime minister and choosing Mr Malcolm Turnbull to replace him. Not a single word was uttered all day by politicians of the major parties about the plight of refugees detained on Manus Island and Nauru. It was… leadership, leadership, leadership, economy, economy, economy. What our political representatives said, and how what they said was reported in the media, demonstrated yet again that Australia’s treatment of refugees was irrelevant to most Australians. Electorally irrelevant, that is, because the major parties have agreed with each other to agree with Australian electors.
And yet, all over the (left-hand side of the) internet are calls for Abbott to be tried at The Hague; and for Cheney, Bush and others to face justice for their torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere. Our capacity to blame politicians for what they have done in our name appears to have no limit—as though the agency we have through the ballot box to empower our representatives were not the same agency we should use to judge them. As the New York Times editorial board has noted, it is an outrage that official investigations of the abuses of prisoners have not led to the trial and conviction of any but the lowliest responsible agents of government policy. We must expect the same in Australia, when the question of whom we will blame for what has happened on Manus Island and Nauru enters the national consciousness as shame.
This is the reason public discussions of national guilt and reparations are important. I have come to accept that for many years I voted for major political parties that had policies I now think are repugnant. It seemed easy to reach the conclusion that, on balance, one imperfect arrangement of policies was better than another. I have been part of the process that led us to where we are.
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