Hannah Arendt provides a useful framework to think about the extraordinary statement about torture made by Tony Abbott during his visit to Sri Lanka
Tony Abbott visits the Sri Lanka Navy vessel in Sri Lanka. Australia will expand cooperation between their navies to crack down on people smuggling. hotograph! "inhua#Landov#$arcroft %ediaThe writer Hannah Arendt noted how& during the refugee crises of the '()*s& the treatment received by those fleeing repression was determined& even when they escaped& by their oppressors. Those whom the persecutor had singled out as scum of the earth+,ews& Trotskyites& etc.+actually were received as scum of the earth everywhere&- she wrote. /T0hose whom persecution had called undesirable became the indesirables of 1urope.Arendt provides a useful framework to think about Tony Abbott-s extraordinary statement in Sri Lanka! his comment that& though his government 2deplores the use of torture we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen2.3n one level& the Abbott 2torture happens2 line might be understood as old4fashioned realpolitik. $ecause Australia wants to repatriate Sri Lankan asylum seekers& Abbott needs to paint the authoritarian regime there as evolving to democracy 5despite Amnesty
6nternational-s assessment that 2the government is slowly but surely dismantling institutions& including the 7udiciary& that protect human rights2.8 $ecause Abbott seeks co4operation against people smugglers& he-s willing to provide warships to one of the most bloodsoaked militaries in the world.9et if the claim that extreme circumstances 7ustify extreme measures sounds familiar& that-s because it-s the syllogism upon which the institutionalised cruelty of Australia-s refugee policy depends. Think of Scott %orrison transferring adisabled four4year old Tamil asylum seeker to the isolated and s:ualid detention camp in Nauru on the basis that 2no exceptions2 could be made to the offshore processing of asylum seekers. 26f you are fit enough to get on a boat&2 he said& 2then you can expect you-re fit enough to end up in offshore processing.2 6n difficult circumstances& difficult things happen. Not surprisingly& a similar method produces familiar results. 6n the wake of Sri Lankan civil war& the military ushered thousands of Tamil survivors into notorious detention centres. Some of those who fled eventually reached Australian waters ; where they were ushered into notorious detention centres.To use Arendt-s terms& those designated as 2scum2 by the Sri Lankan authorities are duly treated as such in democratic Australia. To understand the conse:uences& it is useful to revisit the context in which Arendt wrote.$y the late '()*s& the increasingly brutal anti4semitic measures of the Hitler regime had generated a wave of refugees across 1urope. 1ven in distant Australia& the authorities responded with alarm. 2<hile the =ommonwealth will consider sympathetically the applications of thousands of ,ewish refugees seeking to come to Australia from Austria& no mass influx will be allowed&2 reported the Townsville >aily $ulletin on ' April '()?. 21mphasising this yesterday /rime %inister0 Lyons said suitable migrants of $ritish stock would be given preference to aliens23n @) ,une& the Hobart %ercury noted! 2No encouragement will be given to the migration of ,ewish refugees to this country. 6t has been decided to admit not more than ** a year in small batches to avoid the setting up of foreign ,ewish colonies.2A fortnight later& the Townsville paper again took up the issue. 2The inflow of ,ews will be watched closely&2 it explained. 2The government will give first preference to $ritish sub7ects& and will provide every safeguard against immigrants depriving Australians of employment.2Such was the context for the intergovernmental conference on refugees at 1vian& Brance& in ,uly '()? ; the event at which the Australian delegate Thomas <hite notoriously declared that 2as we have no real racial problems we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging large scale migration.2 The NaCis& of course& knew :uite well what they were doing. As Arendt later noted& 2the official SS newspaper D stated explicitly in '()? that if the world was not yet convinced that the ,ews were the scum of the earth& it soon would be when unidenti4fiable beggars& without nationality& without money& and without passports crossed their frontiers.2And so the persecution intensified.