Fighting them on the beaches – and in the detention camps *

An image of Desolation, Internment camp, Orange, NSW by Ludwig Hirschfeld-MackWe’ve been celebrating the 60th anniversary of various events towards the end of the Second World War in the last few months, like V(E) day and the liberation of Auschwitz-Burkenau.

We can also celebrate the 65th anniversary of the landmarks of the first years of the war. I’ve been thinking of June 4th 1940, not just because I’m a fan of Churchill and this was one of the days he gave us one of his great speeches. I can’t resist quoting the last, best known paragraph of the speech.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

But there’s another paragraph that is of greater significance for me.

We have found it necessary to take measures of increasing stringency, not only against enemy aliens and suspicious characters of other nationalities, but also against British subjects who may become a danger or a nuisance should the war be transported to the United Kingdom. I know there are a great many people affected by the orders which we have made who are the passionate enemies of Nazi Germany. I am very sorry for them, but we cannot, at the present time and under the present stress, draw all the distinctions which we should like to do. If parachute landings were attempted and fierce fighting attendant upon them followed, these unfortunate people would be far better out of the way, for their own sakes as well as for ours.

My father was one of the people thus interned, and thence shipped to Australia. This is no doubt one reason why I feel as upset as I do about what is going on within our borders today. As a result of these feelings some time ago my friend Lynne Gallagher asked me if I’d like to sponsor a soccer team of teenage Afghan refugees touring NSW and South East Queensland.

They were from the persecuted minority in Afghanistan – the Hazaras. I jumped at the opportunity. When I met them I was struck by how similar they were to how my father would have been. In my ignorance, I didn’t think that the one thing those coming from Afghanistan would be after would be a good education. But that’s what they were all passionate about. They wanted to be doctors, and architects and engineers.

What a sad and small minded business it has been tormenting these people on Temporary Protection Visas when there are no more coming here by boat and they could offer us so much (quite apart from any desire we might have to do what we can to protect them and lend them a hand after the traumas they’ve been through.)

In any event, over the fold is a speech I gave a couple of years ago at a dinner to raise funds for them in Sydney. I thought Troppodillians might find it of interest.

One bit of further reading, if you’re interested is my father’s memorial here.

* Illustration Desolation, Internment Camp, Hay, by Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, Hay, 1940-1.


We live in confusing times. There are very few easy ways of being confident of being right about some public issues. Ideologies used to make our lives easier in this regard, but they seem to be wilting – if not altogether melting away as useful guides for public life.

I doubt if anyone of us here knows exactly what the ‘right’ thing to do is with regard to the great public issue of what Australia should do in the presence of a refugee population in the world that is larger than our own. Given that we cannot help them all how do we justify whom we decide to help, and – by implication – whom we have decided we will not help?

But at a time like this we can fall back on the idea that in the face of a task which dwarfs us, and everyone caught up in the suffering, we can put our best foot forward to help someone whom we can help. Indeed it goes to the very heart of our culture.

One does not need to be a practising Christian to be moved to one’s core by the words of the New Testament.

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.

Religious ideas don’t often survive the transition into political dogma, but it seems to me that these words are an important inspiration of multiculturalism. Or rather, one half of the idea. The idea, as I understand it, is that we don’t have to look on the teeming millions of people less well off than ourselves as a threat. They are rather an opportunity – culturally and economically and if I might use an awkwardly bold word, spiritually.

In the modern world, New York was perhaps the first place to embrace this idea as a political sentiment. With the Statue of Liberty – also known more movingly as the ‘Mother of Exiles’ – proclaiming in New York harbour:

Give me your tired your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I think there are many reasons why I feel as strongly as I do about what we’re supporting here tonight. All those capable of sympathy must surely sympathise with the refugee, because at the end of the day the defencelessness of the refugee is the essence of our makeup. If defencelessness is both our origin and the ultimate essence and our fate, we also feel passionately that the protection of the innocent and the defenceless is the greatest good we can do.

Another reason I feel so strongly about these issues is because my father was one of those homeless, tempest-tossed from a previous generation who found a home in this country. A person who illustrated what Sue Richardson said at a testimonial dinner for him after his death that Australia is good for the migrant and the migrant is good for Australia. Many of you would have heard of the ship the Dunera on which my father was shipped to this country.

I thought I would tell you some things about that time in our history. For they have a universal interest and relevance – never more so than today. My father, who had been sent to an English boarding school in 1936, was interned during a time shortly after the ‘phoney war’ of 1939. Over a matter of just a few weeks in early 1940, public opinion turned from tolerance to hostility with the publication of a series of hostile articles in the popular press.

People of German and Austrian origin were rounded up and interned. Many if not most of them had been through terrible dislocation if not great suffering already. And as with anything done so quickly and at such a scale, there were grave injustices and downright cockups.

Many months after war had been officially declared, the British realised they were fighting for their lives. In the very speech in which Churchill promised to ‘fight them on the beaches’ he apologised quite reasonably that in the circumstances in which Britain found itself, the internment of aliens could not make ‘the distinctions we would like to make’.

What he was later to describe as a ‘deplorable mistake’ was then made, when it was decided to ship the internees elsewhere – a theme of British history to which Australians can relate. The internees were not told where they were going, but thousands were loaded onto a vessel that was promptly fired upon by German U-boats. It sank causing a loss of life on the same magnitude as the Titanic. The vessel was the Arandora Star. Assured they would not be put on another ship, a week later the survivors were forced to board the Dunera from the same dock that they had boarded the Arandora Star.

Hein Heckroth was a celebrated German artist and stage designer who had been forced out of Germany when the Nazis proscribed his work. He was interned and shipped aboard the Dunera without warning to his wife, whose last memory of him during that period was to arrange to meet for tea at the Ritz.

The trip to Australia – the inmates thought they were headed for Canada as was the Arandora Star – was a terrible ordeal. It commenced with looting the inmates’ valuables, indeed virtually all their possessions on boarding the ship.

The inmates saw literally nothing of the air outside the ship for much of the voyage. The Dunera had also hardly got far before it too was fired upon by German U-boats. The prisoners, locked in the hold, thought they might die like rats. But the torpedoes exploded without seriously damaging the ship.

According to Dunera boy, Fred Lowen, some evidence has emerged in German archives that as the boat sailed down the coast of Africa and the guards continued to loot the inmates’ luggage it was being tailed by a German U-boat. The U-boat picked up the refuse that the guards had thrown over-board. On telling its own commanders about the nature of the refuse – which included letters written in German – the U-boat was instructed not to fire.

The prisoners fought for the light under lamps to read. There was insufficient space on the floor for all to sleep, so some slept on tables while others slept in Hammocks. The inmates were not permitted proper access to toilets having to make do with a bucket that inevitably spilt with the rolling ship and worse . . . tipped over. When making a dash for the prohibited bathroom, one internee was stabbed with a bayonet by a guard. After a period without towels or soap, one towel was issued to every 10 men – from the rifled suitcases in the hold, and one piece of soap was distributed once or twice a week to every 10 men. The allowance for toilet paper was 2 sheets per person per day.

One could quote chapter and verse, but suffice it to say that many of the refugees had found when they got to Britain that the British were conspicuously kind – if oddly standoffish. But the Dunera was led by liars and thieves with a lack of concern for the inmates which frequently amounted to outright sadism.

My father’s most vivid memory was being forced to run or walk fast around the deck with Lewis guns trained on them when on one occasion one of the guards threw an empty beer bottle into the fray. It broke and the prisoners were forced to maintain their exercise for the amusement of the guards.

On the arriving at Darling Harbour the commanding officer of the Dunera, Lieutenant-Colonel Scott offered the following ‘personal views’ to the Australian authorities concerning the three classes of passengers being carried.

(a) German Nazis. Having warned this group prior to sailing of my methods should trouble arise, . . . their behaviour has been exemplary. They are of a fine type, honest and straightforward, and extremely well- disciplined. I am quite prepared to admit however, that they are highly dangerous.

(b) Italians. This group are filthy in their habits, without a vestige of discipline, and are cowards to a degree.

(c) German and Austrian Jews. Can only be described as subversive liars, demanding and arrogant, and I have taken steps to bring them into my line of thought. They will quote any person from a Prime Minister to the President of the United States as personal references, and they are definitely not to be trusted in word or deed.

But right from the start, it was clear that the Dunera boys were a group of livewires. In the hold of the Dunera, they had drawn drawings, held lectures in philosophy, formed a debating society, fashioned chess sets out of maggoty bread-dough. And there was a humour that was eerily well suited to their new home. As they shuffled pale and emaciated down the gangway disembarking from a ship they had christened “The pick-pocket battleship” and “the luggage destroyer”, some internees sang this song.

My luggage went into the ocean,
My luggage went into the sea,
Bring back, bring back,
Oh bring back my luggage to me.

On the train to Hay, the Dunera boys received packages from the Red Cross containing sandwiches and fresh fruit. For virtually all those I have talked to, it is one of their most vivid memories. The Americans have their Statue of Liberty. Perhaps the Australian equivalent, in our own rather downbeat idiom would be in the tradition of the giant pineapple and the giant lobster. A giant sandwich on Sydney Harbour!

Although they couldn’t have known it, the Dunera boys got their first taste of a particular Australian approach to life when one of the Australian guards asked one of the prisoners to hold his rifle so the guard could roll a cigarette.
The next day they were interned in the sweet isolated NSW town of Hay with a massive dust storm blowing around their heads and a sign in the middle of the town unselfconsciously pointing the way to their new home with the words “concentration camp”.

In the months that followed the men spent their spare time playing soccer, handball, putting on plays, playing in orchestras, starting a camp university of sorts amongst other things.

Most were far from self-pitying, even feeling guilty about their own safety compared with the carnage of the war and what they must imagine their own families might be going through.

Yet as the months wore on, the absurdity, sterility and uncertainty of their situation fed despair. Here was a body of exceptionally able men, keen to help defeat Hitler. Keen to help fight him themselves, and if not permitted to do that, to help in the war effort in whatever way they could. Yet their foreignness, their strangeness meant that it was more convenient to keep them away from other Australians. For while the Australian government acceded to British requests to host the internees with alacrity, there was always the firm insistence that this was temporary. They must not be able to settle in Australia.

Against this backdrop, George Rapp, began his poem “In Memoriam”.

Have you heard my story most brave
of the thousand dead men without grave
in that wonderful town
with the moon upside down
and the wires in need of a shave?

Each man is a corpse, as he sits
decaying and doubting his wits
whilst far, far away,
where the night is the day
his world is breaking to bits. . . .

Ultimately, slowly, some sanity was restored to what was going on. After the fall of Singapore, when Australia faced dire manpower shortages, and the real fear of invasion, the men were permitted to join the army as non-combatant labourers – again subject to the very firm condition that they were to be deported at the end of the war.

But their luck was definitely turning. As Cyril Peal relates in his book, the new company was a remarkable body and its commander, Captain Broughton, who created it, a remarkable man.

He was a half-caste tattooed Maori. At the age of 16, by falsifying his age, he . . . served in the South African war. Fourteen years later he fought with the Maori Battalion on Gallipoli, was mentioned in dispatches, and commissioned. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, he served in France, and with a Russian regiment. Having overstated his age for the Boer War, he understated it by 16 years to fight in World War Two.

This is what one Dunera boy said about him on his death in 1955:

Keenly intelligent, well-read, endowed with a superb sense of humour, completely untainted by any racial prejudice… deeply interested in human beings, he did not only gain immediate respect and obedience, but also the love and affection of the unit. He enjoyed hugely being at its head, learned and meticulously respected Jewish customs, and was immensely proud of the unit because of the splendid work it did, humbly unaware of the fact that it was only he who could have turned these people into willing manual labourers. …
He engaged in incessant publicity war on our behalf and fought hard to have our status changed, only to be booted out by the Army eventually. After being shoved around as flotsam and jetsam for many years he managed… to make us feel like human beings again. He restored our faith in man, as something more than 92 per cent water and a few chemicals. He was a scholar and a gentleman.

This brings me to the ultimate points I want to make about the relevance of the Dunera story to the travails of today, and the travails through which those kids who we have all come here to help tonight are still going through.

Just as the Dunera boys sat in the camps at Hay and Tatura and as many asylum seekers sitting in camps dotted around the country, the boys are now enduring bittersweet freedom of uncertainty. None of us know if Australia as a nation will ultimately allow these Hazara boys full citizenship rights in Australia. But so in a much smaller way this is the dilemma of us all – writ large. We have only one option and that is to put our best foot forward.

When the Dunera boys were released into the 8th Employment Company they put their best foot forward. Though one suspects some irony, the inmates from the Dunera christened it the 8th Enjoyment Company. It wasn’t quite what people were expecting, but the first Christmas at Hay saw the internees first review “Snow White Joins Up”. And so, when they were released the denizens of Melbourne saw and enjoyed their first sophisticated review “Sergeant Snow White, a Happy-go-Lucky musical revue of bad old and good new times” in three acts and 22 scenes.

The tragi-comic review told how Snow White leaves her land of fairy tale, passes through a concentration camp in Europe, frustrates the designs of Fascism (represented by the wicked witch) and finally joins the Australian Army. In the last scene, “Calling All Cobbers”, when the Queen is presented with a flower-bedecked “V-for-Victory”, she cries “Ah! V for Vinston!”

The Tigers are going to put their best foot forward, in Brisbane, and Toowoomba, Armidale, Inverell, Dubbo, Canberra, Sydney, Bellingen and Lismore. They are going to take something unique to Australians around the country.

And Australians, like other people, are a funny lot. One moment they’re scared of the thought that our beautiful land might be flooded with foreigners. But there’s another part of us – not just friendly and easygoing and deeply amused that the guard passed his gun to the prisoner so he could light his cigarette, but passionately proud of our tolerance and hospitality to the defenceless.

When Kosovar refugees were flown to Australia just a few years ago there were detained in all sorts of remote places. But when Australians could get near them they wanted them to know they were welcome. The Kosovars staying in Brighton near Hobart were flooded with gestures of friendship. Businesses provided free clothes, food, meals, tours cinema tickets, the Hobart Mercury published articles in Albanian and a commercial TV station began the news one day in Albanian.

A former Prime Minister – Malcolm Fraser – not known for his emotionalism in public was rendered practically speechless with emotion as he explained that Australia could hold out a hand to those people swimming in the water after their boat had capsized. He choked repeatedly on his words as he explained what might have passed through the mind of a refugee when he was fished out of the water off Australia’s coastline. “Australia has helped me. Thank you Australia. Now I’m safe”.

The Dunera boys too provoked this kind of passion in their day, in Australia and before then, in England. Lieutenant-Colonel S. W. Slater conveyed his own passions on the point to internees on the Isle of Man:

It is my wish that every man who enters internment . . . shall be assured that nothing avoidable will be done that might add to his discomfort or unhappiness. . . . It is not a British characteristic to oppress the man who is powerless to retaliate… My duty is concerned with your security and discipline but my interest goes beyond this… I wish every permissible measure to be taken that can relieve your internment of its irksomeness … A man’s internment is not regarded here as a reflection on his character. He is credited with being a man of good intent until he proves himself to be otherwise. There are among you men of widely divergent political views and religious beliefs. You will neither find favour nor encounter prejudice from us on this account.

Then in those long days as the Dunera boys worked on Station Pier and slept in tents at Royal Park and wondered where they would end up after the war, one article summed up something of what they meant to Australians who thought about it. The article was in – of all things – the army journal Salt.

You will find them on the docks, in warehouses, depots, dumps – the men whom Hitler hated. . . . First victims of the Nazi madness, the men … wear the Australian uniform pridefully, voluntarily. . . . This Company wants combatant service. . . . So far they have not been accepted but to become diggers is their highest ambition. To these men their Australian uniform is a symbol of tolerance, and decency. Australia and Australians have revived their flagging faith in mankind. We can be proud of that.

There was a happy ending to the Dunera story. After the war those Dunera boys who wanted to were able to stay. They helped build the Australia we have today. Amongst them there were handfuls of people who would become successful businessmen, professors, artists. One helped us win umpteen Olympic medals as one of our greatest coaches. And the list goes on. Having held out its hand Australia reaped rich rewards. And this was not just the case with the Dunera. It is a sobering fact that of the ten richest people in the country today exactly half came from refugee backgrounds!

We don’t know whether the Hazara Tigers will be allowed to stay and share Australia with us. But I confidently predict that, whatever happens, and wherever they are in twenty, thirty and forty years time, the Hazara boys of the Tiger 11 will look upon their time during Easter 2002 as an intensely, unforgettably happy experience.

It will also be a time when their presence led some of the world’s more fortunate people to reflect on their own good fortune. Thinking “there but for the grace of God go I” they did what they could to give the Hazara boys of the Tiger 11 the time of their lives.

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2024 years ago

hear hear

I understand that the Hazara were the last group in the area to convert from Buddhism to Islam. Fat lot of good it did them.

I detest all desert organised religions, they are the most keen to defend their spiritual border, if not expand them, using the worst of our behaviour, outgroup hatred led by they might be psychopaths but at least they are our psychopaths and sadists

Andrew Bartlett
2024 years ago

A good article. Historical comparisons are very useful in this area, although sadly they often show us repeating and not learning from our mistakes.

The number of arguments against temporary protection visas, mandatory detention, the Pacific ‘Solution’, etc are many and varied. Most of the arguments I hear in favour aren’t even backed up by the facts. Despite all of that, perhaps the arguments that appeal to self-interest are the ones that have the most weight.

It harms our society and economy to have people like the Hazara boys unable to properly settle and fully contribute to Australia. It runs against our whole tradition of vauling family and social bonds as a building block of community. It puts all Australians at risk when practices such as of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial and bureaucrats being able to make major decisions that are not able to be independently reviewed are allowed to flourish.

When our Government can get away with kidnapping asylum seekers on the high sees and imprisoning them no a remote Pacific island via a process that is completely outside the jurisdiction of Australian law, we are dabbling in practices that reverse centuries of adherence to simple principles that underpin our whole system of government.

The asylum seekers are copping the worst of it, but we’re all at risk when practices like this become accepted.

David Tiley
2024 years ago

Nick – that is a beaut post. Once again, putting lived experience against insane bureaucracies.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2024 years ago

Well this is all lovely. Nothing to do with border security or the mandatory detention policy of course but lovely all the same.

2024 years ago

Wonderful post, Nicholas. I’d also like to add that I am very much enjoying your posts and your “softly, softly” writing style as you approach an issue, often tinged with a gently sardonic bitter-sweetness.

I can only emphatically agree with your call for a presumption of compassion and benevolence as I too am the son of refugees who were lucky enough to find sanctuary and opportunity in Australia for themselves and their children.

My view is that anyone who is prepared to cross an ocean in a leaky boat with their family can be presumed to be highly motivated to succeed in Australia.

And I would also like to echo Andrew Bartlett’s excellent comment that our practices concerning refugees pose risks to all of us.

I’m also reminded of another great quote from Churchill, that has clear application to the treatment of asylum seekers.

“The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.”

Francis Xavier Holden
2024 years ago

One of my great uncles always claimed he was one of the only people to be in concentration camps on both sides.

He said he was intered here in Australia for having a German name and then he joined up with the oz Army and was sent overseas where he was then captured and in a Japanese POW camp till end of war.

His story was accepted as far as I know. How likely does this sound? How would I do a bit of checking?

I’m guessing the Japanese POW stuff was correct as the RSL became his second home but what about the round up here of “Germans” – where might I begin finding background on this?

Nicholas Gruen
2024 years ago


Greg Moylan
Greg Moylan
2024 years ago

Francis, You can check whether your great-uncle was held as a prisoner of war at the Australian War Memorial site, which has a record of all Australian service personnel with a war record, including whether they were POWs. It’s unlikely that your grand-uncle would have been interned because of his German name during WW2 as that was not the policy applied in that war, although it was done in WW1. If he was interned in WW2 it is unlikely he would have been released from internment in time to join the 8th Division of the Army, which went to Malaya in 1941 to bolster the defence of Singapore and whose soldiers comprised most of the Japanese POWs.

Francis Xavier Holden
2024 years ago

Greg – it possibly was WW1 internment when he was younger as a kid perhaps I’d say, then he joined up for WW2 and Singapore. Dunno – theres no family members to check up with. Although that branch did do a history somewhere. I should follow up. It is interesting. Another interesting item is that on my mothers side it seems as if her maternal grandmother was Jewish. I’ve been told that with my willy cut as it is and that lineage I would have been carted away in Germany in Hitlers time.

David Tiley
2024 years ago

Cripes, and I thought Nicholas was being personal..

John Morhall
John Morhall
2024 years ago

Nicholas, your post was very thought provoking. I am saddened to think that as our wheel of civilisation turns it seems to crush more under its rim, those seemingly not quick or able enough to move out of the way. Thanks for the reality check! Plus ca change.

2024 years ago

he was one of the only people

“One of the only” is a common, but dare I say, absurd expression, as is its friend “more unique”.

“One of the few”, or “the one and only”

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

“kidnapping asylum seekers on the high sees” — an example of the hysterical and counterfactual rhetoric of the pro-illegal-immigration lobby.

2024 years ago

EP’s almost right, Andrew (shudder). “Kidnapping asylum seekers on the high sees[sic]”, even without the spelling error, is a pretty silly thing to say. There’s a hell of a lot wrong with Howard’s policy WRT asylum seekers, but intercepting boat people before they land cannot be considered “kidnapping” any more than any other occasion in which governmentally-endorsed imprisonment occurs.

EP, by “almost” right I mean that ridiculous statements like “hysterical and counterfactual rhetoric of the pro-illegal-immigration lobby” are, well, ridiculous (cough), and they apply better to your good self than to any of the rest of us participating in various /Troppo/ debates. The phrase “pro-illegal-immigration” alone is a deliberate distortion, viz, a lie. You ought to be above such disgusting tactics.

2024 years ago

I’m intrigued by the way the 60th anniversary of VE day is attracting such hoo-ha (But I betcha VJ 60 passes a lot more quietly. We still need their money).

I don’t recall VE50 getting hyped up the same way. But then again they didn’t have post-9/11 charged up blogs back then.

And just adding a brief coda to Nick’s original post. I’m now stepping out with a woman who’s parents were bombed out of Hamburg by my relatives in revenge for her relatives bombing my parents out of London.

The sex and companionship is great and the past is irrelevant. However, meeting the aged end of both families is, um… interesting. Both sides still have unforgettable memories of high explosives rained on their heads by eachothers relatives. Or in a couple of cases, eachother (“If it wasn’t for the cloud cover, I’d have shot you down over the Zuider Zee” is still one of the most memorable things I’ve heard one old bloke say to another in a pissed argument). On the other hand they all admit they are safe and, perhaps more importantly for wrinklies, warm while sharing Australia with eachother now.

The current “war on terrorism” is nothing compared to WWII or the MAD cold war. Our ancestors sorted out and survived all that shit. As shown by the Dunera Boys and all our other like-minded and spirited vintage relatives on all sides fighting in one way or another for humanity – and a warm spot in the sun shining down on somewhere they could finally call their own.

And essayettes (blogassays?) like the above remind us why we should be proud to be human in the best way when things get nasty.

Nice one Nick.

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

The phrase “pro-illegal immigration” is accurate, which is why you don’t like it. All those people campaigning for release of detainees and acceptance of anyone claiming to be a refugee at face value are in fact suppoting illegal immigration.

2024 years ago

Evil Pundit:

I really shouldn’t bite. I was, after all, just lurking silently on this blog as I often do.

“All those people campaigning for release of detainees and acceptance of anyone claiming to be a refugee at face value are in fact suppoting illegal immigration.”

Maybe all those people simply want a detention system that doesn’t involve concentration camps. I strongly support immigration control, for a list of sound reasons, but I do not approve of the specific methods being used. The problem is as much about HOW we are doing what we are doing, not WHY or WHAT.

I oppose concentration camps in Australia. According to you, now I am “pro-illegal immigration”.

Exaggerated analogy:
If I suggested the penalty for parking illegally across a normal suburban drive way should be a $10,000 fine, you would probably look at me as if I was insane. What if I then said to you, “Well you must be ‘pro-illegal parking’ then.”

2024 years ago

Hey EP, the phrase “complete waste of space, time and oxygen” is accurate, which is why you don’t like it.

I liked your post a lot Nick. Keep it up.

It is interesting seeing perceptions change once the people are humanised – like those Middle Eastern abbatoir workers out at Young. Stciking people out in the desert and denying them access to others is a great way of preventing them being humanised.

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago


How would you go about organising a detention system that doesn’t involve concentration camps?

Bearing in mind that the security of detention must be maintained.

All the alternatives I’ve seen proposed so far involve releasing the detainees into the general population with no guarantee whatsoever that they will ever be found again. In other words, these “alternatives” amount to a de facto acceptance of illegal immigration, since they provide no practical way of preventing it.

So, as far as I’m concerned, all the people who advocate release from detention for illegal immigrants are, in fact, supporters of illegal immigration.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2024 years ago

I think I might have figured out they’re human. Yet I still don’t see what’s wrong with seeking to control who comes into our country and how they do it.

If compassion obligates us to take 50000 asylum seekers and we can accommodate them, then let’s take them. This position is not incongrous with supporting the current detention policy. Which I do.

“Sticking people out in the desert and denying them access to others is a great way of preventing them being humanised.”

But that’s not why we do it. It’s also a great way of showing those who seek to enter Australia illegally that thankfully, for now, that it’s not going to get them anywhere.

Sanctimony is a really irritating by-product of a wealthy modern society and if you are going to show the slightest interest in current affairs you’re going to have to wade through a lot of it.

2024 years ago

“Sticking people out in the desert and denying them access to others is a great way of preventing them being humanised.”

But that’s not why we do it.

# Can’t agree with you there, James. Please tell me why do we do it?
I also maintain that the only reason the detention centres were privatised was to allow the government to avoid responsibility. It was not for economic reasons and it certainly wasn’t for humanitarian reasons.

“It’s also a great way of showing those who seek to enter Australia illegally that thankfully, for now, that it’s not going to get them anywhere.”
No it’s not. Almost all boatpeople get assessed as genuine refugees anyway. So if there is a messages that is being sent it is that we’ll lock them up even though we will give them refugee status later on ie it’s a waste of time.

NZ manages it’s illegal entrants without the use of detention centres. And a study here was recently completed (sorry, I don’t have the link) looking into TPV holders or those awaiting processing in the community absconding. The conclusion is that they simply don’t abscond once they are in the process of being assessed. Since they aren’t allowed to have jobs they rely on charities, and usually these are run by expats of the same country they are from. This handily allows the authorities to keep tabs on them. The community groups have an obvious incentive to prevent the people absconding because they would get shut down otherwise and thus be unable to help future arrivals.

“If compassion obligates us to take 50000 asylum seekers and we can accommodate them, then let’s take them. This position is not incongrous with supporting the current detention policy.”
# How are these two positions related?

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

We keep them in detention because it works.

The number of illegal immigrants arriving by boat has dropped drastically since this policy was implemented.

If they were genuine refugees, they wouldn’t mind being detained in a safe place while being assessed. The fact that detention discourages them demonstrates that they are, in fact, primarily economic migrants.

Since the system works so well, we would be foolish to change it.

2024 years ago

“We keep them in detention because it works.”
Works at doing what?
A police state works – that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Doesn’t mean other alternatives don’t work as well.
The NZ system works.

“If they were genuine refugees, they wouldn’t mind being detained in a safe place while being assessed.”
Um, what about the ones who are there for four years and then get released? They mind it. And I kinda think you would too. In fact, I reckon you’d be arguing that you could be trusted in the community and promised to turn up every week to see your case officer. In fact, if you were a genuine refugee you would do almost anything to be recognised as such.
Tell me truthfully EP, would you mind?
And what ‘safe place’ are you talking about? The one they are in when they are subject to abuse and are treated as criminals.
The community is safer. In the community they will have the support of aid and charity groups and thus become part of the community (which they invariably do) faster.

“The fact that detention discourages them demonstrates that they are, in fact, primarily economic migrants.”
I don’t doubt that they are primarily economic refugees. However, our government ultimately defines then as being humanitarian refugees, so that (as far as the people smugglers is concerned) is that.
Simply sending them home would be a far cheaper, faster way of dealing with them than locking them up. There is no reason for Australia to get a bad name for itself by locking them up, when it could just send them home.

“Since the system works so well, we would be foolish to change it.”
…unless you were concerned about Australia’s perception overseas; inflicting mental anguish on people; concerned that it was a gross waste of taxpayers money when cheaper and as-effective regimes were available.

So, EP, the system is there to discourage people smuggling?
I thought the party line was that it was there to stop terrorists getting in.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2024 years ago

I did tell you why we do it, we do it because showing that we have a rigorous and strict regime in place will (“may” is good enough) discourage attempts to enter the country in ways that threaten our security.

Look we have all read enough and thought enough about it to make our own minds up about it and I am sorry to waste time going over it again. I think Harry you helped me understand why I did respond. I precieved that Nick’s post was seeking not to humanise asylum seekers but to de-humanise people who disagree with him.

Do you seriously think that all of them, the ugly selfish majority that support the Government on this issue are somehow immune or oblivious to the suffering of others or have never suffered themselves? Of course not. They simply diagree with you on the relationship between social compassion and border security. Compassion has a role in our immigration policy. There is no role for it in the protecting of our borders. Don’t give a toss how the Kiwis do it. Different country different circumstances.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2024 years ago

Oh and the wood block etching or whatever it is is trite and shite.

2024 years ago

“discourage attempts to enter the country in ways that threaten our security.”

Well, I guess it must work. After all, every terrorist who has ever come to our country has flown in using a passport.

The terrorism line is nothing but scare mongering, and is a case of tarring all with the same brush.
Being on a boat is the easiest way of getting picked up by the authorities – it simply doesn’t make sense for a terrorist to come in by people smuggling boat when there are far more reliable and covert ways of doing so.
Ergo, anyone who uses the terrosim line, ie the PM, is being shifty.

“Don’t give a toss how the Kiwis do it. Different country different circumstances.”
This is a spurious assertion. No man is an island. And no country is an island. Well,.. except Australia.. and New Zealand, obviously. But, lyrically, no nation is an island.

“to make our own minds up about it”
I’d hate to think that opinions were immutable. The problem with ‘making up one’s mind’ is that it polarises the issue into two camps, and that’s where it stays. The funny think about dychotomies is that they are slmost always false. Don’t automatically assume there are only two positions, eg Detention Centre vs pants-off freedom. There is a third way. And, surprisingly enough, it is a way that can be supported by both sides, and maybe this divisive issue can be solved and the ugliness that has occupied my country for too long can be dispelled.

“Compassion has a role in our immigration policy. There is no role for it in the protecting of our borders.”
This, James, is the heart of the issue.
Firstly, there is a always a place for compassion in all situations. However, compassion can only be applied to people worthy of it. Demonising boatpeople as a way of denying them compassion is not the way to go, particularly when there is a way of dealing with them that doesn’t involve this at all.

As an overaching statement I will say that the Government has shot itself in the foot on this one, and due to the political game they have played with this issue they have backed themselves into a corner. The whole thing was totally unneccesary, ergo it is 100% the Government’s fault that this issue is so raw – not because the left is a bunch of pantywaists or because the right are a bunch of coldhearted bastards. This issue is raw because the government are a bunch of manipulative #*%&^s. The government chose to use this as a divisive issue. They chose the people to demonise and they chose the players – you and me.

How to prove you are a humanitarian refugee.
Option 1: Sit in a refugee camp on the edge of a war/famine zone with nothing for an indeterminate amount of time.
Option 2: Run to another country and claim asylum by showing your ID. This ID will prove you are (a) who you say you are, and therfore (b) a refugee.

We know that the people who have been arriving by boat in Australia are coached by their handlers. Knowing that the single fastest and surefire way to be recognised as a humanitarian refugee is to present ID, you have to wonder why they don’t present said ID, and why they instead dispose of their ID before getting to Australia.
We know they had ID, because you need it to fly into Indonesia or Malaysia.
Conclusion: they are not humanitarian refugees.

(Their coaching is pretty funny. They all seem to have lost a brother and an uncle. It’s a bit like the Pirates of Penzance (who, being orphans themselves, don’t kill orphans) wondering how the Royal Navy could be crewed entirely by orphans.)

So, where are the real refugees? Well, they’d be the ones who didn’t have time to sell their businesses or pool their family resources to get them out of the country. They are the ones who fled their homes with a couple of handfuls of belongings and now sit in one of the large number of refugee camps that spring up on the periphery of troubled nations. These are the people who are worthy and deserving of our compassion. And there are any number of them.

Should economic refugees be allowed to masquerade as humanitarian refugees? No way.
Should we therefore be allowed to treat them extremely badly? No way.
Even if they are genuine humanitarian refugees, should they be allowed to get to Australia before those who don’t have the neccesary funds? No way.

The argument that since the applicant has gone to the financial effort and shown great ingenuity, they are the sort of refugee we should attract to our country is inadmissable. Why? Because it isn’t a humanitarian argument.
The destruction of this argument is in fact a humanitarian one, namely, “So what? Some poor Iranian bastard out in Turkey hasn’t got the money to get here, and hes been waiting longer than your guy. Join the queue.”

There are plenty of people with the ingenuity and financial ability to get to Australia and be an asset to our nation: they are called Migrants. And there’s a queue for them too.

The queue-jumper argument is completely undermined by the fact that almost all the boatpeople have been assessed, by default, as being genuine refugees. This is a flaw in the system and highlights the incompetence and callousness of the government. Instead of fixing this problem they engaged in a political manoeuvre to split the nation to obscure their own gross mishandling of the situation.

The problem that the government has made for our nation, is that the default position on people who turn up on your shore is that they are humanitarian refugees unless proven otherwise. With scant resources and vast areas of the world to investigate it should come as no surprise that the results are inconclusive or simply absent. In an astounding display of brainlessness the government puts them in a too-hard basket in a detention centre in the desert, where they await their inevitable fate of either being released into Australia as a genuine refugee, or shipped off to NewZealand or Canada who take them out of embarrassment for us. This is obviously unsatisfactory to everyone in the country.

The genesis of the whole problem is where economic refugees being recognised as humanitarian refugees. When they are officially defined as ‘humanitarian refugees’ it throws the whole system into farce, which is where we were in 2000. The farce is then transformed into a shameful stain by political cruelties, which is where we are today.

The sinking of SIEV X put us on the same footing as those naval vessels that machine gunned Vietnamese boat people after the fall of SaiGon. Sure, they went out of their way to kill theirs, but we went equally out of our way to avoid saving ours. There is no excuse – the past is for us to learn from. And don’t even start me on Tampa, but the main gripe is the same: don’t use our military for political stunts.

Is there any realistic reason why Australian Detention centres are privately run other than to allow the Government to duck it’s responsibilities? No. It is more expensive, more secretive and more abusive than a publically run centre. Everyone else loses by having them private. There is no better way of saying “We have something to hide” than by not allowing UNHCR officials to go where-ever they want.

There is a way to get Australia’s good name back; to stop the boats; to increase the number of humanitarian refugees who come to Australia; and to ensure that the are genuine refugees at that – and none of it involves making people go mad in detention.

The solution is this.

Set up a camp run by the UNHCR. The Australian government pays for it out of the vast amount of money used for the Pacific Solution and the privately run centres. The camp is an enclosed village type thing. There is a fence but there are no cells, there is a school, there is a playground, there is a basic house/apartment for each family. If an inmate complains about the conditions they can be flown, free of charge, to the UNHCR refugee camp of their choice anywhere in the world.
This land is UN land and is treated as an embassy.

Anyone who turns up in a boat is sent to the camp and is classified as a ‘dude from a boat’. They are processed according to UNHCR procedure. This procedure is, broadly, the UNHCR tries to register all the refugees in the camps. Refugees are given a number which corresponds to how long they have been in that camp. Every so often a UNHCR official turns up with a quota and says how many people the quota is for. This number of people are picked by having the next numbers in line. This is the queue. Each refugee (or complete family) is offered the choice of one of three countries to go to. If they refuse these countries they go to the end of the line. Each country in the quota has a quota of it’s own. When that quota is full the country is taken off the list. Presumably there is a system as to which camps get a quota sent to them, but I don’t know it’s mechanics.

The Australian UN refugees get a number too. At the end of the worldwide queue. When it is the Australian camp’s turn to be visited by the UNHCR official with the quota each refugee is offered one of three countries. Australia does not appear on the list. We get away with this because of the exceptional care and protection provided to the refugees by the Australian government while they were being processed. And because we increased our international humanitarian AID spending. And we are protecting the sanctity of genuine refugees and genuine immigrants.
For every refugee sent from the Australian camp, we will accept one more from the usual UNHCR supply.

The kicker is that if someone spends all that money and time getting to Australia they guarentee one thing: someone else gets in.
It’s a numbers game anyway – that’s how we know which nations are pulling their weight humanitarianly. It is irrelevent where the refugees come from, just that as many get helped as is feasible.
This is a wonderfully fair system.

The real beauty is that we don’t need to know whether they are real refugees or economic refugees. So that whole divisive issue is nullified.

The boats will stop. The camp will close. The taxpayers money will not be frittered away on some internationally embarassing dick-swinging competition. More people get helped. And, most importantly, we become the good guys again, which is why we accept refugees in the first place.

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

Why are you bollocking on about “terrorism”, Harry? “Terrorism” is not the issue here. The issue is illegal immigration.

Handing over the management of illegal immigration to a corrupt UN body is the last thing we need to do.

The existing system works, and it works well. That is why you don’t like it.

And that is why the majority of Australians do like it.

2024 years ago

“Why are you bollocking on about “terrorism”, Harry? “Terrorism” is not the issue here. The issue is illegal immigration.”
Because James brought it up. And because it’s what the government says too. I explained that in my piece.

“Handing over the management of illegal immigration to a corrupt UN body is the last thing we need to do.”
I know you don’t like UN, EP. Get over it. You would rather it stays in the hands of a corrupt private company doing the dirty work of a corrupt government?
Also, I think you’re missing the nuances of the plan, but since you haven’t engaged me in a detail of my plan perhaps you don’t undestand it.

“The existing system works, and it works well.”
It has unpleasant side effects that are totally unnecessary. It makes Australia look bad and costs too much money. This plan will work better, without the unpleasant side effects.

“That is why you don’t like it.”
No. I don’t like it because of the unpleasant side effects and because it is done chiefly for political means rather than actually dealing with the refugees. The fact that we have people in detention centres after 4 years says that the current system is a hodge-podge of ideas and bandaids. If the system worked in it’s entirety there would be no one in detention. QED

“And that is why the majority of Australians do like it.”
No. The majority of Australians don’t care. Then there a bunch who actively like it, and a bunch who actively dislike it. Tell me where the numbers fall?

All up, I give you one out of ten.

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

And the voters give your ideas about 20% support at most. So quit whingeing about an excellent system.

Andrew Bartlett
2024 years ago

I’m often curious how EP and others come to the conclusion that “the existing system works, and it works well”. I will leave aside his mistake of equating illegal immigration to asylum seekers, as that has been refuted often enough. People who continually misuse the term ‘illegal immigrant’ are presumably doing so wilfully, so there’s not much point having the argument with people who aren’t willing to listen.

There are over 50 000 people illegally in the Australian community – over 15 000 have been ‘at large’ for over 10 years. As far as I am aware, not one of them is an asylum seekers. However, mandatory detention has done nothing to address this – all it does for overstayers who are caught is provide indefinite imprisonment for years at a time for the occasional ‘too hard basket’ case that comes along. This doesn’t ‘protect our borders’ or provide a ‘deterrent for overstayers/illegal immigrants’. It does cost a fortune and has led to lazy and incompetent decision making in DIMIA, as there is no incentive to resolve a difficult case, as the person/s can just be kept locked up indefinitely (while the taxpayer keeps on paying).

As for detering asylum seekers, the number of boat arrivals grew after mandatory detention was introduced. A large drop world wide in asylum seekers since 2002, the use of the armed forces to baord the boats and turn them around, coupled with hundreds of drownings, and the funding of the UNHCR to assess and support asylum seekers who apply in Indonesia (a process I support, at least in principle) have all played a role. There is no evidence at all that mandatory detention has had the slightest impact. Indeed the fact that people have stayed jailed for more than 6 years rather than return to what they believe to be a real risk of persecution is a pretty good example that it doesn’t work even for people that have got here, let alone people that are thinking about it.

Even on purely economic rationalist grounds, let alone impact on policy outcomes, mandatory detention is a monumental disaster. The only area it has been successful is politically, which says all that needs to be said about why it continues to be deployed.

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

I have as much sympathy for asylum seekers as the Australian Democrats have for divorced fathers.

2024 years ago

Damn fine post, Senator.

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

Fyodor’s a suckup. BD

2024 years ago

Wrraow. Catty.

2024 years ago

Fyodor can hold a personal “I Love Andrew Bartlett” day up and down Anzac Parade for all it matters.
The only thing that counts here is engagment in debate.
Andrew Bartlett does. Fyodor does. You don’t.
Who is the odd one out?

“I have as much sympathy for asylum seekers as the Australian Democrats have for divorced fathers.”
This is your typical tactic of changing the topic to get out of actually defining your position and defending it. The issue is not where your sympathy lies – the issue is how to deal with the dudes in the boats.

“And the voters give your ideas about 20% support at most.”
Yes. That would be the results of the Great Australian Invisble Referendum that Never Happened, would it?

“So quit whingeing about an excellent system.”
I have provided a reasoned justification for why the system is not excellent and you haven’t challenged it. I provided an alternative idea that you similarly haven’t challenged it.

Whenever you feel like being an adult rather than a 3 year old, just tell me.
Until that time, do us all a favour and wrap yourself in barbed wire and feed yourself to the lobsters.

Evil Pundit
2024 years ago

I do usually engage in debate, Harry, but sometimes I grow wearied by the same old attitudes and just go on autopilot guided by common cues. Consequently, I stopped reading your post as soon as I saw “UNHCR”, because of the bad reputation of the UN and such subsidiary organisations.

Having looked again, your idea doesn’t look too bad on the face of it. It seems good in theory, but would probably need a lot of international-type negotiation and bureaucracy-dealing to put into practice.

However, I’m not convinced it would stop the protests of many illegal-immigrant supporters, who would still object to any form of detention at all. Basically the goal of such radicals is an open-border policy and they would be satisfied by nothing less than immediate citizenship for anyone who sets foot in Australia.

My own preferred solution involves renunciation of the UN treaty on refugees and the immediate deportation of all illegal arrivals (unless they are directly fleeing from oppression in a neighbouring country). This would eliminate the need for most of our detention centres altogether, and provide a most effective deterrent to would-be boat people.

Andrew Bartlett
2024 years ago

EP said
“However, I’m not convinced it would stop the protests of many illegal-immigrant supporters, who would still object to any form of detention at all. Basically the goal of such radicals is an open-border policy and they would be satisfied by nothing less than immediate citizenship for anyone who sets foot in Australia.”

Very few people – and I include asylum seekers I’ve spoken to about the issue – object to some form of initial detention. What they object to is the indefinite and indiscriminate nature of it, especially when combined with such a poorly functioning system to assess claims.

I have never heard anyone ever argue for ‘instant citizenship’ (except in the case of some who argue all children who are born here should be automatically be citizens – a position I don’t agree with).

I have heard very few people argue for an ‘open border’ policy, and most of those have not been refugee advocates, but purist libertarians who apply the principle of free unimpeded flow of capital and apply it to people as well. (An interesting notion but also not one I agree with – maybe in 50 years time if lots of other things have gone well in the meantime.)

The simple fact is that the vast majority of people concerned about mandatory detention do not want some extreme, no-rules system. They can just see that the existing rules fail badly on almost any criteria (except political) and produce enormous injustices and huge costs.

Andrew Bartlett
2024 years ago

It is a bit of a jump for EP to mention lone fathers, but actually I did meet a few of them a couple of weeks ago – they weren’t divorced but they were definitely separated. They are on Nauru and have been kept seperated from their children for well over 3 years.

One them, Zahir (mentioned at was told finally last weekend he will get a visa to Ausralia. Trouble is, it will probably just be a temporary visa, giving him at least another 3 years before he can see his family.

Another, (mentioned at is an Iraqi who has just one water-stained photograph of his 6 children. Even DIMIA says it is not encouraging him or the other Iraqis to return because it isn’t safe, but he is still being told he does meet the criteria of a refugee so he has to stay ‘safe’ on Nauru for the foreseeable future (a future he’s been staring into for over 3 years, but can’t see the end of yet and neither can anyone else).

This is just a couple of examples. Good stuff from our pro-family Government.

2024 years ago

“Consequently, I stopped reading your post as soon…”
Ah. Well if you comment on it, I naturally assumed you had read it.
The UN is maleable, and is made up of nations each pushing their own agenda. I don’t see it as neccesarily a hard task for the UN to be used for our purposes, to put it inelegantly.

“However, I’m not convinced it would stop the protests of many illegal-immigrant supporters, who would still object to any form of detention at all. Basically the goal of such radicals is an open-border policy and they would be satisfied by nothing less than immediate citizenship for anyone who sets foot in Australia.”

# How many? Who are they? I don’t see how anyone can really take that idea seriously.

“and the immediate deportation of all illegal arrivals ….”
Send them where?

“(unless they are directly fleeing from oppression in a neighbouring country)”
But how do you ascertain this without impounding them? After all, it is easy for a Pakistani to pass for an Afghani – especially when they are from the same tribal group.

How long do you reckon Indonesia will hold together?
And where do you think those who need to fell will flee to?