One of the main strands of thought in the feedback on my reflections on the evictions of First Nations Australians from their communities and the response of Māori was that we had no responsibility nor obligation; it wasn’t our issue. I’ve always taken the position that we have an imperative to respond to the suffering of others by offering relief and fighting for justice for their situation. That imperative is our common humanity. Others have explained the imperative in other ways; famously Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote (in a number of different forms):
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Well, in Australia, they have started to come for New Zealanders.
Tukaka Whakatutu, in a hard-hitting interview on National Radio, revealed that up to 75 New Zealanders and Pacific Island peoples have been deported from Australia to a high security camp in the jungles of Christmas Island. Whakatutu had his Australian visa automatically cancelled because he was sentenced to a prison term of longer that 12 months after he was found guilty of arson and drunk driving after he and his employer burnt down his workplace to claim the insurance. Whakatutu has lived in Australia for over six years, he has a partner and six children, but under the new draconian Australian legislation will be deported to Aotearoa New Zealand at the end of his sentence.
It is the opinion of advocates for prisoners like Whakatutu that these men are shipped to Christmas Island to discourage them from challenging their deportation through the courts both by making access to lawyers more difficult and subjecting them to inhumane detention conditions.
Whakatutu expressed sympathy for other nominal New Zealanders who had known no other home than Australia who were facing deportation, such as Angela Russell. Russell has lived in Australia since she was three, she is now 40 and has raised a family in Australia. She was sentenced for a series of petty crimes, but because her total record adds up to over 12 months of imprisonment, is also facing deportation.
These are two of multiple New Zealand citizens caught in the dragnet of new powers granted the Team America-styled Border Force. This amalgamation of Immigration and Customs in Australia has been granted such broad authority that a retired conservative judge in Australia who reviewed their legislation stated that a Border Force officer could kill a person they had detained with impunity as they only needed to state that they felt that was the force necessary to control the situation. Border Force were the butt of jokes following their attempt to conduct an operation in central Melbourne; they are far from a joke. Border Force are a para-military unit at the forefront of a new White Australia policy.
Unfortunately in Aotearoa New Zealand, we keep responding to each instance of new legislation that impinges on peoples’ rights in Australia as though they are isolated outliers instead of seeing the birth of fascism in Australian politics. I use that word advisedly: fascism is an authoritarian and nationalistic right wing system of government and social organisation, an accurate one line description of the government of our closest neighbour.
To date, they have: supported states to remove indigenous people from their traditional land with the likely intent that said land is open to the mining industry; opened concentration camps for refugees in off-shore islands and other poor, servant states; cynically used the 100th anniversary of the invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli to build nationalistic fervor; railed against full rights for homosexual and transgender members of Australian society; condoned the demonetization of Muslim Australians and joined an imperial war in the Middle East. And now they are seeking to deport long term residents to continue their trend of treating New Zealanders as second class citizens.
Our own government’s response has been flaccid. John Key admitted he had no idea how many New Zealanders are facing deportation, has received no information on the matter from Australia and couldn’t understand how the Australian approach would assist the deportees, their families and Aotearoa New Zealand in anyway. So Key intends to… ask Malcolm Turnbull about it.
Now some may say that these New Zealanders facing deportation are criminals and the only injustice is that we have to have them back in Aotearoa New Zealand. Possibly the same people who would comment that First Nations Australians are to blame for their own poverty and failure to integrate, and that refugees are not really refugees but migrants trying to jump the queue. Such selfish, hateful responses barely deserve a comment. If you have decided that love of the poor and suffering is a weakness, I pray for your sake that you have money and success all the days of your life, for there is unlikely to be anyone waiting to catch you if you fall.
If concern for our common humanity means nothing, then perhaps we should be concerned because Australia is our closest neighbour in an economic and social sense. We have significant numbers of New Zealanders living there, including perhaps 170,000 Māori. If we are silent on the developing fascism there, we are abandoning a part of ourselves. Nation states that pursue the path the Australian government is taking are seeking dominance of others, to clear away difference. At some point, as Pastor Martin Niemöller stated, they will arrive at the door of someone you love. Even if that someone is only yourself.