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Letter to Nambucca Guardian "Do we live in a society that values justice or not?"

Dear Editor,

Prof. Gillian Triggs states in her report “How we treat asylum seekers goes to the core of our identity as a nation”. Anthony Hardge (Letters 25 June 2015) takes exception to this statement but provides no reason why.

This statement is a variation of many that have preceded it. I provide three as examples:

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. 
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.
~Samuel Johnson, Boswell: Life of Johnson

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Ghandi

You may, quite rightly, call these slogans but that does not make the truth of these statements any less important. The message that these statements represent resonate deeply in the human psyche. It goes to the core of our understanding of fairness and justice.

Now, life is unfair. Some people are born into wealth and privilege and others into poverty and hardship. How we respond to that unfairness is a choice that each of us makes and is a reflection of our personal character. How we respond as a nation to tests of moral leadership is a refection of our national character. The actions we take as a nation reflect whether we are seeking to implement justice in the face of unfairness or whether we are seeking to protect and entrench privilege.

Quite rightly, in my opinion, many people are appalled at the actions of our government in the indefinite detention of people, especially children, in detention camps – people who have committed no crime. I remind you that seeking asylum, whether you arrive in this country by boat or plane, is not a crime.

The continued detention, especially of children, is known to cause severe mental health issues. We know this to be the case so its continued practice can rightly be called torture.

Compounding an already atrocious state of affairs this government has introduced laws and enacted procedures to hide this abuse behind a veil of secrecy.

There are many alternative means of dealing with the influx of asylum seekers. Means that are not only fair and just but cheaper as well. Julian Burnside QC has made just such proposals. I encourage you to seek them out.

In the end we have to ask ourselves – do we want to live in a society that values justice or not?

Peter Sobey


8 July 2015

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