Good Godwin! – Reactions to the Migration and Maritime Powers Bill

SS St Louis passengers and an asylum seeker today

Images sourced from and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre

Anyone who attempts to strengthen an argument by evoking images of Nazi atrocities risks repudiation via Godwin’s law. Yet not to acknowledge the similarities is becoming harder by the day.
“… a wave of immigration coming in would have been frightening to some people, concerned for the few jobs that were available.”

“It means letting thousands of uninvited migrants come today – and inevitably millions tomorrow – to help themselves to what others have created.”

These two quotes illustrate how little we have learned from history.

The first relates to the SS St Louis, a cruise ship carrying more than 900 Jewish men, women and children fleeing Europe in 1933. Those aboard were denied entry to Cuba, the USA and Canada. Upon their return to Europe, more than a quarter were thought to have been killed in concentration camps.

The second quote is from contemporary social commentator Andrew Bolt. It was written in response to the Pope’s call for compassion towards the world’s millions of refugees.

So, yes, comparisons with Nazi Germany and the indifference of many nations to the plight of those fleeing terror seem particularly apt this week.

In what the President of the UCA, Rev Prof Andrew Dutney called “a day of great moral failure”, the Federal Senate voted (34 to 32) to amend the Migration and Maritime Powers Act to allow the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, to act contrary to international law.

The new laws over-ride Australia’s obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. The UNCR was developed in the early 1950s as a direct result of the humanitarian disaster following the Holocaust, when more than ten million people were systematically murdered based on race, religion, sexuality or political beliefs.

Morrison now has the right to decide the fate of some of the most vulnerable people in the world without hindrance from local, national or international laws.

The days leading up to the senate vote were full of public hand-wringing and moral justification. Most notable were Senators Nick Xenophon and Ricky Muir.

Xenophon stated: “I would like to approach this debate with respect, with compassion and with dignity”. Muir seemed genuinely traumatised: “I am forced into a corner to decide between a bad decision or a worse decision – a position which I do not wish on my worst enemies.” Both ended up voting for the Bill.

Many social commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy of the senators. But perhaps it is time to ask ourselves: What would we have done? Or more to the point: What have we done?

The angst surrounding the senate vote presents a microcosm of our society. As individuals, we feel helpless; we stand by and watch as innocent men, women and children are locked up in our name, by our politicians, enforcing our laws.
As both major political parties seem trapped by a narrative of fear, where do we turn? How do we find the alternative? How can we start a new conversation?

Prior to the last election, the then-opposition bombarded the electorate with a daily tally of refugee boat arrivals. With the new laws and restriction on reporting, ‘on water’ matters will remain secret.

We may never know the number of lives lost at sea or returned to a place of torture and death.

We will never know the number of lives ended through despair and hopelessness.

We will never know how many will die in their homeland because they simply had no other place to go.

And we will never know the contribution those seeking a better life could have made to our country had we replaced fear with kindness.

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One Response to “Good Godwin! – Reactions to the Migration and Maritime Powers Bill”

  1. Barry Gittins

    History repeating itself seems increasingly likely and the comparisons you have drawn are sharp and righfully alarmingly – thank you, Deb Bennett, for a reminder of what we have forgotten. Australia, also, did her fair share of rejecting refugees and sending Jewish escapees back to Hitler’s Germany. We will all be called to account by the historical record of our choices, and for empowering Oberführer Morrison.