In a move to address criticism of Australia’s immigration detention policies, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection announced today that all asylum seekers under the age of 18 would from now on be classified in all government documentation as “midgets” rather than “children”.
Refugee advocacy groups had initially welcomed Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s earlier statement on Monday that the government would no longer be detaining children in immigration detention. Miranda Goodheart, of the Refugee Activists’ Collective, said she was so overwhelmed with hope for Australia’s capacity for humanity that she even “liked” Malcolm Turnbull’s Facebook page.
“After the success of the nation-wide rallies for refugees on the weekend, we thought that the last decade or so of protesting, litigation, and criticism from the UNHRC had finally shifted politicians’ views on refugees,” she said. “That feeling was pretty good, while it lasted.”
Today’s clarification coincided with police raids of Save the Children that were supervised by Australian Border Force personnel. A spokesperson from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) said the government sees no place for an organisation that calls itself ‘Save the Children’ on Nauru, given the reclassification of detainees.
“People confuse sub-18-year-olds on Nauru and Manus Island with the children in their own homes. They are nothing alike. For one thing, how many Australian children know how to hide from machete-wielding vigilantes?” the spokesperson said.
“Really these people are just short adults and behave in very disturbing and unchildlike ways. Ultimately, Australians wouldn’t want them interacting with their own children at school.”
Mr Dutton had reaffirmed that the government’s policies must stay in place to prevent further deaths at sea, telling a press conference on Monday that, “we must torture children to save children”. But DIBP’s new announcement affirmed that, once it is retrospectively applied, “no ‘child’ has been or ever will be tortured in detention: only funny looking adult midgets”.
Douglas Rulelaw of the Auburn Legal Centre said that the decision strained the boundaries of common sense and humanity, but made sense in the context of Australian political culture. “There are legal precedents for this kind of action,” he said, “for instance, when the Gillard government excised the Australian mainland from the migration zone. Australia was reclassified as no longer part of Australia, but people were comfortable with that.”
Redefining the status of people and landmasses formerly known as countries may prove a smart move legally, but according to Fairfax polling guru Brett Zane, it may also be politically expedient. “Our polling in recent years shows that the public welcomes any excuse available to deflect guilt about Australia’s treatment of refugees,” he said. “The midgets overboard scandal showed us that, and successive governments have really not looked back since that watershed moment.”
The Minister admitted the new government policy is unlikely to appease radicals among the Australian public who oppose offshore detention and claim “refugees are welcome”. An anonymous source within Border Force has hinted, however, that after changes to the definition of ‘Australian citizen’ take place next month, “these unAustralians will be regretting” ever having shown compassion to asylum seekers. “They’ll be ‘welcoming’ refugees alright,” the source said, before laughing maniacally.