These are comments I made today, more or less, at the Close the Camps, Australia protest rally in Newmarket:
Kia ora. I’m Julia Schiller and I organized this rally as a concerned citizen. Thank you for coming along on this first Saturday of spring.
I used to say I was a refugee from the evil empire and it would get some laughs. Now that Trump has come along it’s finally obvious I wasn’t really kidding. Today we’re here to talk about real refugees in a part of the world we have far more of a chance to influence.
As you know and we celebrate, there are many bright spots in New Zealand’s history from being the first to give women the vote all the way through refusing to join in on an unjustified, vengeful and destructive war in Iraq. We take pride that New Zealand has so often been on the right side of history, but like many of us, I’ve been disheartened in recent years to see our good reputation eroding away, thanks to everything from Saudi sheep scandals to our enabling tax dodging. I am troubled by New Zealand’s role in the Five Eyes “club” and this government’s willingness to go along with American corporate hegemony and military aggression, the very elements that contribute to the unprecedented refugee crisis faced by the world today.
We don’t have to wait for next year’s election to start turning around this situation. Today we gather as individual Kiwis standing in solidarity with detained asylum seekers in Nauru and on Manus Island and with those in Australia who are demanding an end to the criminal way they are being treated. Through our voice and our choices we can be beacons of hope in this world and today our message is:
“Close the Camps, Australia”.
We know from the example of Serco right here in New Zealand, that privatizing any sort of prison or detention service is a recipe for disaster. We can imagine how much worse it can only be when these facilities are far from the checks and balances that keep a civil society civil. What has been happening in Nauru and on Manus is so shocking it is hard to believe at first. Amnesty International started sounding an alarm a few months after Australia reopened the camps in November of 2012. Over the past year their voice has been amplified by literally hundreds of documented cases of atrocities: children self-harming, children beaten, sex for favors, assault, rape and even murder. Many of the dozens of social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and humanitarian staff who have told the world what they witnessed have been threatened and are even in danger of being jailed, thanks to a new law that criminalizes the disclosure of this information.
Nauru and Manus are the concentration camps of our era. We cannot unknow what we’ve learned. We can no longer be silent. Today, we send our good will and our Kiwi aroha to the hundreds of good-hearted Australians taking action coordinated by the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance. In their words:
“We have signed petitions, held rallies and cried at vigils. We’ve been polite, we’ve called on the politicians to do what is right and moral. Manus Island and Nauru detention centres have not been closed and people who sought our help, a majority of whom have been shown to be genuine refugees, remain imprisoned, suffering harsh and abusive conditions.“
These activists launched the Boycott Wilson campaign to punish Wilson Security for their human rights abuses and to dissuade them from continuing their role on Manus and Nauru. Not two days ago, facing the threat of Australia-wide protest action today, action that perhaps they heard has spread to us here in Aotearoa, Wilson announced that they will cease any involvement at the camps when their subcontract expires next year.
This is a victory in that the Australian government cannot continue running the camps if companies like Wilson refuse to do their dirty work.
However, the Wilson statement is quite troubling. They believe they have carried out their contractual obligations to the best of their ability. They even had the temerity to state that they take pride in their performance.
We say 13 more months of their performance is too long to wait. We say:
“Close the Camps, Australia!”
I think Wilson’s decision demonstrates the effectiveness of boycotting their facilities and that this pressure should be kept up. Wilson Parking, which operates over 300 facilities in New Zealand, is a tentacle of the same multinational monster that includes Wilson Security. Wilson was implicated in the Panama Papers and involved in Hong Kong’s worst ever bribery and corruption scandal. Wilson isn’t even complying with tax filing requirements in Australia, yet helped themselves to $478 million AUD in government contracts just in the past three years.
We are compelled to challenge the social license of companies like Wilson that profit off human pain and misery. This means we as a community do not accept their presence. As individuals, we demonstrate this by boycotting Wilson Parking, but this is also a year for local elections, so ask any office-seekers you encounter not to allow our local governments to initiate or continue any business with Wilson. Surely there are Kiwi firms which can provide professional security and parking services instead.
And of course we must double up the pressure on the Australian government. On Nauru, we are talking about fewer than 450 human beings. They can and should be brought to Australia right now, not in 13 months’ time.
“Close the Camps, Australia!”
This is a Facebook page we can use to share information and ideas for other action. It includes a link to the Amnesty International petition and I’ve been sharing news from our comrades in Australia, who thank us for our concern.