It was brought to our attention via social media that, at the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology, pens were distributed to participants with the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection web address www.border.gov.au on them. Several participants and other social media users responded critically to the Tweet originally sent out by Tully O’Neill.
The pens are only the tip of the iceberg: ANZSOC in fact lists the Department of Immigration and Border Protection as one of its ‘Silver sponsors’ on its website, just underneath its ‘Gold sponsor’, the Australian Federal Police.
In response to the concerns raised on social media, the organisers tweeted
‘We acknowledge concerns about #anzsoc2017 sponsors. Criminology has always involved debate re contentious issues. This conference is an important forum to bring different players together 2 have these challenging conversations.’
The Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association has at its heart the critical study of race, racism and white supremacy. As such we condemn the notion that a scholarly society, such as ANZSOC can present sponsorship by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection as evidence of legitimate, evenly-weighted ‘debate’. It certainly remains to be demonstrated how involvement of deliberately repressive bodies responsible for perpetrating state authorised violence in academic fora could possibly encourage or stimulate open or diverse academic conversations.
As critical race scholars and antiracists, we are extremely concerned about Australia’s position as a world-leader in the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees since 1992. Australia’s current policy of offshore detention of people who have sought asylum by boat on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and Nauru has resulted in the deaths of nine people. It has seen detainees including young children sexually and physically abused, as shown in the ‘Nauru Files’. Many refugees face mental and physical ill health for which they have received inadequate care, leading to grave consequences for their health, and in some cases their death.
Most recently, refugees left stranded on Manus Island have been subjected to torturous conditions at the hands of the Australian government and its abettors, the PNG Department of Immigration, as the closure of the detention centre and the forced relocation to inadequate new accommodation saw men digging in the ground for water, being denied food organised for them by local Manusians with the support of Australian donations. The refugees have been maligned by the government, led by the Minister for Immigration, by the Opposition, and by a right-wing media determined to condemn refugees to a situation of eternal limbo for the sake of maintaining the appearance of a tough stance on border security.
In the last few days, a refugee on Nauru, Arash Shirmohamadi, has been told that he must choose between applying to be resettled in the US alone, under the ‘people swap’ deal brokered between Australia and the US, or agreeing for his wife and baby daughter to be brought to Nauru from detention in Australia to apply for the US opportunity as a family, with no guarantees of success. This impossible choice is redolent of the splitting of families that Australia has a long history of as the stories of the Stolen Generations attest.
The cruelty meted out to refugees who arrive to Australia by boat is undeniable. The policy is supposed to deter others making the same voyage and to stop drownings at sea. However, the fact that people who arrived on the same boats as those being held in offshore detention centres are currently living in Australia reveals the arbitrariness of this policy, and its consistency with the Australian state’s racial-colonial project.
We call on ANZSOC and our community of fellow academics in Australia and internationally to join us in taking a strong stance against the Australian border regime. There is no contentiousness: this is a racist policy designed to cause human suffering and should be roundly condemned. We stand with the women, men, and children currently imprisoned in Australia’s concentration camps, both on- and offshore and we call for their closure and freedom for all migrants and refugees.
The Australian Critical Race & Whiteness Studies Association executive