A Tragedy of Self-Abuse
The headline of today’s Guardian article reads: ‘What is happening on Nauru should shock the conscience of every Australian.’
It’s an excellent piece and you can read it here.
It tells the story of the abuse that is happening on Australia’s prison island for refugees, but which is largely kept hidden from the Australian people on a kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle. What’s happening on Nauru is very ugly and it certainly reflects badly on Australia, but there is a background story to this tragic little island that sadly also reflects on Nauru itself.
The Dweller’s Guide To The Planet disqualifies Nauru on the basis of crime. Here is some of what the entry has to say:
“Firstly, credit where credit is due, Nauru has a low murder rate at 1.31, ranked 171 and also has a low crime rate. This might be linked to the very high obesity rate – 71% of its 10,000 residents are obese, making it the fattest nation in the world – so perhaps Nauruans just don’t have the energy or speed for crime.
It is the world’s smallest island nation and now counted among the world’s poorest 5 nations, yet from the late 1960’s – 1980’s bird poo (yes, bird poo) made it the richest nation on earth in per capita GDP. The discovery of huge deposits of fossilised bird poo that had accumulated for over 1000 years made for an excellent fertiliser and sparked a huge mining effort, first by foreign companies, then by the islanders themselves. The islanders became so rich that they famously used money as toilet paper and drove around in exotic cars along their 30 km of road. By 2000 the phosphate was running out, continuous mining had made 70% of the island uninhabitable, the interior was covered in trash, unemployment rose to 90% and Nauru became famous as a case study in economics on how to completely squander the good fortune of a serendipitous natural resource.
It looked for other ways to get rich. First it tried becoming a tax haven, which quickly led to illegal money laundering by the international community. It was also involved in the sale of passports and shady diplomatic favours like the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent territories, in exchange for $50 million from Russia. It published ads offering the opportunity to open a bank on the island. The Russian mob took them up on the offer and used Nauru’s liberal banking policies to launder over $70 billion from the former Soviet Union.
Ultimately, even this proved not enough to keep them in Ferraris and their children at private schools so the Nauru administration came up with another scheme – becoming Australia’s secret prison island for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. The detention centre intended for around 800 people, housed over 1,000 inmates at its peak, including entire families. Throughout its operation, it has been mired in controversy and scandal with frequent cases of self-harm, suicide attempts and hunger strikes. Allegations of child abuse by the centre’s security staff first surfaced in 2014.
And so, with money sloshing around to pay for secrecy and accusations of earlier bribes to phosphate dealers, Nauru’s reputation for rampant corruption began to take shape.”
It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Nauruans have brought this upon themselves, but it does seem that a remote and naive people have allowed their lives, their bodies and their island to be abused for a price. It’s time to stop this desecration and for Australia to take responsibility for the damage it has done – to Naurans, to refugees and to its own reputation as an open democracy.
Come on Australia. Is this how you want to be seen?
Oh, no. Of course it isn’t – that’s why you’ve been covering it up!