Oz Blog News Commentary

Let’s call Manus Island and Nauru detention centres what they really are – concentration camps

July 2, 2019 - 20:30 -- Admin

I listened to the discussion on Wednesday from the Press Gallery of the 3 major media outlets in Australia all lamenting the decline of press freedom in Australia. They are right to be worried. There is clearly, to me at least, a decline in our freedoms. This decline has been consistent with the rise of neoliberalism in Australia as the dominant economic story to justify the transfer of wealth from the working class to the capitalist class.  

Yet speaking truth to power does not really seem to be at the heart of the News Corps media, Channel 9 newspapers, (formerly Fairfax media,) or the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Of course there are differences about the way forward for Australian capitalism, but the joint neoliberal project of the main parties and the mainstream media means they are all united in supporting the system of working class exploitation that is capitalism. To quote a Socialist Worker US article from 2011:

‘Exploitation is the forced appropriation of the unpaid labor of workers. Under this definition, all working-class people are exploited.

‘Marx argued that the ultimate source of profit, the driving force behind capitalist production, is the unpaid labor of workers. So for Marx, exploitation forms the foundation of the capitalist system.’

Where the major parties differ is over the details of that exploitation – the rate of exploitation, for example over penalty rates, government spending, tax cuts etc etc. The exploitation however continues.

Of course there are exposés of rotten government action. This is done mainly by the press, including of late the less mainstream press. And whistle-blowers! It is no accident that journalists and whistle-blowers are being raided and/or prosecuted for the ‘crime’ of revealing possible government crimes.  

Yet these exposés and whistle-blowing do little to question the exploitation of workers that is the heart of capitalism and from which the bosses’ profit arises. When for example was the last time you read an article in the mainstream media explaining our current economic situation in Marxist terms, or their equivalent made comprehensible? Of course outside a  few academic, student and union circles, you will find few Marxists, and even fewer who understood Marx’s essential message that the liberation of the working class must be the act of the working class.

Let’s focus on speaking truth to power, something you might think should be the role of the media.  In particular let’s talk about Australia’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

A debate has broken out in the US about the nature of Donald Trump’s detention centres. Some politicians there and one Jewish group at least are calling them what they really are – they are  concentration camps.

This is not to demean the Holocaust but to recognise that the hundreds of concentration camps the Nazis set up preceded the five extermination camps, laid the ground work for them and somehow, with a range of other state actions, readied many German people for the murder of six million Jews.   Not only that, but as David M Perry in Pacific Standard points out, there is a history of concentration camps before the Nazis used them.  He says:

‘Historian Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of
Concentration Camps
defines concentration camps as facilities used for
the “detention of civilians without trial based on group identity.”
She traces the emergence of such camps to those erected by imperial Spain
during the Cuban rebellion of 1896, by the U.S. not long after in the
Philippines, and by the British in South Africa during the Boer War and
beyond. These were not death camps per se, but vast numbers of people died in
each by design, as governments tried to crush, expel, and isolate specific
populations. … The same thing seems to be happening along the American Southern

To that we might add that the same thing seems to be happening in the Australian run camps on Manus Island and Nauru.

Yet a quick google search highlights how few articles there are in the Australian media calling them concentration camps. One exception is retired judge Stephen Charles QC who in a 2016 Fairfax article called Australia’s detention centres concentration camps.  His commentary in the mainstream media stands almost alone.

Never again means never again.  Let’s tell the truth. Manus Island and Nauru detention centres are concentration camps.  Over to you, media, the ALP and the Greens.