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News ::
Baxter Protest at Easter in the South Australian desert (english)
29 Apr 2003
Report on the protest in the South Australian desert against Australia's mandatory detension of refugees laws
Craig Bellamy

Easter’s Baxter protest in the dogmatic heat and the pitiless dust (and not forgetting the relentlessly antagonistic flies of the South Australian desert) was undoubtedly a great achievement if this can be measured by the amount of main-stream media coverage of the protest. At least someone cares. When one first sets eyes on the Baxter Detention Centre, one might think the opposite. What a cruel irony that this is, placing a detention centre in the middle of a vast unpopulated plain, stretching to the horizon in all directions in one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries. It is not as though we don’t have room.

The first day of the protest saw the usual provocative theatre by the constabulary. Dressed in inappropriate medieval-armour meets ninja-costume, the police baked in their own unfortunate conventions. Do they not have a summer-insurgency costume, or a beach-rebellion wardrobe, or how about an autumn collection of riot-gear? I did feel a bit sorry for them at first, until a few of their white ponies decided to walk all over the protesters tents. The protesters had set up a camp that was a little too close to the detention centre for the constabularies liking. So, the protesters collectively decided to retreat a few hundred meters up the road, but still the police literally walked over the protesters tents to drive home the fact that they didn’t want anyone thinking for themselves. And where did they get all those white ponies from?

At night a helicopter complete with roo light swept across the desert as did the ninja-police with night vision goggles. One of the protesters captured at night by the brave night-vision law enforcement was arrested for ‘loitering’ and someone the next day was arrested for flying a kite. Apparently it was a no fly zone; strange considering that police were allowed to play with their helicopter at more than $2000 per hour and do donuts in the desert sky every 20 minutes or so for more than three days. And twice the police raided the protesters camp, apparently looking for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but they only found a twenty year old with a camera-tripod of mass-destruction and boy with a can of Spam.

The protest in a small way may have brought home to the Australian mainstream, snuggled in their slothful satisfaction, the fact that our Vegemite-Utopia does have what looks like concentration camps. The barbed wire is the same; the police look the same, only the ideology is different. These centres are cultural Chernobyls in the dead heart of a nation where more of a quarter of the population wasn’t even born here. This compares to say, the Netherlands which only has 3.4 percent who were born somewhere else. It just doesn’t make sense for a country such as ours that has at its very core a convict foundation and a multicultural heritage to lock up any one who lands on our shores. It is our Vietnam; it is the most shameful policy of any government in living memory and cuts to the very heart of what we used to call a nation identity.

It is pity that many protesters, perhaps feeling politically disenfranchised, burrow behind monolithic and somewhat politically dead-end sloganeering such as ‘no-nation’ or ‘no-borders’. Perhaps losing faith in democratic procedures, many retreat to a vision of a frictionless world where all our problems can be solved simplistically. It is a sad coincidence that the Ford Motor Company, the world’s third largest corporation, also uses the slogan ‘no-borders’. This is because they know without any borders, that they can become global black-market racketeers free to do what they choose to whom ever they chose. Borders are not good not bad nor are they neutral but when a high fence of razor wire separates the individual from freedom then the colour of the world can be reduced to black and white. Pull down the fences by all means, but let’s not squander the democratic custodianship of this fine country in the mean time like our present administration is doing.

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