Tuesday the 23rd of August saw hundreds of Canberra locals line Northbourne Avenue to call for the Turnbull government to close the Nauru offshore detention centre.
The protestors, which included ANU students and staff led by the ANU Refugee Action Committee (RAC), gathered in Civic in response to the publication of 2,116 leaked incident reports from Australia’s detention centre on Nauru by the Guardian Australia last month.
These reports, of which more than half involved children, detailed the many effects of the squalid living conditions in the detention centre as well as various cases of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts and child abuse. Additionally, it emerged shortly after that Wilson’s Security, one of the principal security service providers of the detention centre, had systematically downgraded the seriousness of many of these reports.
For student Charlotte Goodman, participation in the protest was motivated by “a sense of frustration” that nothing “seemed to be changing for the better.” Goodman expressed anger at the government for “condoning and enforcing such awful conditions” to the point where detention centres like the one on Nauru had become increasingly normalised in society.
Additionally, the recent exposure of ANU’s contract with Wilson’s Security wasn’t far from many protestors’ minds. Although it has since come to light that Wilson Security will withdraw from Nauru and Manus Island, spokesperson for RAC Daniel Cotton believes that such a move isn’t enough.
“These problems are systemic, and will continue under any management,” Cotton told Woroni.
“Unfortunately, simply removing Wilson’s from Nauru will not be sufficient; the only way to guarantee the safety of these people is to fly them to Australia where they can be looked after in the community. Wilson’s Security has been paid almost $500 million to imprison these refugees in the most deplorable conditions. Their militaristic and secretive culture has been repeatedly called out, with one former staff member calling Wilson’s the “on-island Gestapo”.”
The RAC is maintaining its position against ANU’s partnership with Wilson’s Security. According to Cotton, “The ANU cannot be complicit in this abuse by contracting them on our campus. The RAC is calling on the ANU to divest in cruelty, and for an ethical transition away from Wilson’s security, ensuring that staff are not left in limbo.”
Liam Fitzpatrick, another member of the RAC, is optimistic that ANU will terminate it’s contract with Wilson security. He told Woroni that although it “may not be immediate”, he believes “a university that prides itself on stamping out harassment and abuse on campus has a moral obligation not to support an organisation that profits from the abuse and torture of refugees.”
“In 2011 Ian Young declared ANU to be a university which values excellence in public policy. This year, Brian Schmidt has expressed outrage over sexual harassment and assault on campus. If our leaders mean what they say, and if they want ANU to be an ethical leader, then they will oppose a company who has abused children and covered up complaint after complaint and a policy that is against every truly Australian value. ANU students are not bystanders, we speak out against injustice. I hope the Chancellery are the same.”
If you would like to learn more about refugee issues or participate in advocacy initiatives like the protest discussed in this article, ANU Refugee Action Committee meetings are open to all and held every Wednesday at 1pm in the LJ Hume Centre on the first floor of the Copland Building.