Anna Nicole Smith and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.

The sad demise of Anna Nicole Smith and her son have for some reason have captured the public’s attention. Indeed, my use of her story in this article makes me complicit in the public ghoulishness that has been generated by her tragic situation. Anna will be remembered partly because she was a playboy model and because she married an old man. But what she is really famous for is her pain and suffering in the last part of her life – the death of her son, her drug addictions, her depression and her death, in particular the family arguments being played out in court for custody of her corpse. Today’s news is that her burial has been postponed again by another court action. The public have become obsessed with knowing the intimate details of her suffering and death. No doubt we all feel sorry for her and her daughter, which is all part of her post-humous celebrity identity – another tragic victim of a glamor life.

How is it that Anna’s suffering can be headline news and common knowledge throughout the world, yet the pain and suffering of asylum seekers is denied, repressed and hidden? We have all heard brief details of Australian asylum seekers in Australia who have suffered mental illness or killed themselves because of their incarceration in detention centres. We know hardly anything of the hardships that these people have faced, and the family members they have lost, during there previous lives and the journey from their homeland to Australia. These people endure great suffering, much more than Anna did in her lifetime, but the public is not interested in their plight and, except for a significant minority of Australians, feel no sympathy for these people. Indeed many, including our government, seem terrified of these people and do not want to know about them.

Yesterday Senator Andrew Bartlett moved a motion in the senate….
“The need for the Australian government to unequivocally guarantee that the latest group of boat people, reportedly including 83 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, will immediately have access to independent assistance, have their refugee claims assessed openly and fairly and will not be subjected to the risk of refoulment, consistent with our international obligations.”
I am sure the senator was attempting to raise the profile of refugee issues, which he has consistently done throughout his time as a senator, but the specifics of his motion are essentially to ensure that due process will be followed in dealing with the recently arrived asylum seekers.

Bartlett’s motion was defeated. The family-friendly, nice and compassionate Family First senator even voted against it.

What reason could the government have for not committing itself to follow due process? In the light of major stuff ups such as Vivian Alvarez and others illegal deportation and the truth-overboard saga it is quite reasonable to expect that the government might try and make sure the process is done properly this time. But no!

You can read the story from the horses mouth on Bartlett’s blog The Bartlett Diaries

Apparently the rhetoric used to defeat this motion was an appeal to protect our national borders. This is a bizarre concept because, as has been endlessly pointed out by refugee support groups, the great majority of people who come to Australia illegally enter the country through airports and come from countries such as Britain. These thousands of illegal immigrants for some reason do not pose a threat to our borders, but people fleeing persecution and/or war are treated the same as poor old David Hicks.

While our collective imagination seems to easily identify with Anna’s suffering, there seems just a cold and dismissive public attitude towards people whose suffering we might actually be able to alleviate by showing a little compassion.

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