|Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 24 May, 2016 at 4:35|
With the election campaign now into its third week, it is clear what the major topics for discussion are shaping up to be. One of those issues, the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, is looking no less divisive, and we are apparently no closer to achieving any meaningful resolution. While the focus is squarely on offshore detention centres and the awful predicament of those inside, the only significant mention of Law and Order, so far in this campaign, has revolved around border security and potential acts of terror. For once, crime statistics and other issues associated with more conventional offences have not had a look in.
The appalling situation Australia has created for itself with regard to offshore processing is surely one that deserves to keep making the headlines. There is a risk, though, that in focusing on the would-be Australians we detain, we overlook the ever-increasing number of people confined in our jails. Admittedly, prisoners are a group who have traditionally been easy to ignore. 'Lock them up and throw away the key' is the age-old cry. And the one thing on which all politicians can agree is that 'there are no votes in prisons'. Generally, as a society, we would rather not trouble ourselves with what goes on inside. Most of us believe that prison is a place where wrong’uns go to be punished. And frankly, if a criminal doesn't want to be there, they should have thought of that before committing the crime.
In my experience, the vast majority of the people who hold those views have never been inside a prison. Without question, there are hardened vicious criminals for whom long-term imprisonment is the only viable sanction. But even the most cursory look around a correctional centre reveals a disproportionate percentage of the sort my grandmother would have described as ‘less fortunate’ than herself.
Mental health, having finally been afforded some column space in the media in Australia, is beginning to gain a fraction of the public and government awareness it so desperately deserves. Spotlights are regularly being shone these days on bipolar disorders and suicide rates. New commissions are recording the most horrifying details of childhood sexual abuse. Stories of domestic violence and ice-induced psychosis are daily in the news. Distasteful as they are, we need to know about these issues. We need to discuss them, consider the underlying causes and work out how to address the problems that threaten our society. But while we do, it is also worth remembering that there is a wretched group of individuals who never make the headlines. People who, right from the outset, have never been given a 'fair go'; people whose formative years were so abusive, drug-affected or neglectful that, while their own poor choices are never excusable, they may at least be deserving of a little understanding. And perhaps even our help.