The secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection rather clumsily defended his staff against accusations asylum seeker detention resembles Nazi concentration camps this week. But the psychiatrist who first made the claim is standing by his assessment.
A paper from psychiatrist Dr Michael Dudley published in Australian Psychiatry last month made the Nazi comparison among numerous complaints around detention practices on Nauru and Manus Island. In a rare and lengthy response this week, department secretary Michael Pezzullo (pictured) called it “highly offensive, unwarranted and plainly wrong”.
But writing for Crikey today, Dr Dudley insists the comparison is fair:
“Pezzullo implies that emotions prompted the comparison I made, comparing those who work in offshore detention to those who aided the Nazis. He suggests that emotions, even when accompanied by accurate information, are unreliable when making moral judgments. The Nazis occasion intense emotional response, but I used the link with Nazi Germany with deliberate intent of making a reasonable claim that can be tested. I explicitly disclaimed any reference to death camps. Others may see no connection of Australian race history (including its treatment of indigenous peoples and recent treatment of refugees) and the exclusion and scapegoating of Jews in 1930s Nazi Germany with the widening bystander effect on the German public that so many observers commented on.
“I do see a connection. We in Australia all know what is happening; what is worrying is that as a nation we are being led to believe that it is all OK.”
Pezzullo says the goal of the department is the same as its critics: to remove children from detention. Almost 60 remain in camps, down from a peak of 2000. But Dr Dudley writes “those who are there are there longer than ever”:
“It is also irrelevant, because tomorrow the next group of children can be incarcerated. The point of contention is that the Australian government indefinitely detains children at all. This practice should be outlawed by legislation, consistent with Australia’s human rights commitments.”