Liberal Minister for Home Affairs and real-life movie villain Peter Dutton has come out to support open borders–at least when it comes to Queensland’s borders with other Australian states.
"When you hear about families separated from sick kids or [people who] can't get medication, can't get to work, their business is on one side of the border and they live on the other, these are the practical implications of this closed Queensland border scenario," Dutton said on the Today show.
It’s a remarkable admission from a man who has overseen the separation of refugee families on Nauru, and fought relentlessly to prevent asylum seekers even receiving adequate medical care.
Dutton has spent his time in government perfecting a border regime that imprisons thousands of refugees in concentration camps for years on end. Australia’s camps inflict extensive physical and mental damage on detainees–a natural consequence of prolonged indefinite confinement, cut off from the world with no hope of release, as well as abuse by the guards hired to run the facilities.
Since 2018, he has made it his personal mission to ensure the Tamil refugees Priya and Nades, along with their two young children, are deported back to Sri Lanka. He has no concern for the persecution and violence they, or any of the other thousands of Tamils deported from Australia, will likely face at the hands of the Sri Lankan regime, a close ally of the Australian government.
It might seem ironic, then, that Dutton is now calling for open borders. But his campaign against the refugees who cross Australia’s borders and his demand for state borders to be opened in the middle of a global pandemic are both driven by the needs of Australian capitalism.
Demonising refugees has often been a key election strategy for Australian politicians. Refugees are presented as a political “problem”, to be solved by means of state violence and persecution. Dutton has played a key role in pushing the debate far to the right, though not without the eager participation of his colleagues in the Liberal and Labor parties. Today, the debate is largely limited to the question of who is most capable of managing that persecution, with no voices in mainstream politics asking whether refugees should be locked up in the first place.
This serves as more than just a convenient talking point for right-wing politicians. Attacks on refugees are bound up with the racism, nationalism and authoritarianism of the capitalist state. The expansion of refugee detention, and the accompanying narrative of “national security”, plays a role in preserving the whole system. It helps to legitimise the expansion of draconian state powers, while promoting racist divisions among workers and the oppressed, inhibiting our capacity to fight back.
Dutton’s call to open state borders reflects his priorities as a representative of the ruling class. The argument that borders should immediately be opened is being prosecuted by some of Australia’s most prominent capitalists, such as Wesfarmers CEO Rob Scott and Alan Joyce of Qantas, and for good reason. It echoes the demands of capitalists around the world to end lockdowns and get workers back to work. In the middle of a pandemic, this is a demand to risk the lives of workers and their families in order to get profits flowing again.
In the eyes of politicians like Dutton, the national border must be closed to refugees to serve the interests of the capitalist state; state borders must be open to serve the economic needs of the capitalist class. To win a world where the lives of refugees and workers alike aren’t treated as expendable, we need to fight the system that gives psychopaths like Peter Dutton the power to decide who is worth saving.