The captain of Australia’s test cricket team occupies a unique place in our society. He is simultaneously idolised by the young, lionised by the devoted and scorned by the critics. Michael Clarke’s quote to kick off the Ashes last November neatly encapsulated this friction.
Codifying behaviour is fraught. Typically, the law makes judgments as to what is allowable and what is unacceptable. However outside of the law, codes of conduct are increasingly relevant. I was subject to the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct as a member of the federal public service. Michael Clarke is subject to the International Cricket Council’s Code of Conduct, of which he breached with the above quote and was fined. Some argue he did not do anything wrong, others disagreed. Luckily, what at stake was 20 per cent of his match payment.
What then of the forthcoming asylum seeker code of conduct?
Cursing, spitting and rumour mongering will be discouraged for asylum seekers released into the community, according to a leaked draft code-of-conduct form.
The federal government is introducing a behaviour code for people on bridging visas which warns they must not disobey road rules, engage in sexual conduct without consent or engage in bullying, disruptive, violent or criminal behaviour.
Scott Morrison is creating a Sisyphean nightmare for asylum seekers. Where an Australian citizen loses three points for running a red light, an asylum seeker is thrown into detention. Where an Australian cricket captain is fined for his wicked words, an asylum seeker is sent into the Pacific.
This is overbearing, excessive and cruel. His code seeks to separate and to divide. Asylum seekers under this government will never be legitimate, forced to toil over and over again in an impossible attempt to prove social acceptance.
Below these outcomes to asylum seekers are deeper implications for public opinion. The simple existence of the code itself is a signal. In what used to be called a dog whistle, Morrison now uses a megaphone. Regardless if even one asylum seeker is subject to penalty under this code, the Abbott government is demonising those who are easiest to demonise. They seek to tar by association all asylum seekers, reducing these people to nothing more than anti-social vagrants who do not belong. With public opinion firmly with the government on Operation Sovereign Borders, these policies are window-dressing designed to reaffirm the public’s unease at asylum seekers.
How ironic bullying is to be codified.
When this policy was first announced last December, Richard Marles came out strongly against such a code:
Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the code and definition of antisocial behaviour ”reeks of being mean for the sake of it”.
”If people are breaking the law, there should be consequences,” Mr Marles said. ”But one of the key standards in Australia is the standard of fairness.
”A situation where you don’t break the law but you have simply upset someone and, without being tested, put in detention or even sent offshore is concerning. That is not fair.”
Combined with the ALP’s decision to vote against Temporary Protection Visas, these decisions are a potent reminder.
There are two parties of government in this country but only one of them is playing cricket.
Edit: There is a copy of the code here [.pdf].