Opinion: Are mine camps like concentration camps?

The moment anyone drops a clanger in parliament, the media
are all over it like gulls on a hot chip, but nothing fires them up more than a
comment that might possibly be about Nazis.

Queensland MP Jo-Ann Miller is under fire for comparing FIFO camps to concentration camps, and as any high-school politics student could tell you, that wasn’t a very bright thing to do.

Obviously Australian mining camps are nothing like Nazi
death camps. 

They are also nothing like English concentration camps in
South Africa during the Boer war.

They are not even like the American concentration camps that
were packed to the gills with Japanese descendants after World War II.

She didn’t say “Nazi concentration camps”, so let’s not blow this out of proportion to score political
points.

To me, a former FIFO worker, I know that mining camps are
frequently likened to concentration camps by those who live in them.

It’s a way of expressing your dissatisfaction with the
conditions.

You’re kept away from your family, your friends, and your
favourite past-times for weeks on end.

You have to eat food that isn’t like what you cook at home,
and although it will comprise a range of different dishes every night, it’s
usually of quite average quality and starts to look like the same, homogenous
slop every night after the first swing on site.

You have to drink beer from tins instead of bottles.

The phone reception is pretty poor, and you can’t always get
the internet connection in your room.

Sometimes the cleaners forget to clean your room, and you
have to wait a couple of days for fresh towels, or worse, have to pinch some
for yourself out of the gym.

Oh yeah, there are a lot of problems to deal with in camp,
first-world problems, and to put up with them you get paid.

That doesn’t really sound like a concentration camp, but
when you’re there, it really is about all you can use as a shorthand to compare.

The depression can be absolutely chronic. I’ve felt it. You
feel powerless to do what you want to do, stuck in the middle of the desert, with
nothing between you and home but thousands of kilometres, and time; the awful,
slow time, waiting to see your girlfriend, your wife, your kids.

But you get on with it or you quit.

But it’s not good for a politician to be using this sort of
shorthand, the kind used off-hand by workers onsite.

Workers say a lot of things on site that oughtn’t be
repeated in parliament.

These are supposed to be our most educated people, so you
would hope that a parliamentarian can find a better way to characterise a problem
than to invoke a phrase that was always going to become political ammunition.

But the media are not without guilt.

If the Jewish community is outraged at being reminded of the
existence of concentration camps, then why is the Courier Mail seeking to further
fan these flames of outrage and offense with a with a headline like “Six
Million Reasons to Say Sorry”?

For a start, it was something like 11 million people who
were estimated to have been killed in Nazi concentration camps, so the
implication that this is offensive only to Jewish people is quite myopic.

“From Mein Kampf to mine camp” is one of the most outrageous
and disgusting things I have read in a newspaper in a long time, and editors who wrote this
ought to be called to account for worsening the hurt and outrage caused not
only among the Jewish community, but the homosexuals, gypsies, disabled people,
and other groups who were targeted as ‘undesirables’ by the Nazis during WWII.

At the same time I would like to express my own outrage, as
the descendent of German grandparents, at having to be reminded of this filth
in such detail, simply for political leverage and headline-making.

Miller was wrong to make the comparison, and to lean on the
excuse, that she simply expressed the words used by those she interviewed in
relation to the issue of FIFO, doesn’t cut it.

But to perpetuate and exacerbate the offense caused for
political gain, and to sell newspapers, is far beyond reproach.

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