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Opinion: Are mine camps like concentration camps?

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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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