Jun 032011

So, Tony Abbott needs the help of the political ‘Left’ to help him overthrow a legitimate government. To do his job for him, because clearly, he’s unable and incapable of doing it himself through alternative public policy means.

The creation of asylum seeker fear-and-loathing bullshit – and let’s be honest, that’s all it is, utter bullshit – rests at the feet of Labor. Paul Keating, in 1992, instigated the policy of mandatory detention for all persons entering Australia without a valid visa. Fair call too, in my view. If you try to enter where you have no permission, you should be rightfully detained until a rationale can be found for your entry, or you are removed to whence you came. The deliberate escalation of the fear-and-loathing campaign in regard to illegal immigration was exacerbated by the Howard government in 2001 as a political tool to incite racial bigotry which has always run just underneath a veneer-thin surface of the Australian psyche, as a cultural hangover of generations of government-sponsored belief in Australia only being for white-skinned anglo-celtic ancestry. Howard played the theme well, turning the illegal immigration debate onto those seeking asylum from wars and abusive regimes in the Middle-east, Asia Minor and Sri-Lanka. The reality of Australian rationalisation of the 1951 UNHCR convention and the obligations that go with it have been completely glossed over between 2000 and 2007 under the Howard government, with the myth of seeking asylum and illegal immigration all falling under the umbrella of the latter definition. Compassion became a non-event while adherence to whatever the United States wanted by way of moral & ethical support became the principle driver in foreign affairs. Asylum seekers who came by boat were seen as illegal aliens or worse, bomb-toting muslim extremists out to murder us all in our beds. Shades of 1950’s cold war fanatical paranoia. Howard supported the despised Pacific Solution, where people seeking asylum from oppressive cruelty were subjected to a different kind of oppressive cruelty by being locked up behind razor wire in far flung places across the Pacific Ocean and virtually left to rot.
Then with the change of government, ethos and public policy following the election of Labor in 2007, there was a hope that things would change for the better. The dark and bitter days of the Howardian regime were gone. Ding! Dong! The witch was dead! The Pacific Solution was abolished, the Sun came out but the wars and political uprisings overseas continued. The boat people began to increase in numbers with the escalation of the Sri-Lanka’s fight against her own Tamil culture, the re-invigoration of the Afghan conflict and increased oppression of Iranians. Push factors, which conservativism has never acknowledged because it’s all too complex an argument. The boat people were on our shores and they didn’t want them. White Australia for White Australians, never mind that Malcolm Fraser was brave enough in the 1970’s to break out of that mould. So we no longer shipped asylum seekers off to Nauru or Manus Island. Government used Howard’s expanded Xmas Island facility, rebuilt Darwin’s facilities and re-opened moribund military bases on the Western Australia coast to accommodate more and more arrivals. But the public service bureaucracy wasn’t expanded to cover the increased volume of processing, security checking and validation of asylum requests required by the increased numbers. Now we’re back to where we were from a public policy perspective in the draconian days of the Pacific Solution, except that now, we’re sending them off to another country which isn’t a signatory to the UNHCR convention. Not Nauru, but Malaysia.
Is Malaysia any better solution than Nauru? If the people sent there aren’t protected from abuse by the convention, then the answer has to be ‘NO’, and Australia is neglecting her obligations under that convention. Does the five-for-one trade off, the acceptance by Australia of 4,000 bona-fide refugees in exchange for 800 unprocessed possible asylum seekers, in some way compensate for shipping that 800 off to a place of processing where the UNHCR convention holds no sway? I really can’t say, but something tells me that option has to be somewhat more appropriate than simply locking people up on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean & forgetting about them.
As to Abbott’s call for the so-called ‘Left’ to protest in the streets, I see that as nothing more than political opportunism and an admission of a failure in alternative policy presentation. As Simon Sheik states, taking sides in this debate over who is right & who is wrong simply plays to the government intent of being seen to be more conservative than the conservatives, beating them at their own game. This issue is not one of ideological one-upmanship, it is one of being seen to be doing what is right by the people caught in the processes of the political machine in this country. What the Murdoch-owned hate media have to say on the issue is entirely irrelevant, and it’s opinion pages are NOT news or news-worthy. Australia has an obligation under the UNHCR convention to see to the well-being of asylum seekers, real or imagined. Whether than be Malaysia, Thailand, Nauru or Timbuktu. We are signatories to the convention; therefore we have the obligation to ensure that treatment is humane & serves the tenets of basic human rights.
The race to the bottom of this cesspool in regard to how we treat human beings in need of refuge must end. I see no benefit in politicians attempting to outdo each other in the conservatism stakes when Australia is supposed to be a progressive, egalitarian culture that believes at its cultural core in giving everyone a fair go. Persistence in this endeavour only damages our international reputation and belittles us all as Australians. If there is to be any marching in the streets, it must be in opposition to those who dishonour what it means to be Australian, certainly not in support of a competition to prove how far from the ideals, I for one hold dear, that make us what we truly are. Government must start taking not of the time-honoured debate theorum which warns against engaging with a fool on his/her own terms, as they will only drag you down to their level. That’s what’s happened to Labor. It’s not MY labor when it does these things. It MUST change or simply become just another collective of conservative apologists.

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