Jun 052012

I didn’t watch 4 Corners last night, having more entertaining things to do.

I did hear the news this morning though, and my first reaction was one of anger. Anger that an investigative team of journalists should be able to better reveal to the Australian public what is going on with people smuggling than our supremely better funded so-called security services can. What was revealed – I’ve just listened to the report while my boss filled in his morning by watching iView – strangely doesn’t surprise me, or shock me. This politically fraught topic has been mired in ideological stalemate for years now. Off shore processing of refugee applications is one cogent answer, but the current political system forbids it’s instigation. The so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’ may well work as intended, but we’ll never know unless it becomes law. Depositing people who arrive on Christmas Island on a barren rock half-way around the globe, to fester while bureaucracy grinds its gears is not a solution. Refugees exist, and have always existed in one form or another, fluctuating in number according to geopolitical pressures. What is factual, is that smugglers understand the current system implicitly and play it to the fullest extent.

So, where are our security forces? Where is ASIO in all of this fracas over so-called ‘boat people’? Who does the actual vetting? Is it the security agency, or is it bureaucrats inside the department of immigration? Does it really matter? Clearly whatever government agency is responsible for sorting the refugee from the fraud isn’t capable of doing its job. They’re up against genuine criminals, not just the desperate tide of down-trodden humanity looking for a better life. For smugglers to ride their own system, arrive on a boat, get processed, be awarded refugee status, benefit from public housing and merge into the Australian community to re-establish a network inside Australia simply says to me that whatever filtering & checking mechanisms we have don’t work.

I’ve heard an opinion expressed this morning which revolves around Australia moving proactively on the issue of asylum seekers. Instead of processing overseas and flying people here, as mooted by the so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’, send a vessel from the Australian Customs Marine fleet to collect so-called refugees, process them on board the vessel, those who pass muster complete processing on Christmas Island or Darwin then merge into the Australian community on Temporary Protection Visas subject to review after 12 months. Those who pass review, have employment and arranged housing can stay. Those who don’t are deported. Those who don’t pass the initial muster on a customs boat are returned to the point of origin next time that boat returns for another load. Now, I don’t agree with the collection by boat idea and I don’t agree with depositing unprocessed asylum seekers on Nauru. I do agree the problem of people fleeing persecution, in fear for their lives is not going to disappear anytime soon. Australia’s unique position on the globe, isolated from major geo-political upheavals in various parts of the world, makes us attractive from a wide variety of rationales. To paraphrase Little Johnnie Howler, we do need to exercise the right to decide who comes, when and how but we also need to do so humanely, efficiently and accurately. It’s not a matter of either stopping the boats or allowing them in. It’s a matter of maintaining a sense of purpose and relevance. Obviously, as revealed by 4 Corners, our current system of handling asylum seekers is directionless and irrelevant. It must change.

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