Dec 202010

Politics of spin, dog-whistling, fear and loathing are once again at the forefront of policy debate in this country. All it took was the dramatic deaths of 30 nameless souls in the dangerous waters off Christmas Island.

I’m hearing echoes of “we will determine who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come”. I’d hoped fervently to never hear those words again.
I’m hearing and reading all manner of stupidity from people who should know better, clearly do know better, yet want only to play a political card out of self-interest.

ANDREW WILKIE: Well it’s ludicrous for the Government to say, you know, it’s spending all this money and it’s doing enough because whatever it is doing is clearly not working. They need to look at this afresh and when I think back to when I was involved in the intelligence and security services back in 2002 in particular, there were things being done there which were helping to stop the boats.
Now I’m not talking about Nauru and so on which was patently contrary to our treaty obligations, patently unethical. But there were other things that were being done which should be done now. You know, we need to significantly increase our intelligence collection, in Indonesia in particular.
We need to know much more about the smugglers and I would add, much more about the corrupt Indonesian officials which facilitate the smugglers. And then once we know more about the smugglers, we don’t just sit on that information, we go after them. Frankly, we come down on those smugglers like a ton of bricks. We have to hunt the smugglers down and put them out of business.
You know, we have a highly competent defence force. They have very good equipment but even the best defence force with the best equipment, the highest level of competency you can imagine, is still going to struggle to pick up small wooden boats in that big ocean. You’ve got to stop the boats leaving Indonesia. I’m not going to go into the detail of how you might do that. You can imagine any number of ways where you can disrupt their business, prevent the boats leaving port in ways that don’t put any lives at risk. Because once those boats reach sea, then the lives are well and truly at risk.

Read into that what you will, and this only this morning on ABC’s AM program. To my mind it sounds like Wilkie is advocating covert military action against people smugglers in Indonesia, on Indonesian soil. How well would that go down when – not if – such activities became public knowledge? Faster than the Hindenburg, I dare say, with more fireworks. And Wilkie goes on:

You know, I’m interested to hear these comments from the Opposition at the moment because during my negotiations with Tony Abbott, immediately after the Federal Election four months ago, one of the issues he raised with me in an attempt to get my support was to double the humanitarian intake into this country from about 13,500 a year to double that – what, about 27,000. So, you know, he certainly sees situations in which we would have a much more compassionate policy. This is a time to resurrect that offer of his.

Oh, naivety, thy name is surely Andrew Wilkie. On the subject of Abbott and his play on the same issue, we saw over the weekend, as he returned from his Japanese jaunt:

What I am saying is that we have a perfectly good detention centre that was built by Australian tax payers at Nauru and rather than open more and more detention centres on the mainland as the Government is now doing we should reopen the centre at Nauru. The Nauruans would be happy for that to happen. They believe it can be reopened in a matter of weeks. That would send the strongest possible signal to the people smugglers that things have changed.
There’s no one change that will of itself stop the boats from coming, but there is a range of policies that have been proven to work and we need to go back to the policies that did work in the past. We stopped the boats before. We can stop the boats again if we put the right policies in place.

All of which are either falsehoods or pure, out-of-context rhetoric. There is no detention & processing centre on Nauru any longer. What was there has been either dismantled & used elsewhere on the island, or is currently being used as a school. Further, the government of Nauru is in caretaker mode following failure of a referendum to amend the republic’s constitution in February, a hung Parliamentary election in June 2010 and failure to agree on Presidency. Effectively, there is no functioning government with whom to make the same ‘Pacific Solution’ agreement with even if such a decision were deemed palatable, which the Gillard government deems it not to be.
There’s also this flawed rhetoric of Abbott’s which apes the Howardian era “we shall decide” rhetoric, of having stopped the boats before. Abbott now frames this rhetoric around only the final three years of the Howardian era, principally because only in those years out of the eleven Howard held government did the boat arrival numbers fall away. When viewed in context, that time period explains itself in regard to lesser numbers of asylum seeker boat arrivals in Australian waters.

  1. The Iraq conflict had passed its zenith by 2005-2006;
  2. The Afghani situation was not as inflamed as is currently the case; and
  3. Civil War strife in Sri Lanka was no-where near the peak it attained in 2008.

So, clearly, so-called ‘push’ factors were greatly lessened during that period. That the ‘Pacific Solution’ further hindered perceptions of easy access to refugee status among people smuggler cohorts in Indonesia is debateable, given that 90% of all detainees on Nauru & Manus Islands achieved Australian protection by 2008 under the Rudd government. Certainly, humanitarian conditions improved from 2008 onwards with the abandonment of Temporary Protection Visas and the open-ended mandatory detention regime, however conflating those improvements with so-called ‘pull factors’ is simplistic fallacy as neither tactic can be proven to be guaranteed boat stoppers alone.
The solution, as Andrew Wilkie opines, appears to be dealing directly with the people smuggler networks in the first instance. Stopping boats mid-ocean & turning them back is not a viable humanitarian solution, neither is picking up a ‘boat phone’ and having a conversation with Susilo Bambang Yudiono going to prove to be a panacea. Let’s be accepting of the fact that those desperate enough to pay people smugglers a lot of money to undertake a perilous ocean voyage in pathetically inadequate vessels, are not going to go away tomorrow. Let’s also be accepting of the fact that while the region of the world we inhabit is riven with political and civil strife, inhabitants of those areas will want to flee persecution and seek asylum in a safe place like Australia. To do so is NOT illegal, regardless of the rabid right’s postulation that Australia should be for Australians, whatever that is meant to infer. The Gillard government’s proposal of a regional processing centre has merit. To at least be seen to be circumventing the people smuggler networks up front can only be a positive step in that battle. Whether any country other than Indonesia can be coerced into such a partnership is a moot point, given that Indonesia clearly wants no part, as a non-signatory to UNHCR obligations. Timor Leste would, in my opinion, be little better than a return to Nauru or Manus Islands. Abbott’s willingness to sell his political soul for a tilt at government in August shows that he too realises that anti-humanitarian strategies a-la-Howard are not palatable to the greater Australian populace, despite his rhetoric to the contrary. So, why not spend the monies anticipated with resurrecting Nauru and Manus Islands, construction and funding of a processing centre in Timor Leste, or any other similar hair-brained scheme, on broadening & increasing the capacity of facilities on Christmas Island to not just detain asylum seekers, but to accept and process them under UNHCR auspices to increased levels which Abbott claims he’s prepared to countenance.
This issue is not going to go away and no rational method exists which will make it so. People will come. That’s the guts of the issue. They will come because regional strife in their home countries is not abating, but increasing. The numbers we see daily in the press are miniscule in comparison to other developed nations. Surely, the willingness to risk life and limb to reach a country where a new life as Australians is envisaged can only be seen as complimentary not only to those so willing, but beneficial to Australia as well. Do we want triers, or do we want bludgers? The processing of those seeking asylum has to be properly resourced & funded, there is no getting away from that issue. We are not a perfect society, indeed, far from it, if we claim that ‘our own’ must come first. Humanitarian means all of humanity, not just those white, anglo-celtic, born-and-bred Christian inhabitants down on their luck.
I have no problem with funding a solution, even on the basis of whatever it takes. We have the resources, we need the will. Our political representatives (NOT leaders for none are leader’s arseholes currently) are required to face the issues and find a solution. A humanitarian solution, not a political solution. I’m tired of political fixes, the game-playing, the faux concern, the inquiries as to who did what and when, the blame shifting and rabid outcries of feigned nationalism. I voted for a government to make decisions. I call on Gillard, I call on Abbott, Brown, Wilkie, Oakeshott , Windsor, Brandt and Katter to pull their fingers out of their ears and LISTEN. Then ACT. Stop the procrastination. It’s a very, very bad look and one which will have dire political consequences come 2013, if this pretend governmental structure lasts that long.

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