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Federal

Nov 22, 2012

Deterrence goal locks us onto a path of cruelty

The government has no alternatives in its treatment of asylum seekers other than deterrence. It will stick to his guns no matter the public outcry over camp conditions.

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That the government’s revamped Pacific Solution always risked being both less effective and more brutal than the Malaysian policy overturned by an unusual combination of the High Court, refugee advocates, the Greens and the Coalition was apparent from the moment the Houston panel presented its report. So far, that’s exactly how it’s panned out.

The government doesn’t, however, have a political problem arising from the cruelty of its Nauru and Manus Island facilities, whatever the constant criticism from the Left (especially the meaningless, irrelevant and inaccurate claim that we are not meeting our treaty obligations) or on social media. As an issue of importance to voters, asylum seekers has actually diminished in the last five months, Essential Media found this week. Indeed, there may be many voters who are only too happy to hear that asylum seekers are suffering from poor conditions on Nauru.

Moreover, whatever the government might say, it is in its interests for the media to detail how bad things are there, in the hope that a deterrent message reaches would be asylum seekers via relatives and communities in Australia. Complaining that conditions on Nauru are cruel misses the point: they are supposed to be cruel, sufficiently cruel that they will deter people from trying to come here by boat.

Whether that holds once an asylum seeker takes their own life, as may well be the case the longer they remain in a state of uncertainty on Nauru, is something we hopefully never learn.

But the government’s admission yesterday that it had, in effect, been overwhelmed by people smugglers and would be resurrecting a form of Temporary Protection Visa for those people it wasn’t able to (yet) fit onto Nauru or Manus Island resets the political problem. We now have virtual offshore processing. Whatever the deterrent effects, dumping asylum seekers on Nauru and in PNG had the political value of exporting the problem. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s no longer the case.

Nonetheless, the government could not have done anything else. It is locked into the policy. It has no alternatives: its own, preferred Malaysian Solution, which would have been both more effective and less inhumane, has been wrecked (the Greens should dwell on that as they whip themselves into a frenzy over the current policy); the Coalition’s policy is no different, except for the weird fantasy of turning back the boats, which Tony Abbott can’t even bring himself to broach with the Indonesian president, and the only plan coming from the Left (and some on the libertarian Right) is to essentially throw open Australia’s borders via a processing centre in Indonesia.

The only successful part of the government’s policy has been returning hundreds of illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka, who despite a campaign by some to portray them as victims of a brutal victor in the civil war in that country, have no claims to asylum.

Locked into the objective of deterrence, the government has in a way handed policy to people smugglers. The more boats they try to send, the more the government will have to do to make life inhospitable for those who arrive. It is a path that has already taken this government beyond the boundaries pushed by the Howard government, and it may take them to places still less comfortable as time goes on. There is no realistic choice.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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75 comments

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75 thoughts on “Deterrence goal locks us onto a path of cruelty

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    Gee if you call human beings illegals one more time I will hunt you down.

    Attorney General,
    You are breaking this treaty and trying to force other countries to criminalise refugees and their means of transport.

    That is not thing more and nothing less than a contribution to genocide of refugees.

    UNHCR Summary Position on the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime
    1. UNHCR has followed with interest the recent adoption of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, including the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (“Protocol against Smuggling”) and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“Protocol against Trafficking”). The Office is pleased to be present at the High-Level Political Signing Conference held in Palermo, Sicily, from 12 to 15 December 2000.
    2. UNHCR shares the concerns raised by many States that criminal and organized smuggling of migrants, on a large scale, may lead to the misuse of national asylum or immigration procedures. However, given an increasing number of obstacles to access safety, asylum-seekers are often compelled to resort to smugglers. UNHCR is also aware of cases of trafficked persons, particularly women and children, who may, under exceptional circumstances, be in need of international protection. The Office therefore participated in the preparatory work of the Ad Hoc Committee in Vienna, supporting its efforts to elaborate international instruments which would enable governments to combat smuggling and trafficking of persons, whilst upholding their international protection responsibilities towards refugees.
    3. The Protocol against Smuggling, for instance, contains a number of provisions which may impact on smuggled asylum-seekers. The authorization to intercept vessels on the high seas, the obligation to strengthen border controls and to adopt sanctions for commercial carriers, or the commitment to accept the return of smuggled migrants may indeed affect those who seek international protection. A number of comparable provisions of the Protocol against Trafficking may have a similar effect.
    4. During the sessions of the Ad-Hoc Committee, UNHCR therefore emphasized the need to reconcile measures to combat the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of persons with existing obligations under international refugee law. The Office welcomes the adoption of a saving clause in both Protocols, designed to safeguard the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, in particular in relation to the principle of non-refoulement.
    5. In addition, UNHCR appreciates the adoption of provisions for the protection of smuggled migrants, such as the obligation of States Parties to take appropriate measures to afford smuggled migrants protection against violence and to take into account the special needs of women and children. The Protocol against Smuggling is also clear in that it does not aim at punishing persons for the mere fact of having been smuggled or at penalizing organizations which assist such persons for purely humanitarian reasons. Indonesian fishermen do not deserve to be charged or jailed.
    6. In conclusion, UNHCR hopes that States Parties will respect the international legal framework set out by both Protocols through the adoption of similar safeguards in all bilateral or regional agreements or operational arrangements implementing or enhancing the provisions of these Protocols.
    11 December 2000

  2. Hamis Hill

    The challenge of an empty Northern Australia and the challenge of filling up the lower socio-economic suburbs with jobless refugees.
    Ask Gina, she’ll find them plenty of work at $2/day, that capital that seeks the highest returns will come flooding in on the profits of low wages.
    The racially pure white trash can remain sacrosanct in their Western suburbs paradises, sleeping soundly at the thought that someone is lower than them in the pecking order.
    Special economic areas is the term.
    Bogans and Ockers can load up their rattle traps with Aussie flags and go and gawk at the Gina-slaves, it’ll take them at least four or five days to drive there to Northern Australia, (though the locals prefer Capricornia as the name for the new state).
    Same sort of deal as Bali with the locals working for very little.
    The Black and White indigenes can be the “supervisors”.
    Naturally the newcomers will not be allowed to vote, all a bit like West Germany’s guest workers.
    The unions will hate all this but they are all crooks and thieves,(perfect for the “supervisor” roles).
    It will happen when you all vote in Abbott because Labor is not cruel enough to “Illegals”.
    Needless to say health and education standards, the real reason “Illegals” come to any First world country, will be maintained at high levels, for the children of the $2/day “illegals will have full citizenship and will be free to go and live in the western suburb paradises.
    Everybody will be happy.
    Well, at least the whinging lazy scum who won’t leave the western suburbs will feel a little guilty for being dole bludgers while feeling they are at least one rung up the aspirational ladder than those poor bastard Illegals slaving away in Northern Australia on $2/day.
    Or all the bleeding hearts can sign up to share their houses with asylum seekers, clothe them and feed them, or is that a job for the taxpayer?
    Or the Magic Pudding?

  3. GeeWizz

    See what Labor have done here is be half-tough and have once again come off as completely gutless in the eyes of people smugglers and illegals.

    Wind your minds all back to the year 2001. The Tampa showed up on our shores and John Howard said in no uncertain terms… THESE PEOPLE WILL *NOT* TOUCH AUSTRALIAN SOIL.

    It was a strong message. It was a clear message. It wasn’t weasel words. And he followed through on the threat…. not one single illegal on the Tampa got to set foot on Australian soil. He put them all onto a Navy boat and carted them up all up to Nauru.

    The message was clear. This government was no longer putting up with illegals arriving by boat and if you came this government would give you the exact same fate.

    Now lets fast forward to the gutless Labor weasel words and half-baked plan.

    Chris Bowen in his own words: “If you come to Australia by boat, you run the risk of being sent to Nauru”(after landing on Australian soil and being given security and health checks)

    GUTLESS. Absolutely GUTLESS. And guess what, the illegals and people smugglers laughed at this government yet again.

    Run the risk? Onshore health and security checks? It’s the half-tough/half-weak policies of this government that have got it into trouble.

    They have sabotaged the Pacific Solution. Purposely. All they had to do was say you WILL go to Nauru if you come illegally by boat. All they had to say is you WILL NOT touch Australian mainland. And all they had to do was FOLLOW through on the threat.

    But instead we got gutlessness, instead we got procrastination with only a handful of people sent and not 1 woman or child sent until yesterday.

    This government is weak and gutless and the people smugglers and illegals are laughing at them and so are the Australian public.

  4. Hunt Ian

    Labor is trying to prevent boat trips for asylum claims in Australia on the ground that these are too dangerous. It would be better to prosecute people smugglers for manslaughter and give them long sentences in Australian gaols for so long as they send people in unsafe boats. This would require cooperation from Indonesian police and a lack of corruption in Indonesia. This seems hard to get.

    Cruelty was the policy of the coalition and will be the policy of the coalition again, so why would anyone ditch Labor for the only govt alternative, a Coalition govt which would be worse than Labor?

    The so-called “Malaysian solution” might make things better, as long it were accompanied with hard guarantees that people would not be sent back to face the persecution that they are escaping. For cynical reasons the Coalition opposes this and the Greens oppose it also, although the only practical alternatives seem much worse.

    In principle, the Greens are correct. If we could prosecute people smugglers for manslaughter, their policy would be much better but if we cannot they are condemning asylum seekers to collaboration with persecutors as we deny people who can’t afford fake passports, bribes to officials and air fares a chance for proper asylum. My hope is that the Greens will decide to conditionally accept the Malaysian solution with a sunset clause, with a guarantee that the govt will simply raise asylum acceptance numbers and improve processing in Indonesia and Malaysia so that people have little incentive to risk their lives in unsafe boats if that fails.

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