We’re seeing another classic John Howard wedge – a concession that isn’t much
of a concession over mandatory detention but divides the refugee lobby. Cabinet
meets today to discuss the refugee regime. Well placed leaks started trickling
out on Sunday, and yesterday it emerged that 30 asylum seeker converts to
Christianity who face persecution if returned to their homeland may be granted
visas.

The churches have been among the strongest critics of refugee policy, and
Family First, whose first Senator takes his seat in three months, have been
loud on this subject. The Government will control the Senate after 1 July, but
only by one vote. Having Family First’s Steve Fielding on side may be useful –
particularly when the votes of bolshie Queensland Nats aren’t that certain.

It’s spectacular wedge politics, too. Naturally, Laurie Ferguson, the
thick-as-a-brick product of Labor nepotism who acts as Opposition immigration
spokesman, fell for it. He warned yesterday that if the 30 are allowed to stay
the floodgates will open and hundreds of new “rice Christians” will try to follow
their example. “I’d certainly be putting big money on at the local TAB, quite
frankly. I don’t think there’s any doubt whatsoever that if people see this
happening they’re going to do the same thing,” he told PM.

Bright boy, Laurie! Isn’t it unconscionable that a government that signed up
for the war on terror on day one should send people back to be tortured and
killed by representatives of the ideological force that drives it – militant
Islam? Ferguson appears to be endorsing this, though, on the grounds of blindly
biased political correctness that sneers at Christianity. “I would hope that
those that convert to being Mandeans and being Bahais and being Zoroastrians
will also be looked at because all of these religions are persecuted in Iran,
it’s not just Christians,” he said. Bob Brown, that friend of medieval
theocrats in Tibet, had to jump on the bandwagon, too. “But if we’re going to
have people being kept in Australia because of one religious belief, we should
have people kept in Australia because of any religious belief,” he said.

Brown’s line is better than Ferguson’s. At least he doesn’t talk about fake
conversions. The pair, however, should realise something’s better than nothing
– no matter what the motivation behind the gift.

They’ve fallen straight for the wedge. They should listen to the comments from
Andrew Bartlett – the Federal Parliament’s most consistent refugee advocate –
on PM. “The comments of the Labor Party casting suspicion on that are an absolute
disgrace and it makes me wonder if the Labor Party are trying to replace the
Government as the party attacking asylum seekers.”

Amen to that Andrew (no pun intended).

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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