The asylum seeker debate has, over many years in Australia, witnessed plenty of low moments. But a new depth was plumbed by Andrew Bolt today, when he claimed “John Howard was called cruel for his Pacific Solution. But at least no one died. At least three boat people are now dead. So how much “kinder” do Kevin Rudd’s policies seem now?”

Never mind the simple decency of waiting for the bodies to even be brought ashore before rushing to exploit them. This witless and contemptible remark is point blank wrong.

The sinking of SIEV X, with the loss of more than 350 people, was no less, or no more, the fault of the Howard Government than the events yesterday were the fault of Kevin Rudd. But the Howard Government was directly responsible for continuing and expanding the Keating Government’s detention regime for asylum seekers — an amplified regime that led explicitly to numerous suicides by detainees, as well as innumerable suicide attempts, including by children.

It was a sordidly opportunist and morally contemptible policy, one that left a trail of human misery, to the shame of Australia and Australians.

That is presumably the policy Bolt and his fellow travellers would prefer to see in force today. Never mind the facts, never mind that asylum seekers mostly arrive by air, that boat people are a minuscule subset, that Australia barely meets what should be its obligations as a first-world nation to offer sanctuary and a new life to the homeless, destitute and oppressed. Especially those fleeing from wars in which we are active participants.

The battle lines that have been drawn through the last 36 hours and their accompanying xenophobic, dog whistling blather, show our politics and public debate at their absolute worst.

Peter Fray

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