Two or three thousand boat arrivals a year is not an immigration crisis, given an intake of over 130,000. Amnesty figures show that the bulk (96%) of on shore asylum seekers arrive by plane. Australia could easily deal with the relatively small number of extra sea borne applicants, were they allowed to land in Australia and go through the usual vetting processes. The main difference is that the boat arrivals were demonised by the Howard government and the Rudd government has tried to retain a version of the Pacific solution.
One of Howard’s core provisions was the excising of certain territories from Australia to prevent arrivals invoking Australian legal protections. While Rudd’s lot stopped sending the intercepted boat people to Nauru etc, they sent them to the excised territory of Christmas Island. The somewhat weak excuse was that there was a new expensive centre that needed to be used, despite the acknowledged heavy costs of running it and transporting people there.
This was obviously the ALP compromise version: we will be nicer to refugees, once their legitimacy is determined, but we will continue to look tough by sending them to an excised offshore island. However, this decision has now created an unnecessary problem because the facility has limited places and the numbers are becoming a political football of oversize proportions.
We have a major news story, moral panic and full blown political crisis because Christmas Island is about to overflow.
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When 200 extra bunk beds make the media, there is a problem. Had the Government stopped sending the boat people to such a limited and visible facility, the extra numbers would have been a much smaller story. The fact that they continued this odd process reinforces the perception that there is a threat in the arrival of boat people that required both anxieties and high levels of spending.
We now have many years of settled boat arrivals, including those that arrived under Fraser and Hawke and NO evidence that they are in any way a threat to our social fabric. Yet Opposition politicians are still demonising the arrivals and creating a political panic and the Government has been caught in its own ambivalences. It should show some ethical courage by just bringing people to the mainland and processing them normally. Then people could just see them as just problematic arrivals who arrive inadequately documented.
I met some of the damaged people produced by the last Government’s policies and am appalled to see the start of another media feeding frenzy. Ruddock has learned nothing from the distress he caused, and the Opposition needs lessons in ethics v national and political self interest.
Please can we avoid the same mistakes again?