Whatever you may think of asylum seekers, it is unexceptionable to note that, if a large number of Tamils seek to enter Australia after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, their ranks may contain former Tamil Tigers.

The LTTE are an extraordinarily vicious separatist group who turned suicide bombing into an art form and wreaked havoc among Sinhalese people over several decades.

Tamils will point to their treatment by the Sinhalese majority and say that therein lies the true reason for the savagery. From the point of view of the Australian Government, that’s not the issue, regardless of its merits. The Tigers are proscribed under Australian law. The assessment of the merits of the asylum claims made by boat arrivals will and should include their background and membership of proscribed organisations.

That’s what Wilson Tuckey, the ever-more-voluble Member for O’Connor, was initially getting at this morning when he said:

If you wanted to get into Australia and you have bad intentions what do you do? You insert yourself in a crowd of 100 for which there is great sympathy for the other 99 and you go on a system where nobody brings their papers, you have no identity you have no address.

Fair enough. You might call it dog whistling, but as a factual statement it can’t be objected to — certainly not in the way that it was reasonable to object to similar arguments made by John Howard about Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers in the early part of this decade.

Tuckey, however, then went further and suggested that it was possible a boat containing Tamil asylum seekers — no alternative meaning can really be attached to his reference to “one of these boats” — might tie itself to an oil platform on the North West Shelf and threaten to blow itself up.

Suicide bombing style, see. Cos that’s what Tamils do, right?

That amounts not so much to dog whistling as to blatant demonisation of people who appear to be genuinely in fear of their lives. Christopher Pyne was reported as immediately distancing himself from Tuckey’s remarks. There should be no need for anyone to distance themselves from Tuckey. He speaks for no one but himself on any issue.

And Kevin Rudd demanding that Tuckey be dumped from the Liberal Party for the remarks simply gives Tuckey more profile, more encouragement and serves to make Tuckey a martyr for the xenophobes among us.

I can’t see how the relentless focus on asylum seeker issues is helping anyone, given the scale of the problem. Oh, except the media, as ever looking for drama and conflict. They’re the ones who will truly be disappointed should Tuckey exit politics.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off