It’s back to the future as headlines report on the arrival boatloads of asylum seekers and politicians reach for the dog-whistle. Malcolm Turnbull recycled John Howard’s “we will decide” line on immigration, and didn’t even blush. And Kevin Rudd is not about to be outflanked.
This is an ugly political game, because the only way to go is down. It’s a race to the bottom.
I was in Pakistan during the children overboard episode, when the dog-whistle was given a good workout, and I interviewed Afghan refugees in Peshwar. They had suffered intense levels of grief and loss both in Afghanistan and during the years of limbo in Pakistan. But for most of them, the real dream was to return to Afghanistan – not Afghanistan as it was then, and sadly as it largely remains now, but a peaceful Afghanistan, with restored communities and hope.They were not talking about flat screen TVs in the Australian suburbs, but about gardens full of grapes and possible reunions with loved ones. That is not a dream that people give up lightly. And when they are finally driven to abandon it, our Prime Minister has no right to criminalise their decision.
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Peshawar, where these interviews took place, has been rocked by one bombing after another this year. Schools and colleges across Pakistan are closed for the rest of the week in the wake of the suicides bombing of the Islamic University in Islamabad. Afghanistan is still rent by war, and Pakistan is no refuge. Put down the dog-whistle. Now.