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Federal

Oct 22, 2009

The issue is refugees, not boats

If the Left really wants to re-fight and win the asylum seeker issue, they’ll leave the ranting and rhetoric to reactionaries and stop being so easily goaded into elevating the issue into a test of the national character

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Many on the Left aren’t happy with Kevin Rudd over asylum seekers. Too much like John Howard, they say.

And, it is true, this government has a broadly similar policy to the previous government, focused on border security, with a disproportionate — grossly disproportionate — emphasis on boat arrivals. Yes, there have been some, mainly symbolic, amendments to ameliorate the process for detainees, and there are further changes before Parliament, but it is not especially different in effect to the regime in place in the last term of the Howard government, however much politicians on both sides would like to pretend otherwise.

For the Opposition and right-wing critics, any opportunity to attack the government must be seized, and thus it has been on this issue, with the government’s minor changes to the process for handling asylum seekers transformed into a siren song luring boats from across the world. The effect of such changes, apparently, was so strong that Sri Lanka even finished its decades-long civil war just so thousands of Tamils could try to move to Australia.

The public so far remains steadfastly unmoved. There’s nothing like the level of hysteria seen in 2001, when there were demands that boats be sunk and Labor candidates were abused when doorknocking, or the angry protests against detention in subsequent years.

But both Left and Right want to punch on about asylum seekers.

For the Left it’s another opportunity to refight a battle lost during the Howard years. That’s the real demand being made of Rudd: that he erase the bitter memory of Howard’s successful demonisation of asylum seekers by showing “leadership” on the issue.

Thus for some, little short of open borders and a standing invitation to every refugee in the region will make up for what we did in 2001-04. They won’t get a major relaxation of border security from any government, not least because asylum seekers from Sri Lanka stand a chance of including members of one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups.

And Rudd’s words are carefully parsed to check for anti-refugee usage. There has been much condemnation of the Prime Minister’s language, from critics who say Rudd has been all too clear about his attitude toward asylum seekers, and those who argue that he hasn’t been clear enough about Australian policy. Yesterday he was scolded by Tim Costello — in Canberra for some hand-wringing about gambling — for using the word “illegal” rather than “irregular”. In a rare show of defiance, Labor MP Michael Danby also complained about Rudd’s use of “illegal”.

One wonders how enthusiastic Danby would be about refugees from Gaza, but anyway.

And Rudd’s demonisation of people smugglers, some suggest, is actually code for demonisation of asylum seekers. That’s rather a leap in logic, up there with the argument that people smugglers are latter-day saints rather than international networks of murderous criminals.

The ABC has been fixated on the issue, devoting lengthy news reports and slabs of the 7.30 Report to it. The “bounty” payments to Indonesia will doubtless transfix it for days to come. Last night Kerry O’Brien, with the breathless determination of war correspondent, was demanding Chris Evans explain the “critical issue” of where the Oceanic Viking should have gone.

It is nothing like a critical issue. Sorry, but there is nothing critical about the increase in boat arrivals. It is only critical to a small number of people for ideological and political reasons. How we treat a couple of thousand boat arrivals is only a small part of the bigger issue of how many refugees we accept in total. That number, as I argued last week, is far too small.

Admittedly, there is a balancing factor in the fact that we have a very large immigration program, which gives tens of thousands of non-asylum seekers from developing countries the opportunity to start a new life in Australia. Australia is hardly a mean-spirited country when it comes to welcoming new citizens. But the real “test” for Rudd, if you’re insisting on one, shouldn’t be about boat arrivals, but about why a wealthy country such as  Australia only takes about 13,000 refugees a year — and has done so, year in and year out, for this entire decade. This is Australia’s humanitarian intake since the first year of the Howard government.

Basically flat, especially since the Tampa era (and funny how 2001 was the high point for our refugee intake in recent times).

This, so far as I can see in this “debate”, remains entirely ignored.

Instead, we have left-wing critics of the government eager to elevate boat arrivals as a moral test that will erase John Howard from the civic memory, and right-wing critics who must be dismayed at the utter collapse of the conservative side of politics and who will stoop to anything to tear at the hated Rudd. They also know that the issue reduces their left-wing opponents to helpless rage and that alone is probably sufficient temptation.

If the Left really wants to refight and win the asylum seeker issue, they’ll leave the ranting and rhetoric to reactionaries and stop being so easily goaded into elevating the issue into a test of the national character. And they’ll press the government to lift the number of refugees we accept, regardless of what it does with boat arrivals. That is where the real human impact will be felt.

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61 comments

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61 thoughts on “The issue is refugees, not boats

  1. Jillian Blackall

    Venise, you’re just jealous because our numbers are increasing. 🙂

  2. james mcdonald

    Thanks, I’ll have to watch that … quality not quantity.

  3. Jillian Blackall

    I wish I could match the eloquence of the output from James. I’m a fan!

  4. Venise Alstergren

    James McDonald: You must have a terrific job. It would take me a weeks work to match your output.

  5. james mcdonald

    So I agree with you that “energies should be re-directed to increasing the volume of the refugee program and to giving greater support to such migrants when they arrive. To be focusing on creating a media frenzy each boat that arrives is counter-productive and only plays into the hands of those who are against the refugee program altogether.”

  6. james mcdonald

    My problem, David, is the means to the end. You cannot fix the whole world to make it fair. You can–we can–ensure that our own actions don’t blacken our own morality. In the messy world we live in, sometimes that’s all you can do.

    There are legitimate reasons to deprive a person of liberty. These include to bind a person to be brought before the court, to punish a person found GBARD of a crime, to effect treatment of a mentally ill person incapable of judging their need for that treatment, to prevent a breach of the peace, to control safety in an emergency, and to assess the legality of a person’s freedom of movement.

    Depriving people of liberty for the purpose of sending a message to others not to follow in their footsteps even though they have a legal right to do so, is not a legitimate reason to confine someone. Yet that was the openly stated purpose of Howard’s strategy, and Rudd has only watered some of it down and arranged (with more than $50 million of taxpayers’ money) for the rest to take place somewhere that’s out of his control.

    Setting aside the question of the asylum seekers, doesn’t the means and the ends make you afraid? How long before you receive a call from one of the people you care about, saying “I am safe but I can’t tell you where I am”?

    There are morally defensible ways to slow down the smuggling trade. For example, to spend that $50 million towards assisting the UNHCR which Amnesty International reports today is not doing very well (see theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,26252688-25837,00.html ).

  7. Jillian Blackall

    David, I would say that the people creating a media frenzy each time a boat arrives are usually not sympathetic to the cause of refugees in general.

    I agree with what James said: “Is the requirement for deterrence worth the price of compromising human liberties in order to achieve it?”

    And there are also a lot of questions about whether deterrence is effective anyway.

  8. David Sanderson

    This is a wilful misinterpretation of what I said. I make absolutely no moral judgement against the people on the boats. Quite the reverse, I think they face an appallingly difficult situation and they should get the sympathy of any decent person. If I was in their situation I would most likely take exactly the path they are taking, if I thought there was a reasonable prospect of success.

    That doesn’t change my belief that Australian government refugee policy should be aimed at those most in need and that a system which prioritises boat arrivals over those unwilling or unable to go down that path is unfair and that unfairness can best be minimised by firmly discouraging boat arrivals.

    As I stated earlier energies should be re-directed to increasing the volume of the refugee program and to giving greater support to such migrants when they arrive. To be focusing on creating a media frenzy each boat that arrives is counter-productive and only plays into the hands of those who are against the refugee program altogether.

    Oh, and the remarks about Leninism, and all that followed, were good for a laugh. You will be pleased to know I have cancelled my plans to exterminate the kulaks as a result of your expose.

  9. james mcdonald

    David Sanderson: “It is deeply unfair that those with enough money to pay a people smuggler obtain priority access to the refugee program and inevitably squeeze out others with greater claims.”

    Who’s holier-than-thou? Like many, you disguise an attitude of detesting a class of people behind a compassion to others which rings false in my ear.

    Your logic also brings to mind a Leninist sort of condemnation of someone for having been able to scrape together some cash. You do not know how long a person spent saving that money for a rainy day or how hard they had to work for it. Without looking these folks in the face as Michael Christopher has, how do you dare judge a person based on no knowledge, no crime being committed, and then to hide behind a false moral piety for those left behind?

    And since you parenthise humanity when you say “discouraging boat arrivals (in as humane a way as possible)” I’m going to ask again (and again and again): Is the requirement for deterrence worth the price of compromising human liberties in order to achieve it?

  10. David Sanderson

    “Holier than thou” has nothing to do with religion in this context but it does derive from your off-putting certainty that views different to your own spring from racism. It is the vanity that self-praises your supposed moral superiority to most in your “cohort” that is objectionable and, yes, very holier than thou.

  11. Aphra

    David Sanderson – this response is days late so I suppose that no one will actually read it. However, I reject that I hold ‘holier than thou’ attitudes, ‘holiness’ being a concept to which I’m a total stranger.

    To MPM I say this: white people from anywhere who claim to be refugees are instantly granted asylum, these days. Asians from anywhere, if they have enough cash, are also amongst the lucky.

  12. Jillian Blackall

    That’s cool James – I wasn’t sure whether you were looking at my comments on crikey or facebook or both. I really find your comments here worthwhile. It’s hard to keep up with all these issues and it’s good to read comments from someone like-minded who has put effort into finding out about issues and thinking about them.

  13. james mcdonald

    I’m afraid I’m stuck in the office for a few more hours where facebook is off-limits, so I can’t see most of your statements or whom you support, but I can see you’ve spoken often and thoughtfully as a “moderate liberal” and about the Liberals.

    Liz (12:35am this morning) was a bit bemused by my description of the Right being a long way from the recent history of Liberal government. Do you think the classical liberal principles are appreciated very much in the Party? Malcolm Fraser has often said they no longer are, but does he know what he’s talking about?

  14. Jillian Blackall

    Thanks James.

    Just to clarify, I do not work for the special person who appears with me in my facebook photo, but I strongly support him.

    I fully agree with your comments. Very well said.

  15. james mcdonald

    I see you’re quite a contributor of some note, Jillian. I’d be interested what are your thoughts on my little diatribe about civil liberties at 6:39 yesterday in this thread …?

  16. james mcdonald

    Thanks for the comment. No, Potts Pt isn’t really my stomping ground.

  17. Jillian Blackall

    James McDonald, I love your description of the irrationality of the arguments from James K.

    “One minute they are child abusers, next minute they are deserving but those back in the refugee camp are more deserving, next minute they are terrorists….”

    Do we know each other from a certain real estate context in Potts Pt, Sydney? Please feel free to add me on facebook either way.

  18. james mcdonald

    I mean, if you’re looking for someone to hate, and spend all this time arguing that hate–and I do understand that some of us need someone to hate, I really do–but why them? What’s so special about a class of people whose only similarity to each other is the choice to come by unauthorised boat and apply for the visa at the gate–as the law of our land allows them to do– and all that that implies about what other choices they had? Most of whom, apart from a small number of wolves hidden amongst the sheep, are no more likely to have harmed anybody than you or I.

    And then, even let’s grant that you’ve got your reasons for hating them … is that hatred worth so much to you that you would rather we give up the civil liberties that this society is founded on, rather than simply accept that we don’t live in a perfect world and that we’ve got bigger fish to fry?

  19. JamesK

    @James McDonald

    Yes just what I thought:

    (Edit)

  20. james mcdonald

    (Edit)

    What, after all, is the point in spending so much time and trying so many different angles of argument, all having nothing logically in common, except a common theme of hating some people who arrive in a certain manner, and who will never affect his life, either directly, or even statistically by population pressure or drain on resources?

    One minute they are child abusers, next minute they are deserving but those back in the refugee camp are more deserving, next minute they are terrorists. One minute they endanger their children by bringing them, next minute they are shamefully abandoning their children going on ahead by the most dangerous means and trying to arrange something safer for the kids afterwards. One minute they are a drain on our welfare, next minute they are so rich as to not need our compassion.

    (Edit)

  21. RaymondChurch

    It should be noted (Edit)

  22. james mcdonald

    And yet, as noted in another thread, there is no policy debate about the legitimacy of unauthorized arrivals seeking asylum. The only debate really going on is how important is deterrence, and what are the acceptable methods of deterrence without compromising human rights principles.

    So James, by trying to shriek “Children Overboard !!!” all over again, you are, in practical terms, talking only to yourself.

  23. JamesK

    @James McDonald

    Unless you get your information from the progressive liberal MSM you should know that children were indeed thrown overboard from SIEV vessels approached by navy vessels and indeed on more than one occasion.

    Not during the “Children Overboard Affair” but that report was a communication misunderstansing between navy personnel and as a direct result of known past instances of children thrown overboard by asylum seekers.

    This was brought out during the Senate Inquiry but not generally reported by the media loyal to Labor and loathing of Howard which is 95% of them and still is. The fallacy continues on and on and on

  24. SBH

    I know, I think I have to send my self to re-education camp

  25. james mcdonald

    … with a dot before ‘html’ at the end, i forgot angle brackets are tags

  26. james mcdonald

    Let’s try that again.

    Agreed, SBH, every word. It’s spooky how often I agree with you, being a lefty commie-loving union-thug Cuban-missile-sending party hack and all. Makes me double-check what side of the road I’m driving, whether I’ve indicated one way and turned the other, identity crisis and all that. The last libertarian left the building on 25 June 2008 and we never really knew her.

    BTW check out: theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,26248155-25837,00html
    Looks like the Pope might have a bit of explaining to do to Kevin Rudd as to why he’s providing boats to queue jumpers. “Sc-m of the earth”

  27. james mcdonald

    Come on moderator, those are Kevin Rudd’s words, not mine.

  28. SBH

    Hey JamesK, I just checked. I didn’t write “advise” rats,trolled

  29. james mcdonald

    Agreed, SBH, every word. It’s spooky how often I agree with you, being a lefty commie-loving union-thug Cuban-missile-sending party hack and all. Makes me double-check what side of the road I’m driving, whether I’ve indicated one way and turned the other, identity crisis and all that. The last libertarian left the building on 25 June 2008 and we never really knew her.

    BTW check oout http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,26248155-25837,00.html
    Looks like the Pope might have a bit of explaining to do to Kevin Rudd as to why he’s providing boats to queue jumpers. Scum of the earth.

  30. SBH

    Ah Sh*t I hate that. But look it was late and I was typing quickly and had other things on my mind.

    Yes, he was very wise and his polling reflects it. The sound of barrell scraping continues. But I think that it’s a shame because Turnbull is the kind of person we should have in public life (smart, energetic, committed) and yet he’s hamstrung by a party that doesn’t seem to be able to chart a new path that can engage the Australian electorate and instead keeps fumbling around with dead issues so he’ll go.

    And I hope you don’t include me as one of those foam-at-the-mouth progressive left liberals spouting hate speech I’d be hurt as I’m a foam-at-the-mouth progressive left socialist. (peoples united front of judea, united peoples front……………….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz)

    On the subject of useless labels. Using the Australia common understanding of liberal, isn’t it a liberal ideal to allow people to choose their own path in life, to take opportunities as they arise without interference by government and to be directly and personally responsible for the welfare of themselves and their family? Isn’t this what the queue believers say the Sri Lankans are doing.

    Keane’s point is it’s not left and right and those tags don’t sit well on Australian Governments (Keating’s deregulation of finance markets, Howard’s massive regulation of the labour markets). Howard used a series of iconic issues to distract the attention of voters from the fact that he was rebuilding the world of Hurstville 1957. This was one of those issues and it appealled to voters fears and that’s no way to build a modern country left or right. I love polemic as much as the next guy but I think the country’s interests are not served by polemics on this issue.

  31. JamesK

    Wisely Turnbull ignored your “advise” SBH

  32. james mcdonald

    Liz: Exactly. I never said Howard was in my camp and–cliche alert!–there’s nothing liberal about the Liberals.

  33. Liz45

    JAMES MCDONALD – “The left wing typically springs from angry people and is characterized by big government, paternalistic interventions in people’s lives, the government knows best, business is evil, and even-handed pooling of resources for distribution to all.”

    What on earth are you going on about? You obviously aren’t aware that Howard, who publicly voiced the same nonsense as you actually enlarged his govt; invaded the NT; told us what to think and how we were in bed with the terrorists if we didn’t abide by his ‘government knows best’ (Resolution 1441-UN – justify invading Iraq). Difference was, he took the taxes of the many to hand over welfare to the upper middle and upper class!

    JAMESK – You fail to grasp the fact, that actions that the parents have no control over put their children’s lives at stake. It’s this that forces them to take another risk and leave. You obviously didn’t watch the documentary on SBS about the man who was deported back to his country, only for his alleged fear of persecution to become a reality and at least one of his little girls were murdered. It’s a terrible decision for these parents to make. You obviously haven’t read any of their stories, or watched the documentaries that I have.

    The Howard govt raved on about border security, and yet they cut back on air patrol, and the Port Kembla Harbour had its customs officers reduced. New cars come into this country via that port now, and yet I’m not reassured of the security. They’re (Howard, and what has this govt done?) not fair dinkum about border security, as there’s been king size cock ups for several years now!

  34. SBH

    So away from the morals and back to the politics. Today Rudd used Tuckey to drive a hard wedge into the coalition.

    Mal T take my advice, line up with the PM and let this issue fade into the sorry murky depths of 2001. Otherwise you’ll find Rudd beating you round the head with it and picking up disillusioned centre right progressive votes.

    I think it is a test of national character too and I notice more ranting from the moonbat right than the looney left

  35. james mcdonald

    That’s very witty, R. McPhee. So do you think Justice James Wood’s call to stop mandatory reporting of children for headlice and to engage the charity groups for saving their lives shows some potential to stimulate us out of debt by making money out of abused children? Your second paragraph writes off philosophical positions while your first paragraph lampoons one of them.

    JamesK, it just occurs to me … you do know that in that famous incident, no children were thrown overboard. Don’t you?

    And does anyone else–however concerned you are about about border security and queues–does anyone after reading my earlier rant feel a slight wobble of concern about the more basic question of civil liberties and whether that deterrence and control has been worth the cost?

  36. JamesK

    Yes and other right sensible conservatives, unafraid of progressive leftist liberal foam-at-the-mouth hate speech would say there was no stolen generation but if that’s what they want to call it, then we need more of it again now as a matter of urgency to prevent further aboriginal child abuse.

    Some elder aboriginal women are calling for essentially the same thing.

  37. r mcphee

    I think the free market is the most efficient way to distribute refugees, and its nice to see entrepreneurial endeavour in this space. The problem seems to be a lack of properly regulated suppliers and market information to potential purchasers. I believe that we can improve the market locally by increased funding for training, infrastucture, and seeding support for potential market participants, both mid and long term. For a practical example, there have been concerns regarding health and safety threats in relation to the transport and transition process. Instead of talking about “border protection”, perhaps it should be “boarder customer satisfaction”.

    In regard to the political positions, nothing need be said, except for the usual sneering, from left or right, which amounts to who has the best smelling fart. No politician in Australia has ever lost votes by underestimating the racism of the Australian voter, be they Greek, Italian or Chinese. The real issue is how we can make money out of this situation of human need.

  38. james mcdonald

    A progressive liberal leftist wants the government to stand up, take control, and do nice things. The libertarian right has seen it all before and knows that today’s good intentions can become tomorrow’s stolen generation. Since we both agree that children are top priority, see for example http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24702060-2702,00.html

  39. JamesK

    Indeed and those that place their children on these death traps in the first place.

    That would be that Katharine Gelber, author of “Privileged Discourses of Hate in Australia and Germany: the Holocaust and the Stolen Generation” no doubt?

    Libertarian right or progressive liberal left James?

  40. james mcdonald

    Just to clarify a detail JamesK: when you say “those that respect their children” do you mean those that don’t throw their children overboard?

    Incidentally I found some interesting material on “the queue”: http://www.api-network.com/main/pdf/scholars/jas77_gelber.pdf

  41. JamesK

    @James McDonald

    A reasonable assertion is that those of us politically right of centre don’t believe in a government that protects us from ourselves.

    We do, however, believe in a government that protects our borders and represents us internationally.

    “We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come” is an predictable expression of pragmatic but fair social conservatism.

    Furthermore I venture that this is no way antithetical to libertarianism, certainly of the conservative variety.

    Fairplay would dictate that of the many seeking asylum those that respect their children and don’t seek illegal advantage are not disadvantaged.

    Especially if laissez-faire indifference enriches heinous criminals.

  42. Jillian Blackall

    It’s good to see that several people have pointed out that this is not a Left/Right issue.

    The biggest problem seems to be the scare campaigns against boat arrivals, making it sound like they are arriving in much larger numbers than is the reality.

  43. Venise Alstergren

    Yes, we should allow more refugees to come here, morally and humanely. No, we shouldn’t continue to be a spectral dumping-ground for immigrants. We must reduce the numbers before our cities are completely strangled.

    Does anyone here know where the huge amount of jobs are-apart from the Federal and States governments?

    Where are the slaughter-houses, factories, heavy and light industries and indentured labour which were used by governments to attract so many immigrants? We have world-wide use of computers which have rendered redundant the multiple jobs which used to be available, yet we continue to import workers. And which workers will be able to go and live near the desalination plant in Victoria, down near Wonthaggi? WTF is going on around here?

    What Australia needs is a belief in education. Without kids getting it, or wanting it Oz will continue to be a nation of football loving semi-illiterates. And this is the sort of country which aspires to welcome anyone, let alone economic immigrants and refugees fleeing barbarous régimes? Haven’t they suffered enough?

  44. james mcdonald

    By the way TTH this time you’ve said something interesting. “The only way to fully test this belief would be with a referrendum.” You should be able to guess from my War And Peace above (sorry about that) what referendum I’ve got in mind. I won’t support any of the paternalistic draft bills of rights that I’ve seen so far, which fail to distinguish between liberties and entitlements, but I will be putting forward a more minimalist draft of my own in due course.

  45. james mcdonald

    Well, I’m from what you could call the Right, just to be clear.

    Traditionally the right wing of politics is a marriage of convenience between the powerful conservatives who benefit from the status quo, and civil libertarians who mistrust government in general. It’s characterized by small government, minimal intervention in people’s lives, minimal tax, minimal social services, minimal laws in general–just enough to enable people to help themselves and to stop people from being brutalized by the government or each other, and no more. My heroes are the likes of Locke, Jefferson, and Mill.

    The left wing typically springs from angry people and is characterized by big government, paternalistic interventions in people’s lives, the government knows best, business is evil, and even-handed pooling of resources for distribution to all.

    Our control-freak insistence that “We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come” is an expression of government-knows-best, picking winners. It has no place in right-wing ideology, never did. In recent years it has begun to turn Australia into a monoculture of middle-class consumerist yuppies, no matter if some of them look a bit different to others or speak a different language at home. In years past, a certain degree of laissez-faire in our migration intake ensured a constant trickle of people who know the difference between struggling for the biggest flat screen TV on the block and struggling to survive. They had a lot to teach us.

    Long term detention, the Pacific Solution, the Indonesia Solution, and the smuggler-disruption operations that may have led to sinking SIEV X, are big-government initiatives with very dubious payoff for society. The only apparent payoffs have been political, unless you count the deterrent effect, more about which see below. These programs have cost this country far more than simply processing the boat people according to UN charter would have.

    Bernard is right to say that cooling down this issue would allow the DIAC to do the best it can without the enormous costs and complexities that politicization has added to a not-so-big issue. If we let this go, then some thousands of mainly Tamil survivors will be able to be vetted and resettled by the system with a minimum of fuss. Australia will save a lot of unnecessary cost.

    But we’ll be back on this merry go round in another few years, because boat people have proven to be such useful political pawns, and the persistence rate of misinformation on this topic is astounding.

    And that would still leave an unresolved problem which is of great concern to me, being on the Right: how do we protect ourselves against the precedents that have been set for gross abuses of human rights?
    – Arbitrary detention of non-offenders for no purpose other than to send a message to a third party, in prison-like conditions, for up to years at a time, including unaccompanied children, resulting in many cases of se-xual abuse and post traumatic stress disorder.
    – Forced separation of fathers from their children and wives by way of TPVs until recently, again of people accused of no offence, and for no other reason than to send a message.
    – Active and strenuous deprivation of the right to obtain even English language classes and job-placement services, under those same TPVs.
    – Security operations abroad, ostensibly for the purpose of shutting down smuggling businesses that endanger lives at sea, actually for the purpose of fabricating a success-rate of deterrence measures that did not, in fact, deter anyone, and taking such liberties with professional law enforcement standards that they may have resulted in hundreds of people being drowned at sea?

    For a right winger like me whose ideology comes down to “live and let live”, there are questions of arbitrary use of power that should have been blasted back into the Cold War where they belong. Our failure to give them centre stage demonstrates a blase attitude to civil liberties which may come back to haunt us in forms that we did not dream of, when governments remember that arbitrary detention and other abuse of liberties can be committed for social engineering purposes by three successive governments without arousing any more than an argument about queue-jumping.

  46. RaymondChurch

    Must say Bernard, I am able to comprehend more of this tragic subject via your columns, than listening to politicians. Although to be fair, Stephen Smith has been thorough in his explanations. Perhaps the PM should allow Mr Smith to take a more prominent role and he slip into the background somewhat. Doubt Kev will do that, he prefers the front running. But must admit there are times when I feel he should say nothing, he has very able Ministers, as he oft tells us.
    Thanks anyway for your informative writings.

  47. Liz45

    Good on you Bernard, and thank you! I resent the nonsense of the Left/Right divide. As pointed out above, there are many, even traditional Liberal voters who objected to Howard’s thuggery of defenseless people. There are Liberal members in the federal Parliament who are angry at their colleagues, and several have bravely challenged them. I thank them and usually send them a message to that effect. I suggest others do too! Why is it, that on too many occasions it’s only the Left who are against war, oppression, dictatorial govts and the inhumane and disgusting treatment of people seeking refuge. The Right should be ashamed of themselves if that’s the case!

  48. Tom McLoughlin

    Cute the way Tuckey effectively spreads innuendo about ’99 boat people because you can’t identify the one chameleon terrorist’

    And there I was thinking 9/11 was hit by planes. Turns out they were rickety fishing boats at level 113.

  49. Ian Bryant

    I always wondered what there was to be so scared about. In Howard’s time it was clear: they were all terrorists. But now?

  50. TheTruthHurts

    “The most interesting thing in this has been Danby, a man who has spent a life time putting other peoples’ interests in front of his own. ”

    How is Danby’s plans to turn the “Enormous White Elephant” Christmas Island Detention Centre which was completely empty 18 months ago into a Science Research Facility? Not so smug now is he.

    Anyways there seems to be this belief that Australians have changed their views on boatpeople from the 2001 election. Yet there doesn’t appear to be any data to back this view up. Kevin Rudd did indeed win the 2007 federal election, however this was not an election on boatpeople, it was an election on Workchoices, and even I voted for him.

    The view that “Australians” support boatpeople arrivals is an interesting claim, one which polls seem to disagree with. The only way to fully test this belief would be with a referrendum, which I would support having on this particular issue.

  51. David Sanderson

    Aphra, you are a good evample of the holier-than-thou approach to this issue. The approach that is so willing to paint as racists all those who wish to discourage people-smuggling developing into the prime method for accessing the refugee program. It is deeply unfair that those with enough money to pay a people smuggler obtain priority access to the refugee program and inevitably squeeze out others with greater claims. People-smuggling should be strongly resisted on that basis alone.

    (Edit)

  52. Most Peculiar Mama

    APHRA

    “…I recently met a most pleasant and affable Zimbabwean family which arrived here, virtually unannounced, and were instantly permitted to stay, but they were, discernibly, of white European descent…”

    (Edit) did you bother to ask this Zimbabwean family if they had been patiently waiting 10 years on a legitimate migration list or like the recent cadre of rich Sri Lankans queue jumpers were smuggled into Australia illegally?

  53. Dom Padden

    “and funny how 2001 was the high point for our refugee intake in recent times”.

    Do you mean funny because of the Tampa, or the Pacific Solution? Such a number is consistent with the rest of the world.

    There was a world-wide 20 year high of refugees in 2001, and a world-wide drop of about 50% by 2006, and a world-wide rise ever since. A coincidence that, if ignored, leads to a conclusion that Australian policies actually have much of an effect.

  54. Aphra

    As for the despicable ‘people smugglers’, it’s a pity that Oscar Schindler is no longer alive to ask his views.

  55. thirdborn314

    Nice one Bernard, and Michael, to me your positions are reasoned and balanced, why can’t I see this from other media outlets or the politicians themselves? Sometimes I wonder where all the normal people have gone – or are there really so few of us?

  56. Venise Alstergren

    I wonder if people from the extreme Left/Right will actually read your fine article, Bernard, or whether they’ll just view it through the prism of their own agendas?

    One of the finest pieces of writing you’ve done recently.

    As for, “that Sri Lanka even finished its decades-long civil war just so thousands of Tamils could try to move to Australia.” What a delicious piece of irony!

    Keep it coming, BernardK

    Cheers

    Venise

    PS: Tim Costello should take his itsey bitsey Politically Correct little self, and go hump himself. No wonder this country has almost lost its identity.

  57. David Sanderson

    Vigorously argued and spot-on. The issue is about numbers and not about how some arrive. And there should be more.

    PM on the ABC has been difficult to listen to recently because of its obsessive coverage of each new boat, or even just the rumour of a boat, and the full vent that they have given to those who like to moralise about the issue. The left is wrong and quite dislikeable when it uses the issue as a way of showcasing their supposedly superior morality and the moral depravity of everybody else.

    It is time that they concede that discouraging boat arrivals (in as humane a way as possible) is sensible and necessary and turned their attention to building up the refugee program.

  58. Michael Christopher

    bernard

    in terms of media commentary i find yours the most balanced over recent weeks and well researched. there are so many ill-informed contributors to the “debate” but you do not seem to be one of them!

    i am a retired former diac (and relatively) senior officer who spent many years in pakistan and iran managing and processing applications under both labor and coalition government humanitarian programs. i have heard that processing activity referred to by some refugee advocates and media sources as “that mythical refugee queue”. i can speak from experience about the challenges involved in dealing with thousands and thousands of visa applicants, members of state and federal parliaments, refugee advocacy groups and families and friends of visa applicants. the humanitarian processing activity at a diac overseas post is highly stressful and emotionally draining – not just for visa applicants but also everyone else involved in the process both at the office and in the myriad of interest groups in australia. i was very conscious of the fact that decisions i made about people in miserable circumstances were probably “life” and “death” ones; they were decisions never taken lightly and frequently upsetting to me where i had to say “no”.

    imagine if you will (a real experience for me) an elderly afghan lady in your interview room, on her knees in tears begging you to grant her orphaned war injured grand children visas and make arrangements for their care in australia but not to process her application because she was too ill, frail and frightened to travel to australia.

    one aspect that critics of government humanitarian policy seem to overlook (and i think you hint at it in today’s crikey), is australia’s capacity to provide adequate humanitarian resettlement assistance to families and individuals on and after arrival. i think you will find that is a prime reason why program numbers have been relatively “flat”. i refer to emergency housing (short and long term), english language assistance, access to health services, care for unaccompanied children, torture and trauma counselling and the like. yes it would be wonderful if we could take more humanitarian entrants (however they arrive on our shores) but i think it would be just wrong to do so with the knowledge that adequate post arrival assistance could be very limited.

    it is not so much about “the getting into australia” that is important, but what can be done “post arrival” to help our humanitarian entrants settle in australia with dignity.

  59. Aphra

    First, it is indeed a test of national character, in my opinion.

    Second, the assumption that it’s the ‘Left’ alone which opposes our shocking treatment of refugees is wrong, wrong, wrong. I personally know of three families, all Liberal voters usually, who voted against the last government specifically because of its treatment of refugees. Two of these families are immensely wealthy and directed money towards assisting refugees and one even billeted some, eventually, and another engaged lawyers to help out.

    As the scion of a working-class, left-leaning Labor family, I’ve been appalled at the seemingly in-grained hostility to refugees amongst my cohort. From each, as I’ve claimed that their attitudes are racially prejudiced, of which this country has a long, disgraceful history, I’ve received the same response: ‘no, no, we’re not racist, but….’ I can only assume that the majority of the ordinary so-called Left is diametrically opposed to ‘all of these Asians’ forcing their way in here and undermining our standards!’ NB. The ‘Left’ doesn’t only include those who have been lucky enough to have a university education and thus the opportunity to develop sophisticated philosophical positions and attitudes.

    I would also add that four years ago, I sent a letter to every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate protesting at the treatment of refugees and railing against the barbarous detentions.

    I received only two replies, and considered ones at that, from Russell Broadbent and Petro Georgiou, both Liberal MHRs. Not one, single Labor or Greens representative, parties for whom I vote, bothered to reply, much less acknowledge receipt of my letter.

    Australia should be honest and accept that its actions and reactions are fundamentally racist and understand that our politicians are merely playing to the LCD. I do not, for one minute, believe that the PM or the Leader of the Opposition believe in the politically-inspired nonsense which they’re spouting, which diminishes both of them, in my view. Nor can I understand why, with so much good fortune on its side, this country has so much difficulty in sharing and helping others, unless it’s to do with skin colour.

    I recently met a most pleasant and affable Zimbabwean family which arrived here, virtually unannounced, and were instantly permitted to stay, but they were, discernibly, of white European descent.

  60. SBH

    I’m from the Left just to be clear. It seems that the ALP is struggling with this issue (no surprise there’s a lot of interlinked complexity). Remember unusually for Rudd he couldn’t quite get his sound bite right on this twice saying illegal immigrants that seemingly remembering it was supposed to be ‘illegal imigration activity’ .

    I don’t think it should be a morals test but there’s a golden opportunity for Rudd to wedgie the opposition so hard on this that it makes their eyes water. Georgiou, Moylan et al’s defiance of Howard indicates that the coalition are not solidly behind the anti-boat people line and it would play well to most labor voters (maybe not Queensland). It’s hard to see that Turnbull’s heart would be in the current LP/NP line. But I agree there’s little point thumping the Government over this, their heading in the right direction.

    The most interesting thing in this has been Danby, a man who has spent a life time putting other peoples’ interests in front of his own. What were the internal dynamics that led him to spill like he did. Will we look back and see that as the first sign that caucus began to evolve into the phylum Chordata? Maybe it was retaliation for the allowances stuff. Either way grubily fascinating.

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