Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser sent the following letter to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen last week …
One of the consequences of the demeaning debate about asylum seekers has been the enormous pressure put on non-government organisations trying to fill a major gap to meet the basic needs of people who have absolutely nothing, asylum seekers who are destitute with virtually no support from government. It almost appears as though each aspect of government policy, which your government largely inherited, is also part of the general policy of deterrence.
The High Court decision now provides an opportunity to return to principle, to return to decency and establish a policy in which the majority of Australians could be proud. The recent Nielsen poll that despite the political debate, suggested that 53% of Australians supported processing onshore, is a remarkable commentary on the attitude of Australians having in mind the views of both major political parties.
If one of those major parties supported the humane approach and onshore processing, I believe that figure would rise remarkably and Australians could again be proud of their humanitarian program.
That would also enable the root and branch reconstruction of onshore support for new settlers. I have long believed something like a new Galbally Report on Post Arrival Services for people who have just come to Australia is long overdue. Circumstances have changed so much since 1977.
I have never believed in the policy of deterrence. I do not believe even the harshest of measures devised by the Labor Party or by the Liberal Party can match the terror, the harshness, the poverty of events in countries from which people flee. That is the motivator for people to get on boats. While that motivator remains, there will always be some people who provide boats.
Many of the refugees who came here in the immediate postwar years had to pay some people for some part of their journey either from Eastern Europe or out of the Soviet Union before they could get to Australia.
The High Court decision gives the government an opportunity to seize the high ground and fight it strongly on the basis of principle. While such a policy would be supported by many in the Labor Party, I know it will also be opposed by those who agree with John Howard’s view on these issues. I understand the internal differences, but it is worth an effort, it is worth a stand.
It would provide a better opportunity to break through the current morass in which the government finds itself.