Jun 26, 2012

Time to call the asylum seeker ‘impasse’ what it really is

There is no "impasse" on asylum seekers, there is only bloodyminded evil from the Coalition.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

There are some words one is loath to reach for in politics. Voters may not think it, but rare is the politician at the federal level who isn't there, even in this benighted age, because she or he genuinely wants to do good by Australia. They may be utterly confused, ignorant or lazily unaware about how to maximise the national interest, but they still pursue it. As a consequence, daring to pass moral judgment on politicians can be hazardous and unfair. One may charge them with cynicism or opportunism, yes, but that is more a judgment on their tactics than on their morality. But, having paid close or not-so-close attention to federal politics since the early 1980s, I can't do anything but conclude that the Coalition's current stance on asylum seekers is the clearest example of outright evil that I've ever seen from a political party at the federal level. As is clear to every other member of Parliament, it is clear to Coalition MPs that Australia's current de facto position on processing asylum seekers onshore isn't deterring people who otherwise face many years awaiting resettlement from getting in boats, and therefore risking their lives. People are dying as a consequence, in large numbers. But the Coalition has no interest in altering this position. Shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison showed that last night when he made clear on 7.30 that even if Labor embraced the Coalition's position entirely it wouldn't get agreement. Not merely does the Coalition not want to address the current tragic situation, it actively advocates policies that evidence shows will exacerbate it. If Labor did embrace the Coalition's position entirely -- Nauru, temporary protection visas, turning boats around where possible -- it would be doing so knowing full well none of those policies will deter boat arrivals, and indeed in the case of TPVs the evidence shows they would encourage boat arrivals. Labor cannot in good conscience do that and they should be savagely condemned if they did. Nonetheless, this has led to some weird questioning from the media of Immigration Minister Chris Bowen about why the government won't simply do that, as if the matter of whether a policy will save lives or lead to more deaths is just another example of Canberra he-said-she-said, as if Labor was simply being stubborn and there was no difference between government and opposition policies. It's either the most sickeningly cynical stuff we've seen from the Press Gallery in a long time, or an example of profound ignorance of the issue, or perhaps both. There is no "impasse" here. There is simple bloodymindedness in the face of offers of compromise. The government has bent over backwards to accommodate the opposition's policies while retaining the one policy that may work, offshore processing with no guarantee of being resettled in Australia, coupled with an increase in our humanitarian intake and support for the UNHCR. It has offered to reopen Nauru as a billion-dollar staging post for asylum seekers on their way to being settled in Australia, as it was last time except for the asylum seekers we could gull into returning to Afghanistan or palm off onto the Kiwis or the Norwegians. That would waste vast amounts of money, but it's only money, not lives. But, no deal from Tony Abbott's opposition. No deal because, as everyone knows, the opposition believes it profits politically from each boat arrival. No deal despite people dying; men, women and kids dying horrendous deaths. The Greens haven't been much better. They've achieved a big policy win: their policy of onshore processing is the country's de facto policy. The evidence that it isn't working hasn't shifted their position. They talk of expanding our humanitarian intake, which is exactly what Bowen proposed as part of the Malaysia Solution, based on the logic that Australia needed to do more to take pressure off the processes whereby asylum seekers can be resettled here without resorting to boat journeys. At least Christine Milne this morning proposed a way forward based on a multi-party committee, her favoured tool for resolving gridlock. Yes, it's yet another committee undertaking yet another inquiry but there is some potential there -- Milne's view is that such committees, which involve extensive input from experts, can provide a forum for politicians to abandon rigid positions without losing face. But it depends on good faith from the Coalition. Of that, there is none to be had. What will otherwise achieve change? Well, not the latest sinking. It will disappear from the media cycle; there aren't the graphic pictures that accompanied the December 2010 Christmas Island tragedy to keep it going. Parliament will go into its winter recess at the end of this week and the issue will vanish until the next sinking. Until the next deaths. Evil.

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260 thoughts on “Time to call the asylum seeker ‘impasse’ what it really is

  1. Brad Sprigg

    Well done Bernard. Finally someone is calling this situation for what it is. Morrison and Brandis were absolutely disgusting on the ABC last night.

  2. Bill Hilliger

    Political advantage at all costs by the Abbott led opposition is what this is all about. Drownings and other human misery does not matter to our Tony, it never has; remember “sh*t happens”. What might break the impasse is if some of his backbenchers that do have a conscience were to resign from the coalition because of this issue and sit on the cross benches (a few of the back benchers do not intend to run in the next election anyway). Now that is something I would like to see – and experience the reaction from our “dear opposition leader Kim Il Tony”. The opposition front bench is mainly made up of persons with the RC calling, and on the issue at hand it is plain to see there they are not cosulting with their priests on Sundays about the moral issues involved here, fact is: despite their RC calling there is not a christian amongst them. My sincere apologies to other people of RC persuasion, agnostics and atheists.

  3. Vincent O'Donnell

    Perhaps the Morrison -Abbott axis might consider the comparative humanity of the East Berlin border guards. Most refugees were shot dead on the spot.

    The few who made it were feted in the West.

    So what is different? Would it be that asylum seekers are not European and Christian?

  4. Gocomsys

    Bernard Keane. I am impressed. Clear and straight common sense. Why isn’t the general public aware of this, I ask myself? Personally I have always felt comfortable dealing with issues on their merits. I have therefore never subscribed to party allegiances or narrow minded dogma. That is why I found this article refreshing. Let us all hope that with the dramatic media upheaval we get better reporting in the public and national interest!

  5. rossmcg

    some may call me a pedant but I loathe it when people say loathe when they mean loath .. …

  6. Stewart Eamon

    Why is it so hard to find these points of view in the mainstream media?
    It seems like common sense to me. Great article.
    The coalition are clearly not bothered by 100’s of people dying at sea. As long as it’s gaining them political points.

  7. gerard

    We did not muck about when cows were badly treated. It was stopped overnight. Bring in animal cruelty and Australia will stop in its track. Dugongs or turtles, cows in Indonesia, free range chicken scams, Black Caviar with torn muscles, dear oh bloody dear. What is to be done?
    It resulted in a nationwide outrage. Who can forget footage of the poor cows being beaten, their sad, pleading eyes as they went into their final death throes?

    Of course, this was all done in a naughty overseas country. Our condemnation went instantly into automatic or overdrive. Within days the export of cattle was halted and reassuring footage was shown of thousands of cattle being put back into holding yards and given rich grains pouring from laden bins. Thousands flocked to the NT and even Queensland and stroked cows. Thank goodness for our humane treatment of all things living. There were tearstained faces on the telly and many cancelled their holidays to Bali or Java. How barbaric. At some stage old footage of sheep being loaded alive in boots of cars by white frocked men, again in an evil overseas country, was again dug up and dusted off, just in case we had forgotten. We all felt a warm glow of empathy. We were not like that. We are caring and full of humanness. We felt good about ourselves.

    Now, I find all this love and sweetness for animals somewhat at odds with the treatment of people in endless detention. There were sad and pleading eyes as well. There were people being beaten and shot at. Some were driven to suicide. There was lip-sewing, knife or razor cuts, self-harm percentages, children in jail without parents. Opioids medicated people suffering the torment of indefinite detention without having committed a crime. Those ghastly scenes of boat people running around the dark with tracer bullets lighting up the sky.

    This has been going on for years now. How odd, that we seem to accept that. Where is our indignation and love of humanity?


  8. cairns50

    bravo bernard what more can one say ?

    i must say one more thing

    tony abbott is quite simply not a decent human being

  9. GeeWizz

    Wow, Labor trying to lecture the Coalition on how to stop the boats…. we’ve hit the Labor spin zone folks.

    Lets remind the voters:

    1. The Pacific Solution stopped the boats. It’s undeniable, absolutely undeniable. Apparantly according to Labor things that work really really well never should be touched ever again. Labor hacks must have a lot of Toasters they throw out after one use.

    2. Labor are the cause of the new boatpeople crisis. ENTIRELY OF THEIR OWN MAKING. They dumped the policies that worked… now they are crying crocodile tears “Waaaa, how could this have happened??”. All Labor had to do was not touch the policies they worked… but they wanted to show how morally riteous they were and look whats happened it’s bit them right on the ar5e.

    3. 2010 Election Promises. Now in the 2010 Election campaign the Coalition said they would reopen Nauru, turn back boats and TPV’s. Thats the same policy they have now. In the 2010 Election campaign Gillard promised to send illegals to EAST TIMOR and said there is no way Labor could send illegals to Nauru because it’s not a signatory of the Refugee Convention. WELL GUESS WHAT?! Malaysia is NOT a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention, Nauru NOW is! And East Timor? Just another l1e from our pinnochio PM, she didn’t even bother to pick up the phone to them to ask if they wanted it before announcing the policy. Another Labor failure.

    And Fourth and Finally, I actually think the Coalition are shooting themselves in the foot opposing the Malaysian Solution. Labor are limited to sending only 800 illegals. Last month almost 1100 illegals arrived. This month around 1200. The Malaysian Solution will be null and void within 3 weeks and racked up as YET another Labor failure… and then it’ll be all processing at Nauru. So I call on Abbott to support Labors dudd plan and sit back and watch another Labor spectacular failure.

  10. Steve777

    Bernard – that is pretty strong stuff but I think that you’re right on the money. The sheer cynicism of the Opposition is beyond belief. Their ‘negotiating’ tactic – adopt our policy or no deal. They must know that Nauru won’t work now. It worked for a while because would-be asylum seekers thought they were being slung into a black hole indefinitely, and that is probably what much of the electorate thought and applauded. But it is clear that it will be just another Christmas island. Temporary protection visas encouraged asylum seekers to bring their families on the perilous journey. I have strong doubts about the morality of the ‘Malaysia solution’ but I think that it would be likely to work. Who is going to risk being among the first 800? And how is it worse than turning boats back to sink or face an uncertain welcome in Indonesia? I am convinced the Opposition won’t allow the Malaysia solution through because they are afraid that it would work. They want the boats to keep coming until the election.

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