“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,” Crikey‘s political correspondent Bernard Keane wrote yesterday. The response was fierce.

Here are a selection of comments from Crikey readers on the piece and the current asylum seeker debate …

Kim Odgers writes: I have trouble fully appreciating the extraordinary bravery and resolve of an Iranian mother with small children, or a young traumatised Pushtun Afghan, standing uneasily on an unsteady Indonesian jetty about to begin an uncertain ocean journey on board a rusting vessel designed more for coastal trawling.

Despite the known dangers, these asylum seekers are prepared to risk their lives as the alternative to the misery that they had earlier left. But the horrible reality is that determined and desperate people are dying in large numbers as they attempt to reach Australian territory.

Australia exercises an obligation, along with all nations who are signatories to the UN Status of Refugees Convention, to humanely assess the rights of any person seeking refugee arrangements within our borders.

We also have an obligation, in my opinion, to act on the senseless and unnecessary loss of nearly 100 lives last week 185 kilometres north of Christmas Island. A further 200 drowned south of Java earlier this year. 350 perished in 2002 aboard the SIEV-X and our televisions carried dramatic video footage of the carnage off the cliffs of Christmas Island in 2010.

It is time for Australia to establish a single refugee processing centre on Indonesian soil focusing only on those refugees who have succeeded or who have attempted to make the illegal crossing to Australian territory.

This new central processing centre should be funded and controlled by Australia in a cooperative effort with the United Nations and Indonesia. Eventually fewer boats will attempt the crossing under the certainty of an Australia policy exercising a “no exceptions” immediate return to Indonesian soil.”

David Hand writes: I’m in the UK on business so have not seen any of the TV interviews that have got Bernard Keane so excited. All I’ve seen is Crikey debasing its own credibility by calling one of our leading politicians “evil”  This may play well to the latte sipping left elites but the rest of us look sideways at Crikey rather than Tony Abbott for such an outlandish slur.

The boat people problem has become a diabolical one since the government lost a court case ruling the Malaysian solution, and by extension, Nauru, illegal. What has now emerged in my view is a serious loophole in the refugee convention. The loophole is that anyone, absolutely anyone, can destroy their identity documents and apply for refugee status in a ratifying nation. Those who support boat arrivals point out ad nauseaum that arriving in Australia and claiming asylum is not illegal.

So right now we have a visa-free route for anyone seeking a better life into Australia available to people who would not otherwise get a visa and it is extremely attractive to them — attractive enough for them to risk their lives on a leaky boat.

If Crikey wants to be taken seriously as a current affairs journal, then get to grips with the policy difficulty — separating genuine refugees from economic migrants — rather than hurling partisan abuse into cyberspace that confirms your status as a lefty ghetto publication with a dubious future due to your limited market. Keep getting sillier and all those connected people who subscribe for the cutting alternative commentary you used to have might just save their money.

Evan Coumbe writes: There is too much disingenuous rhetoric in this article — it’s as if it is a part of an effort to leverage the drowning deaths for an offshore solution. The reality is a tangled mess.

The ALP and Andrew Metcalfe, the secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, believe that the previous coalition policy will no longer function because eventual resettlement occurred and so the Nauru policy will not function. Abbott believes he can draw a new hard line in the sand and send a signal that will stop the migration of refugees. The Greens quite rightly fall back upon the position of simply honouring the UN convention on refugees.

It is a debate in which the collective xenophobia will be combined with a faux moralism regarding drownings to achieve an offshore solution — and then even after that there is no agreement because of the level of mendacity in contemporary political debate.

I was a protester at Woomera many years ago — I wasn’t there because I believed people should be able to become citizens I was there because women and children should not have been kept in desert prison camps — any policy should involve humane treatment — after all what refugees are paying for is citizenship — denying them that is enough — there is no need to torture them. Whatever policy eventuates, treat people decently.

Denis Goodwin writes: Bernard Keane clearly believes that everyone but the evil coalition holds the moral high ground in the Parliament. The opposition is not responsible for how the government governs.  The government’s policy failures are of their own making. The opposition is not responsible for them. We are not at war. We do not have a government of national unity. We do not expect collaboration in any other policy area (and surely health policy issues involve matters of life and death, too) so why expect collaboration on asylum seekers?

Keane makes moral judgments on others. He is welcome to his view of what one may do in good conscience. I would not seek moral advice from him.

James Supple, Refugee Action Coalition, writes: I’m saddened to see that Bernard Keane and Crikey have bought into the mainstream media consensus that we need a refugee policy based on “deterrence”.

Keane, in his piece yesterday, like many others, fails to mention the key fact about the Malaysia Agreement: boosting the refugee intake under that plan would only come through abusing the rights of other asylum seekers by sending them “back where they came from” to Malaysia.

The whole point of the plan is to undermine refugee rights — by  trying to stop people coming here. It is a twisted logic where the deaths of people who take the desperate risk to get on a boat to Australia can be an excuse to maintain their desperation: by condemning them to stay in places where they have no life and no hope in transit countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

There is no refugee “crisis”. The 4500 boat arrivals this year so far remain a tiny portion of overall migration. We don’t need to make “stop the boats” the aim of refugee policy — that is the key issue here. So why Keane accepts that flawed starting point I fail to understand.

Carmen Spence writes: I strongly disagree with your left wing articles on boats. Tony Abbott is right. Send the boat people to Nauru. This has been a proven workable solution to this problem. Julia Gillard is thoroughly incompetent. Since Labor has been in government Australia is in jeopardy I am not interested in reading all the Labor articles Crikey appears to be promoting.

David Roe writes: Finally someone had the balls to call it. Thank you Bernard Keane.

Peter Fray

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