Asylum seekers:

Bill Chandler writes: Re. “Substituting treaties for hard thinking on asylum seekers” (yesterday, item 1). I spent a day in Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday. It was my most excruciating experience for some time. Most of day I was in the Built Environment Meets Parliament forum, an important annual industry event. It went well. To fill in time waiting for my flight back to Melbourne, I went into the chamber not realising what was being debated. After three hours, I left, about to miss my flight. The flight gave me time to think through what I had just experienced — and BEMP matters paled into insignificance.

It is clear to me that many MPs from all sides were genuinely trying to reach an acceptable compromise — but some were not. Political tactics are more important to politicians than to those watching on. When the tactics become more important than a genuine attempt to resolve issues, we are all diminished. The Bishop/Washer interchange was simply nauseating.

On asylum seekers, Australia has a long-term good record but, more recently, both Labor and Liberal/Nationals have performed badly: mandatory detention, Tampa, “kids overboard”, the pea and thimble dishonesty of offshore processing, the fear mantra of “border protection”. They all represent a failure of keeping perspective, commonsense and humanity. Instead of “working” yesterday morning, I had phone calls with a number of MPs’ offices about these matters. Some might consider me naive about politics, but I can’t just sit back and watch this process of lowest common denominator democracy and still look my children and grandchildren in the eye and declare that this is the best we can do.

I do not have a party political affiliation, I guess you might call me a swinging voter. In Kooyong, Victoria, does it matter? In the Senate it does. In the meantime I will try to keep a sense of humour and optimism, and continue to use my skills and commonsense to positively contribute wherever I can.

David Mendelssohn writes: Politicians may bleat all they like about deterring the boats bringing small numbers of mostly genuine refugees to Australia but research published a few years ago by the excellent researchers in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library clearly established what anyone who actually thinks about the issue seriously already knew.  That is, nothing any Australian government does will have any effect on whether refugees try to reach Australia by any means they can.

It is only the “push” factors that count. The “pull” factors do not matter either way. It is therefore a falsehood for Coalition politicians and their barrackers in the media to say that Howard’s policies stopped the boats. The boats stopped because there was no great surge of refugees trying to get to Australia for most of his time in office.

Since Labor has been in office, we have had the brutal massacres by the Sri Lankan government against that country’s Tamil citizens, as well as greater uncertainty for minorities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In any case, the numbers involved are small and can easily be accommodated within Australia when their claims are assessed, as they should be in Australia, not in some country not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

Les Heimann writes: I can’t help it, I watch Parliament — sometimes a lot — but on the refugee issue, only somewhat. Only a few days ago I referred to our politicians in a letter to Crikey as silly little people playing silly little games with a big issue. How dreadfully, tragically right!

Neither the ALP, Coalition or Greens want to solve the issue, they simply care about power and how to get it, keep it and wear the white robes of purity in the process. If enough of them did care, the so-called backbench revolt would have succeeded and a solution would have been found. Meanwhile, the few people who seek refuge in this country will suffer and die. Because we don’t care.

My parents were refugees. If Australia had not accepted them they would have been killed and I would not have existed. The majority of “Australians” come from migrant stock … and yet where are the protest marches?

We get the politicians we elect and I believe these scuttling cynics scrabbling around the Canberra undergrowth are safe in the knowledge that in this they represent the woeful silent majority.

Shame Australians, shame.

Hoa Pham writes: Another debate about asylum seekers is bringing out the worst in Labor and Liberal. Striking at the very heart of what it means to be Australian and the original fear of white settlers of displacement. Non-indigenous peoples all fear displacement whether it be by Aborigines or by “Australians”. Once you have had your homeland taken from you, you live in fear of a re-occurrence. And if you are a coloniser, you live with the fear it could happen to you.

So how do we soothe the fears of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott? I suggest by reframing how they see themselves as Australians. Instead of colonisers, they could be hosts to asylum seekers instead of seeing their lack of resources they could see Australia as truly lucky and a generous country. They could co-operate with the first nations of this country so they are able to sleep at night. Then they would not have to feel afraid every time a boat is sighted  on the horizon.

Peter Fray

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