The left may not like it, but one of the Coalition’s great success stories since 2013 is that it stopped the boats, bringing to an end a period in which Labor — helped by politically motivated obstructionism from the Coalition and the Greens — had allowed Australia’s humanitarian program to run off the rails.

Part of the credit belongs to Kevin Rudd, who adopted a hardline “no resettlement in Australia for maritime arrivals” policy in his second stint as prime minister. But the bulk of the credit goes to Scott Morrison, whose boat turnback policy was — whatever legitimate criticisms might be made of the secrecy in which it was shrouded — highly successful in stopping boats coming to Australia and, therefore, people dying on the way. Critics insist that, somehow, this merely displaced maritime deaths to elsewhere in the region, but evidence for that is minimal.

By allowing access to Australia’s humanitarian program to again be dictated by need, rather than by who had the resources to get a boat to Australia, our refugee resettlement program is more just. It can give priority to people who lack the resources to reach Australia by boat, and who are forced to wait in international resettlement camps for an opportunity for a permanent home free of persecution.

Now a group of Western Australian Liberals want to undo that good work by again hijacking our humanitarian visa program, this time in favour not of people with the financial resources to reach Indonesia and then pay a people smuggler, but white South Africans with political sway in another country and support from an influential media company. Two far-right Christian Western Australian MPs, Andrew Hastie and Ian Goodenough, are demanding 10,000 places in Australia’s humanitarian program for white South African farmers. Australia’s entire refugee intake in 2018-19 will be 18,750. 

“I think that we should consider an intake as we have done so for Syrian refugees in the past,” Hastie said. The comparison with Syria is both extraordinarily offensive and reflects the culture of white victimhood that pervades sections of the right.

Syrian refugees have been victims of the Assad dictatorship for generations, their efforts to protest against him hijacked by outside forces and fundamentalists; they’ve been bombed, gassed, tortured and murdered by Assad, Putin and their Iranian mates; their cities have been levelled; they’ve been occupied by the barbaric Islamic State and other religious wingnuts; their kids murdered and their country made a plaything of both great power and regional rivalries. To compare this to the “plight” of white farmers in South Africa is a racist absurdity.

Like maritime arrivals, South African farmers — many of whom would be able to take advantage of other migration categories (which even The Australian acknowledges) — would be a hijacking of Australia’s humanitarian program away from helping those most in need of resettlement around the world, in favour of people with relatively greater resources and influence.

If the stereotype of queue-jumper ever had substance, it does for the white South Africans Hastie, Goodenough and their WA Liberal mates claim need to be brought here. It’s a stereotype peddled on the right that Labor’s immigration policies are strongly influenced by ethnic constituencies within the party’s various state branches. This appears to be a clear demonstration of the actual phenomenon, but within the Liberal Party. And the victims will be some of the world’s most deserving refugees.

Peter Fray

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