In The Guardian’s
detailed history of the ‘Tampa affair’ which occurred twenty years ago
, you will notice a number of similarities with the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Sadly, you will also notice that the response by current Prime Minister Morrison is worse than then Prime Minister Howard’s response twenty years ago.
As David Marr discusses in another article from The Guardian
The Tampa affair was about votes. John Howard was facing his second re-election, one he was almost certainly going to win even without the Twin Towers coming down. But stopping the Tampa made victory more certain. The lives of 438 people crammed on the Palapa were, in effect, put at risk to give Howard a bit of an edge at the polls.
That ruthlessness is part of our politics today. The Coalition is still pressing those buttons. Labor is still hopelessly wedged. And the country is still using the language invented — brilliantly — to make a grubby operation blocking refugees sound like an act of national salvation.
Not refugees, but asylum seekers. Not indefinite imprisonment on a barren tropical island, but the Pacific solution. Not slamming the gates shut on helpless people, but border protection. Not violating our treaty obligations, but saving lives at sea.
With what can only be really described as a complete lack of human decency, the Australian Government wrote to more than 100 Afghan nationals that worked for the Australian Government in Afghanistan either as direct employees or contractors. This group of people, who were out of a job because the Australian Embassy and troops were withdrawn, probably have valid concerns about their future should the Taliban discover their past employment. The letter advised them that special humanitarian visas to enter Australia would not be given and they should ‘try the usual channels
’ where there was an allocation of 3,000 Visas for Afghan refugees carved out of the already inadequate refugee intake.
A day later, the decision was apparently reversed. Don’t for a minute think there was any sense of compassion as Defence Minister Dutton warned
that an unspecified number could pose a security threat, and said he would be criticised “if one person was brought in that committed an atrocity in our country”.
Dutton also told ABC TV some of the applicants may be hiding their true identity or “forum shopping” by seeking visas from multiple countries, and he said some family groups included “males of fighting age” and “we don’t know enough about those individuals”.
Morrison was just as bad suggesting at a Press Conference
that only people who came through “official channels” would be settled in Australia.
He indicated at least 3,000 Afghan nationals would be allowed to come to Australia this year under the existing humanitarian program.
But the prime minister said more than 4,200 Afghans currently in Australia on temporary visas would not be permanently settled, signalling that there would be no softening of the government’s stance on people who arrive on boats.
It’s probably a good bet that the Taliban in Afghanistan will not be kind to either group should they not be given Australian residency.
For twenty years or so after the end of World War 2, both sides of Australian politics welcomed refugees from Europe to Australia. For most of that time the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister. At the fall of Vietnam, Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser welcomed thousands of Vietnamese refugees to Australia. ALP Prime Minister Bob Hawke gave any Chinese students who wanted to stay here a permanent visa to do so after the crackdown of a democracy movement in China that most of us remember because of the Tiananmen Square massacre
. These refugees and their descendants have made enormous contributions to Australia’s prosperity, culture and way of life. Hell, even Tony Abbott let those affected by a change of regime in Syria and Iran stay in Australia.
It’s not hard to assume that Bob Menzies would be ashamed of Morrison’s Liberal Party. Malcolm Fraser would be horrified — but don’t take our word for it, his granddaughter says so in this opinion article that ran in Nine’s Newspapers
In a world where developed democracies such as Canada, the US and Europe are opening their arms and creating paths to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees (after all we all helped to create the current situation) — Australia says ‘not our problem’ apart from a token airlift. It beggars belief. We can and should be doing much better than this.
What do you think?