The folly of resurrecting the dead

It was not the surprise reappearance of a smiling Philip Ruddock on TV that was unnerving; it was not his assertion that 10,000 more asylum seekers were ‘in the pipeline’, it was not even his inability to explain how he derived that figure; it was the stark imagery of a past era flooding into memory.

There are many images: the truculent jaw-thrusting insistence by John Howard that ‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’; the standing ovation given Philip Ruddock at a Liberal Party annual conference for his outstanding efforts to limit and repel boat people; the boat encounters and the sad consequences that sometimes followed, the SIEV X tragedy; the dog-whistling that Howard and Ruddock used to demean asylum-seekers, using pejorative terms such as 'illegals', queue jumpers, cashed-up boat arrivals; the Tampa saga; the Pacific Solution; the shameful ‘kids overboard’ episode and Howard’s “we don’t want people of that type coming into this country”; the razor wire of detention camps, detention camps in the desert at Woomera and Baxter; long periods of detention leading to self harm; children held in the camps or separated from parents, and episodes of wrongful detention – all awful images of fear mongering and heartless, opportunistic politicking. [more]

Are we now in for another dose of this with the increase in asylum seekers arriving by boat?  Are we to see the resurrection of dead policies by politically dead politicians?

Anxious to get traction on an issue, any issue, Malcolm Turnbull has leapt on the latest boat episode, insisting the surge in arrivals is due to Kevin Rudd’s ‘softening’ of immigration policy.  It doesn’t matter if the claim lacks validity – so long as it has the potential to damage Rudd and the Government, and improve Turnbull’s lamentable position.

So what are the facts?

The changes enacted by the Rudd Government in pursuit of its election promises were to abandon the Pacific Solution, to discontinue Temporary Protection Visas, to close some detention centres, to guarantee no children would be held in detention, to process arrivals within ninety days, and to use the mostly unused Christmas Island facility, while at the same time strengthening border security to ensure early detection of boat arrivals.  The Coalition did not vote against these changes.  But challenged with the accusation: “the Coalition voted for these measures”, Scott Morrison took refuge in “they were carried on the voices”, which is code for ‘we really didn’t vote for them’ at all.

Predictably, Turnbull labelled border security as a failed, bungled Rudd policy, insisting that it was the ‘softening’ of Howard’s policy that ‘opened the door to people smugglers’, ‘has invited asylum seekers in’, ‘has put out the welcome mat and opened the door wide’.  He predicts a flood that will overflow from Christmas Island to the mainland.  He insists the recent asylum seekers should not be rewarded by being allowed to come to Australia.  He refuses to accept Rudd’s contention that ‘push factors’ – the war in Afghanistan and civil strife in Sri Lanka – have had any influence on arrivals; instead he invokes only Rudd’s ‘soft’ approach and his abandonment of Howard’s ‘successful’ policies as the sole causes.  It is reminiscent of his insistence that everything but the stimulus package had turned the recession around.

Inherent in Turnbull’s criticism is that the increased arrivals are a serious problem for the country – Howard-style dog-whistling and scaremongering all over again.  But once again his response has been blunted by lack of a coherent Coalition policy, this time on asylum seekers, and inconsistent statements by his colleagues.  Sharman Stone was critical of the Rudd approach, but would not, indeed could not say what the Coalition policy was on this issue.  She would not be drawn on whether the Pacific Solution and TPVs would be re-introduced by a Coalition Government.  She said the public wasn’t interested in the Coalition’s position.  Really?  Backbencher Sussan Ley wasn’t so inhibited – she advocated both, but later retracted, no doubt after being told she has stepped out of line.  The previous immigration minister Kevin Andrews, now in charge of policy review in place of Julie Bishop, has come up with the idea of an ’unlawful entrant visa’, inherently pejorative in its title, which would give only temporary protection to asylum seekers.  How this is different from a TPV is unclear.  In contrast, Petro Georgiou applauded the Rudd Government changes and expressed disapproval of the measures they replaced.

How serious is the refugee problem?  Scott Morrison insisted that the number of refugees was falling, presumably believing that assertion would refute Rudd’s claim that push factors were the main cause of the increase in asylum-seekers.  The most up-to-date figures I could find were in an UNHCR report of June 2009, four months ago.  The heading was UN refugee chief cites pressing needs as those uprooted tops 42 millionIt says “The UNHCR's annual ‘2008 Global Trends’ report shows the number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide stood at 42 million at the end of last year amid a sharp slowdown in repatriation and more prolonged conflicts resulting in protracted displacement. The total includes 16 million refugees and asylum seekers and 26 million people uprooted within their own countries.”  And later the report reads: “Although the overall total of 42 million uprooted people at year's end represents a drop of about 700,000 over the previous year, new displacement in 2009 – not reflected in the annual report – has already more than offset the decline.”  How does Morrison explain that?  The UNHCR report shows that the number of people the agency cares for globally stood at 10.5 million refugees in 2008 while an additional 14.4 million people were uprooted within their own countries.  A graph shows the consistency of refugee numbers over the last decade, and the rising number of internally displaced people since 2005.

Clearly it is specious to argue that the refugee problem is easing and that therefore push factors are irrelevant, when the numbers are so immense. 

While we’re talking about numbers, we know that those who come as asylum seekers are but a small proportion of the regular immigrants to this country.  Moreover, as we all know most asylum seekers arrive by air; the huge emotional reaction to those arriving by boat is disproportionate to the very small numbers that come that way.

Kevin Rudd has taken a two-pronged approach to the issue, which he has repeated over and again.  He insists that his Government is very tough on border security and is vehemently opposed to people smugglers, whom he describes as ‘vile scum’, but is humane in its approach to asylum seekers.  He seems concerned not to alienate those who believe in strong border control, but keen to placate those who believe in treating asylum seekers with dignity and humanity.  Some seem to have difficulty understanding how Rudd can be so condemnatory of people smugglers yet conscious of the needs of asylum seekers who arrive on their boats.  As I read it, he detests the smugglers because of the way they exploit vulnerable desperate people displaced from their country, charge them large fees, send them on risky sea journeys on unseaworthy boats, and exploit poor fishermen by commissioning their boats to make the hazardous sea passage.   He sees the smugglers as ‘crime syndicates’.  Although the smugglers might be applauded by some for offering hope to despairing people seeking asylum, they do so only at a high price and at great risk to the refugees’ safety.  Many boat people have died.

How much traction can Turnbull and the Opposition get on this issue?  How much fear can they conjure up?  How many voters are amenable to such scare tactics?

Peter Brent of Mumble makes the point that while it is easy to mount scare campaigns from Government, with all the resources of incumbency, it is quite the reverse from Opposition.  His article, The benefits of incumbency, written in April this year at the time of the SIEV 36 explosion, concludes “Malcolm Turnbull is probably the last person to want to take up the asylum seeker debate, but his position in the party is now so weak that all he can do is follow the script. As he is finding, however, his avenues are limited. What looks like a circuit breaker this week is usually destined to wrap next week’s fish and chips.  There are no quick fixes in politics, and unless Rudd overreacts, no amount of boat people will save the federal Coalition.”

The same applies to this most recent episode – the interception in Indonesian waters of a boat with 255 Sri Lankans by the Indonesian Navy following a phone call from Rudd to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.  Already it’s losing political relevance, although the vision of desperate people with their beautiful wide-eyed children must pull on the heartstrings of many viewers.  Perhaps it’s fortunate that being in the custody of the Indonesians, the human problem can be left in their hands, at least for the time being.  This is the approach Rudd is taking.

Turnbull will find it difficult to get much mileage from this episode.  Guy Rundle points out in a Crikey article The basic right to fight and kick and scream to find refugethat there are two by-elections coming up in Bradfield and Higgins, two of the most socially liberal blue-ribbon seats in the country, where there are many ‘doctors’ wives’ who may not react kindly to Turnbull’s perceived inclination to return to the Howard policies.  Malcolm Fraser has now joined the debate, accusing the Coalition of ‘scratching the redneck nerve’ with its tougher line on asylum seekers.  He knows the danger of fostering false fear.

Turnbull might be wise to cool his rhetoric, provided of course he is able. 

The asylum seeker issue is a vexed one.  Bringing politicians out of cold storage to promote old policies is hazardous.  Those who seek to make political capital out of these distressing situations by reverting to past remedies walk a dangerous tightrope from which a slip may be mightily damaging, if not deadly. 

Resurrecting dead policies or politically dead politicians is folly.  Should Turnbull decide to continue along this line, it would constitute yet another bad judgement day. His aggressive utterances today suggest we won’t have to wait long.

What do you think?

 

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Bilko

16/10/2009When one does not have anything new to say one falls back on the old tried and proven lines and who better to say them than the grey Ghost. All the coalition policies are exactly the same as if the lying rodent was still running the show in fact his not so dead hand is everywhere. The Murdock press have an issue to run with and the coalition without an original thought amoungst themselves are hanging on for grim death, rather like the gallant 600 into the valley but not so gallant i fear.

Bushfire Bill

16/10/2009I like the idea of resourceful people who can make it to Australia's shores being given a chance to stay here. It's happened before with the Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Central Europeans, Vietnamese, Iraqis and now the Tamils and the Afghans. If we are to deny refugees sanctuary, then we must establish a right to do so... a moral as well as a legal right. Who are we? We are a polyglot nation made up of over 70 ethnicities that started out as a penal colony. For over two hundred years people have been traveling over the sea to come here. The ones that have made it have, by and large, done a pretty good job for us as a nation and for themselves and their descendants. Australia is the envy of the world. I would argue that it's [i]because[/i] of our multicultural, multi-ethnic society, not in spite of it. Let the refugees who come here with genuine concerns for their safety stay here and contribute to making this land even better. Yes, I know they spend a lot of money to get here, and of course they would rather come here than languish in Indonesia. But that is a matter of choice. In one way we should be flattered, and in another concerned... concerned that other countries through which they pass are also doing their bit to help them, or rather speed them on their way. I think this is why Rudd phoned SBY: it was time for Indonesia to do a little more about the phenomenon of the boat people than just provide them with boats and a place to sleep during their transit to Australia. We've done a lot for Indonesia and have had to put up with a lot from their home-grown terrorists. We can't take all the refugees in the world, or even the ones in Indonesia. There has to be some order to it. Other countries have their responsibilities too, other than to just take the easy option and palm these people off on us. It's a fine balance between letting some get through to stay here and none at all. I don't envy Rudd and SBY (and any other government through whose territory the boat people pass) having to get that balance right. But so far the problem is manageable and we have rules, the chief one of which is "If you can make it here to Australia, we'll treat you like a human being." The human dignity of asylum seekers is a reflection of our society's values. We can't have "open house" and we can't just turn everyone away. Some have the opportunity to obtain visas and pass citizenship tests, to organize their affairs. Others do not have that luxury, at all. We should encourage the former and accommodate the latter, with dignity for both sides of the equation. As for Turnbull and the Liberals: this is just another example of their inability to come up with any new ideas. So they trot out the old ones, in this case old ideas that were around [i]three[/i] elections ago. Anything to save themselves the effort of having to come up with a new policy, or even a novel thought. I guess this is why Ruddock and the Andrews have stayed around for so long: they're hankering for the siren song of the good ol', reliable dog-whistle. Their coffin lids slide forward, they slowly come to the sitting position from inside the box, say their piece and then creakingly return to the slumber position again, to be rewoken in yet another 8 years' time. Former glories are all they have got. Don't worry about them.

fredn

16/10/2009What do I think? The memory of how obnoxious and small minded the Liberal party had become was fading; I needed this to remind me.

Michael Cusack

16/10/2009I have two main threads of thought on this subject. One is that the Liberal Party are hanging onto the tail of a wild beast and are afraid to let go, but are equally afraid to hang on not knowing where they will end up. The beast is mostly made up of the more morally challenged conservative commentators such as Miranda Devine, Paul Sheehan, Bolt and Piers. When a campaign is led by such intellectual giants as the above list, you know it is going to be nasty, brutish, and probably unsucessfull. Secondly, dragging the semi rotted carcass of Phillip Ruddock out of his fetid grave to haunt unsuspecting viewers on television is not a good idea. One of the many reasons the coalition lost the last election was because the were perceived as having run out of new ideas and in need of renewal. Twelve months out from an election is no time to exhume Ruddock, Howard etc and demonstrate thet the expectations the electorate had that the coalition would renew themselves have been killed stone dead. Not only do they have no new policies, no new leadership, no new reason for us to vote for them, they are deluded enough to think that Ruddock is the ideal spokesman for their newest attack on the government. This campaign is poison for the Libs, it reminds everybody of what they were like prior to the last election, and that they have not renewed themselves in any way.

Ad astra reply

16/10/2009Bilko Each day, and with every Coalition utterance, the impression heightens that the dead hand of Howard and his ministers hang heavily over the asylum seeker debate. What Turnbull really believes is unknown and irrelevant. All he wants is a talking point that might give his spinning wheels some traction. He’ll say anything he thinks will get his rubber gripping the road. I suspect he does not realize how little credence his words are now given. As evidence of Howard Government ex-ministers coming to life, I see that today Kevin Andrews has authored a piece in [i]The Punch[/i] on, would you believe, the ETS! Titled [i]You wouldn’t let Rudd up the GST, so don’t accept his ETS[/i] http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/You-wouldnt-let-Rudd-up-the-GST-so-dont-accept-his-ETS/#comments he runs Barnaby Joyce’s line ‘the ETS is a massive tax hike’ and why should we go first when China is going on polluting. It’s fascinating that after hearing almost nothing from him until the last couple of days, he’s woken from slumber to run the Government’s mantras. BB I find myself in agreement with every word you have written. You’re right about how long ago these Coalition ideas were generated. It was as far back as December 2001 that Howard uttered his infamous [i]”We’ll decide who comes to this country....” And, as mentioned in my reply to Bilko, Andrews is in print today, on the ETS of all things. Who knows when he will resume ‘the slumber position’, but the longer he takes the better it will be for Labor. As some who commented on his piece say, who can believe anything he says after the Haneef affair? Although there were the usual sycophants cheering him on, many gave him short shrift. fredn But what a great day it will be when we are no longer reminded of the Howard approach to asylum seekers, when all that has faded from memory and is just the stuff of history books. Michael You’re so right. What tactical genius thought it was good gear to roll out Ruddock and Andrews, with all the baggage they carry, to market the Coalition’s asylum seeker approach. It will simply serve to remind the public of the appalling record of the Howard Government, and the reprehensible role these men personally played in the whole unpleasant saga.

Ad astra reply

16/10/2009Folks I hear now that the Coalition’s tactical genius has trotted out Warren Truss on the asylum seeker issue, presumably because he’s seen as a nice guy, but then he messes up by accusing Rudd of costing some twenty asylum seekers their lives through his ‘soft’ policies, prompting Julia Gillard to insist that Malcolm Turnbull apologize for Truss’ comments. Of course he won’t, but what awful publicity the brilliant idea of using Truss will bring.

Bilko

16/10/2009well finally a current coalition front bencher puts his head up and now julia has trussed him up nicely when will these clowns learn, not in my lifetime I hope then my grandkids will have a country to be really proud of.

Ad astra reply

16/10/2009Bilko Here’s a link to the Truss accusations. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/10/16/2716480.htm?section=justin

Ad astra reply

16/10/2009Folks Andrews has done it again: [i]“A sharp increase in Australia's migration intake is causing traffic problems and overcrowding on public transport, a former immigration minister Liberal MP Kevin Andrews says. 'No wonder our roads are congested, our public transport overcrowded, our water supply inadequate and our amenity under threat,' Mr Andrews said."[/i]

Lyn 1

16/10/2009Hi Ad Great read again, keep up the good work Liberals going in full swing, without a bat again. Fancy comments on refugees by Philip Ruddock and Kevin Andrews for goodness sake. How come the media is letting Turnbull get away with calling these people illegal. Also am I stupid or something? didn't the Coalition vote for the so called Rudd's softening laws last year. Have you noticed the similarity in Malcolm Turnbull's actions and speak, to that of the fake email and Utegate affair. Malcolm Turnbull thinks he is really onto something here and it shows when he talks. Ad you might enjoy these 2 pieces I did http://anonymouslefty.wordpress.com/ http://blogs.crikey.com.au/purepoison/2009/10/16/were-not-the-only-ones-bolt/

mick smetafor

16/10/2009i was talking to an old friend some weeks ago and i was shocked when he mentioned"bloody rudd letting in all these boat people".he is a left leaning working class sort of person,but open to the moral panic shock jock onslaught from the media.it made me wonder if this was an issue festering under the radar.i hope you are all correct in predictions about this but i fear you are underestimating the potential for mischief from the powers of darkness.

Sir Ian Crisp

16/10/2009I was ashamed to be an Australian when our uncaring PM rejected Brindha’s heartfelt plea. Our PM would not allow a soupcon of compassion to enter the debate as he stared at the TV camera and said he made no apology for being tough on asylum shoppers. The rebarbative and baleful shadow of xenophobia is with us once again. I hope Chris Evans is not proud of this brutal policy that turns away desperate people. Surely the UN can’t be happy with him. I just long for the day when the ABC gets him into the studio and Mr O’Brien takes him apart. Mr O’Brien should remind Minister Evans that our reputation is taking a pounding around the world on this issue.

fred

16/10/2009I despise the racism and xenophobia of the COALition. I despise the idiocy and nastiness of their mean spirited inhumanity and thank the gods we voted them out 2 years ago. I was at a public meeting in a country city near Baxter during the '07 campaign, a meeting where the federal candidates spoke to an audience of retirees, at 61 years old I was among the younger of those couple of hundred people present. When the subject of 'boat people' came up the Lib candidate spoke first and reiterated the same tired old nastiness including the previously succesful "we shall decide who comes here etc'. When he finished there was no applause. Zero. I wondered what was going on, this was a group of solid COALition supporters, or so I had thought. Others spoke and then the ALP candidate strongly criticised the Howard line, she emphasised compassion and our roots as a country of immigrants which included her mother and step mother. She sat down to heavy sustained applause. I'm confident this was one of the many issues that cost the COALition the election, they had gone too far down the road of racism and xenophobia and had exceeded the limits of common decency of even that constituent group which was their last bastion. I hope that rejection continues today, I don't want to be part of an Australia that is characterised by the lack of decency shown by the COALition in particular [cos Kev's attitude also worries me] and I'm not leaving so they had better change their discordant tune and we, decent Australians, need to tell them to shut up loudly and bluntly. This inhospitable racism was never acceptable, it is less so now.

Bushfire Bill

16/10/2009Oh Sir Ian, you [i]are[/i] a true Machiavellian, aren't you? Go away and cry in shame you hypocrite.

Ad astra reply

16/10/2009Lyn 1 I enjoyed reading your links. This episode is uncovering a fine collection of nutters; of course Bolt can be relied upon to write outrageous stuff. I cannot work out if he’s having us all on, or whether he really believes what he writes. If the latter is the case, he’s got a problem. Turnbull’s big problem, amongst many others, is his unshakeable faith in his own judgement, despite it having been shown to be dangerously faulty in the past. So he just presses on hoping one day he’ll hit the jackpot. Pathetic! mick There will always be some who swallow the Coalition line, but the opinion polls have shown over and again that the people understand what Rudd and Turnbull are on about. They give Rudd top marks, but mark Turnbull down. Even today the Morgan poll http://www.roymorgan.com/news/polls/2009/4427/ shows the TPP at 60/40, PPM Rudd 69/Turnbull 18 – Rudd’s lead 51 points; Rudd satisfaction/dissatisfaction 55/24 and Turnbull satisfaction/dissatisfaction 29/56. The people give Rudd a high rating and they do see through Turnbull, even if your friend doesn’t. Based on phone polls (Neilsen, Newspoll and some Morgan polls) if there was an election today based on current polls the state of the House would be 105 Labor, 42 Coalition, 3 Independent. There is no cause for anxiety about Labor’s prospects. Sir Ian I’m amazed at your gullibility. Before you make your harsh judgement about Rudd, you ought to check all the facts – where the boat was encountered, where the occupants came from, how long they have been in transit, where have they been in transit since July, and how legitimate their claims of persecution and threatened ‘genocide’ are. Then you might be in a position to make a balanced unbiased judgement. Also ask yourself if you want the PM of this nation to buckle under the threat of a hunger strike to the death. If you’re ‘ashamed’ of Rudd, presumably you’re even more ashamed of Turnbull, Ruddock, Andrews, Truss and the rest of the Coalition crew who have had something to say about this latest episode.

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16/10/2009fred Xenophobia and racism will eventually rebound on the perpetrator. The reaction you saw at the Baxter meeting is understandable. Good people don’t like such behaviour. Rudd is neither xenophobic nor racist. He is a compassionate person who has already shown a caring approach to asylum seekers by the changes he has enacted. But he is not about to be intimidated by people smugglers, nor by Turnbull and his numerous spokespeople. We can rely on him good to take care of the refugee situation.

Sir Ian Crisp

16/10/2009Did I tread on somebody’s toes? I was only trying to flush out Andrew Bartlett, Julian Burnside QC, Rosie Scott, Nicholas Jose, Mary Cunnane, Chip Rolley, Anne Summers, Cheikh Kone, ex-Justice Kirby, Marion Le, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN et al. Has anyone seen or heard from them lately? Consistency is a wonderful thing. Sorry AA, I was baiting my hook. I was toying with the idea that those who feign indignation would seek media attention so that they might condemn Rudd and his racist, xenophobic policies. To say that so far I am a little disappointed at the lack of feigned outrage by the usual crowd is putting it mildly. Is it because our dear leader might be the object of their outrage?

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16/10/2009Sir Ian If you're fishing, goodness knows what you'll catch.

The Piping Shrike

16/10/2009Hi AA, I’m not sure I agree with some of the comments made here on the political impact. While I don’t think the coalition will get much traction on this, I’m not convinced it is a bad tactic to bang on about right now. At the moment, Turnbull’s main problem is his own party rather than the electorate and this gives him at least an issue to get them off climate change and all feeling good about themselves. The incoherence from the Liberal Bleeding Hearts Club will probably help to salvage the conscience of Liberal voters in Bradfield and Higgins. I actually don’t think Labor’s tactic is that clever (let alone humanitarian). The trouble with making a big deal about border control is that in reality no Australian government can really deliver it. At the least it requires support from regional partners like Indonesia for which Australia must pay a price. As a practical strategy, Howard’s policy was never going to succeed in stopping boat people. He got away with it politically because 1) Labor leadership was all over the place at the time and more importantly 2) 9/11 gave it justification. Rudd has none of those advantages. While at least he has Indonesian cooperation (which Howard did not) by promising something he can’t deliver he could be storing up trouble for later. Australian public opinion is mixed on this issue, and, these days, I don’t believe as adamant about this as some like to claim. Rudd’s better interest tactically (and as a decent human being) would be to play down the issue and accept these refugees that even he himself accepts is a product of ‘push factors’ rather than falsely criminalise them as he is now doing.

Ebenezer

16/10/2009Yawn. Would not expect any thing else from the policy free zone that is the Liberal Party. They live in the past and wish to relive the glory days of Howard. They still can't accept they lost the last election. Time to move on fella's. As we seem to be experiencing Deja Vu, some might be interested in the following link. http://www.safecom.org.au/myths.htm Cheers Eb.:)

janice

17/10/2009I too find myself agreeing with Bushfire Bill's stand on assylum seekers coming here by boat. Howard made this an emotive issue to win an election by appealing to the xenophobic dark side of human nature. PM Rudd now has the job of convincing Australians that there is everything right about being compassionate, fair and decent in the treatment of fellow human beings seeking to find a safe and better place in which to live. I believe that what Australians saw under the draconian policy of the Pacific Solution of the Howard Government went a long way to ensure that the electorate won't be fooled again. I don't envy the Government's task of finding the right balance regarding assylum seekers. We cannot hope to take in all who seek to come here and so we have to have rules, regulations and an order to follow. We cannot allow people smugglers to set the agenda and it seems to me that the only way to prevent them profiting from other's misery is for our Government to seek the co-operation of other nations to stamp out the smuggling at its source. This is what the Rudd Government is doing. As usual, Turnbull and his mob have embarked on another road to nowhere. Beats me why they feel they have to continue to flog the dead horse that is the Howard Government. If they have nothing else to say, then why not just shut up?

Ad astra reply

17/10/2009Piping Shrike Thank you for your thoughtful comments – I became aware of your views via your piece on [i]The Piping Shrike, A pathetic attempt to look in control[/i] and respect them. Visitors can read it at http://www.pipingshrike.com/2009/10/a-pathetic-attempt-to-look-in-control.html The issue of asylum seekers is still a highly emotive one; many views are strongly held and vigorously expressed. The regular ‘Friday Wrap’ on 774 ABC Melbourne this week was the rowdiest I have heard as the three participants shouted each other down over the latest boatload of asylum seekers. So it behoves us to respect each others’ opinions. Clearly there are those who prefer Australia take a hard line against people smugglers, and against asylum seekers arriving by boat to counter what they see as queue-jumping, and at the other end of the spectrum there are those who would take a very accommodating approach and welcome genuine refugees to our country with open arms. Often, but not always, these contrasting positions coincide with political orientation. As with many of life’s issues the most appropriate position is probably in between where the two extremes can be balanced. Journalists who write about this too often bring to their columns their own idiosyncratic ideological position and with it a lack of balance. There are several examples of this in today’s papers. The most balanced piece I have read is by Paul Kelly in [i]The Weekend Australian, Rudd's softer stance mugged by reality [/i] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,26220271-12250,00.html In my view Kevin Rudd is trying to achieve that balance by on the one hand condemning people smugglers and seeking to reduce risky boat arrivals, yet on the other hand treating those who do reach Australian waters with dignity and respect, processing refugee claims quickly and moving successful applicants into the community rather than onshore detention camps. We’ve now have news that there may be a negotiation afoot with Indonesia to increase the level of cooperation and maritime surveillance to reduce if not eliminate the hazardous boat journeys that asylum seekers continue to make, aided and abetted by people smugglers keen to profit from this trade. I expect this proposal will be advanced when Rudd travels to Indonesia this week for the inauguration of President Yudhoyono into his second term on Tuesday. This seems to be a good move, promising as it does to reduce risky boat voyages, to speed up processing by UNHCR, to provide more suitable temporary accommodation in Indonesia, to accommodate a proportion of eligible refugees in Australia, to heighten collaboration between Australian and its neighbour, and to place that cooperation on a more equal basis. The proposal is to be supported by funding from Australia. I believe we can advance discourse on this contentious subject if we focus primarily on those seeking asylum and work out how best to manage their requests for refuge. This is why my original piece was so condemnatory of the Opposition’s dog-whistling approach, resurrecting the well-known culprits from the Howard era to push a return to his harsh approach, and in the process rekindling among some the fires of racism and xenophobia. The futility of resurrecting dead policies was captured well in Kudelka’s cartoon in [i]The Weekend Australian[/i] which shows Malcolm Turnbull looking through his telescope out to sea and saying to Julie Bishop [i]“Fire another flare Julie! By my reckoning we’re only ten Tampas away from government.[/i] There can’t be an either/or solution; there must be a balanced program of managing asylum seekers that does justice to them, without damaging the integrity of Australia’s borders. Rather than following some journalists’ rush to judgement, rather than offering gratuitous advice to the PM, it might be more sensible for those of us who see all this from a distance to leave it in the hands of the most diplomatically experienced PM this country has had, and criticize him when, and only if, he makes a mess of it. The recent arrival of the 255 Sri Lankans presents a problem more complex than at first it appears. The complexity of the civil unrest in Sri Lanka defies easy description and explanation. Although I have travelled numerous times to that country since the early eighties, arriving on one occasion in 1986 the day after the tail of a Tristar was blown off at Colombo airport, and on the day the telecommunications centre in central Colombo was blown up, and despite talking with many, I would not dare to give an exposé on what has happened there over the last thirty years. First there was conflict between the JVP who were clustered in southern Sri Lanka, south of Galle, then for more than twenty-five years there has been conflict with the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, who were seeking a homeland or some degree of autonomy in the north in the Jaffna peninsula and down the east coast to Trincomalee and Batticaloa. It is this conflict that has just ended militarily, leaving a quarter of a million displaced people on a tiny strip of land in the north east in what are reported to be desperately bad circumstances. The recent arrivals seem to include educated people – doctors, lawyers and university graduates. Some are with their families; some have left them behind. They are said to have paid US$15,000 per head for their passage and have been in transit since July. The Sri Lankan ambassador to Australia disputes their claim that they will be threatened with genocide if they return, which I expect is his Government’s line. He also disputes whether their spokesman Alex is a genuine Sri Lankan because of his unusual accent. They communicate by mobile phones. Because they are not the usual boatload of asylum seekers, some queries have arisen concerning the legitimacy of their claims for refuge. Some have called them ‘economic refugees’. I mention all this simply to make the point that this matter is not simple, and that suggesting simplistic instant solutions is unwise. To be fair to them and to the country to which they wish to come, we should not rush to judgement about the actions taken by our Government. Eb Thanks for the link – a great collections of myths. Déjà vu indeed. janice I find myself in agreement with all you say. It is balance we need, but sadly so much of the discourse is anything but balanced.

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17/10/2009Folks Andrew Bartlett has a short but sensible piece in today's [i]Crikey[/i] in [i]The Stump, The missing migration debate[/i] http://blogs.crikey.com.au/thestump/2009/10/16/the-missing-migration-debate/#more-894

Michael Cusack

17/10/2009I agree with 99% of the sentiments raised here, and particularly yours AA posted at 2:50pm on 17.10. I cant help thinking back to the Bosnian refugees and the almost total acceptance of them by all stratas of society. In fact the only criticism I can remember regarding that saga was the grandstanding at the arrivals halls by sundry politicians, especially Howard. One of the biggest factors in their acceptance was, apart from bipartisanship, the humanisation of the people involved. It was a factor the coalition seemed to pick up on when they decided to demonise later refugees. They refused to allow contact with them, no photographs were allowed (for privacy reasons!!!)etc etc. I dont believe it is an accident that television coverage of the current contentious arrivals has been allowed, notwithstanding they are outside our jurisdiction. The sight of pretty young children and young women who are all fluent english speakers will resonate well with Rudds mantra of "humane treatment".

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17/10/2009Michael Howard played the immigration tune to suit his purpose, and his influence persists as Peter Hartcher shows in his [i]SMH[/i] article today [i]Howard's ghost still haunting those left behind[/i]. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/howards-ghost-still-haunting-those-left-behind-20091016-h12t.html

Bilko

17/10/2009AA peter hatcher must be reading this blog, to echo our thoughts and others here re JWH smacks of plagerism. The UN needs to get into Sri Lanka asap or another Bosnia/darfur is in the making.

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18/10/2009Bilko It would be a great compliment if Peter Hartcher was reading this blog and taking on board some of the ideas of contributors - he is one of our better journalists. Ideas circulate so freely these days via the media and the blogosphere that it's hard to know where they originated. The north of Sri Lanka is a major hot spot where there is a residue of the Tamil Tigers defeated in the recent military assault. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran for many years, the Government eventually decided to make a final offensive which succeeded in overcoming the Tigers and isolating them in the north east. When Prabhakaran was killed in May, resistance collapsed, but left a quarter of a million displaced people, mostly Tamil. The Government, worried that there were still militant elements in that group, would be keen to weed them out lest they continue the bombings of the civilian population in Colombo and elsewhere that have been a tragic feature of life for several decades. Until the Government is sure it has neutralized that danger, the awful situation will continue. Efforts of the international community to intervene have been frustrated, leaving, as you say, a situation that could become another Bosnia. It’s all very sad; there are no easy solutions.

monica

18/10/2009The Piping Shrike, I disagree that Rudd has demonised the asylum seekers. I've not heard or seen anything to support this contention. He has bad- mouthed the people smugglers, and that I'd agree has been somewhat problematic. If it is true that the report in The Age today that the Tamil/Sri Lankans paid c. 4 million to the smugglers, well you've got to ask yourself, was it the smugglers who were working the boat, or some relatively impecunious locals seduced by the money offered for the transport versus, say fishing.

BH

18/10/2009You've reminded me of that awful standing ovation Ruddock got from the Lib Conference which made many of us feel sickened. I also don't see Rudd as demonising the asylum seekers but I stand behind him if there are organised people smugglers making quids out of it. I've appreciated the quiet way in which Chris Evans has been handling this and I hope he and Kev continue in that vein.

Sir Ian Crisp

19/10/2009Presumably those that BB labels as ‘resourceful people’ includes Abraham Lauhenapessy, a people smuggler found on board the ‘leaky boat’ with 255 alleged Sri Lankans. I don’t like the idea of throwing out the welcome mat for people smugglers and our dear leader also finds the idea repugnant. Perhaps it is BB that should go away and cry in shame. The shame of sponsoring people smugglers is not a pleasant thought. Ad Astra, you were right after all. When I went fishing I didn’t know what I would catch. What I caught was an ugly catfish. I think I’ll throw him back. While on the subject of the Pacific solution and Howard’s Nauru experiment, the other day our dear leader was asked to spell Nauru. His response was: I N D O N E S I A.

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19/10/2009monica, BH I agree with both of you – I have not heard Kevin Rudd bad-mouthing or demonizing refugees. Although some in the media seem unable to contemplate Kevin Rudd on the one hand showing compassion for asylum seekers by virtue of the changes that his Government has introduced (which some describe as a ‘softening’, which to me means being more compassionate), and on the other hand being tough on the trade of people smuggling which he describes as ‘vile’. This is not a contradiction as many journalists insist – this is a balanced approach, which is what is needed. Like just about everything we encounter in life, opinions and options for action sit on the bell shaped distribution curve. There are the ‘outliers’ at one end of the curve, who feeling extremely concerned for refugees, would open the doors widely, but they never say how wide. With many millions of asylum seekers wanting refuge, how many would they admit? As even they would concede that there would need to be a limit, there would still need to be vetting process. The outliers who believe that boat arrivals are ‘illegals’ and cashed-up queue jumpers, maintain there should be a very strict policy, that boats should be turned around, that the Pacific Solution and long term detention were effective and should be re-introduced, and that TPVs should be reinstated. They would sharply limit admissions. Most sensible people would take a middle course, which is what Rudd is trying to do. It says volumes about the intellectual capacity of some of our journalists that they see that as a contradiction rather than a balanced approach. The sympathetic moralists want to pull Rudd to their position; the hard heads to theirs, and criticize him as being ‘weak’ or ‘populist’ or ‘lacking moral courage, or ‘a bleeding heart’ if he doesn’t go their way. He cannot go both ways at once, so he takes an in-between position. As he’s representing an electorate where all of these divergent views are held, he has to take a balanced approach. I agree that Chris Evans has taken a very even-handed approach, free of emotive language. Sir Ian I’m sure BB can speak for himself. It’s rather ironic that a notorious people smuggler was on board the Sri Lankan boat and is said to be the reason that the boat, headed for Christmas Island, was turned around towards Indonesia, thereby frustrating the Sri Lankans on board. It seems to me to be more logical to process people at source, the nearest of which is Indonesia where many thousands congregate before attempting the sea journey to Australia, than to allow them to leave, arrive here or sink on the way, or in the Howard era, to be turned back or removed to Pacific Islands. Nobody believes managing the problem of millions of refugees is simple and those who seek to make political points out of this tragic situation, as the Coalition is now doing so flagrantly, deserve contempt. Who is your metaphorical ‘catfish’ - a very ugly and inedible creature?

Paul

19/10/2009At last - the Possum has done it! Analysed the Push and the Pull factors. And what are we quibbling about - 3% of asylum seekers (97% arrive by plane). Plus, over the last 14 years the numbers arriving here are directly proportional to asylum seeker numbers across the globe (all that the "Pacific Solution" did was fiddle with the definition of arrivals). Makes for interesting reading! http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2009/10/19/push-vs-pull-asylum-seeker-numbers-and-statistics/

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19/10/2009Paul Many thanks for the link to Possum's great analysis that concludes: [i]"While Pull Factors most likely have some relatively small effect on boat numbers, they are simply swamped – overwhelmingly swamped – by Push Factors.[/i]. Now that should settle the argument, but we know it won't as the Coalition will continue to argue its 'pull factor' case, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary. Most of the public will not read Possum, and therefore are susceptable to arguments they hear or read. Unfortunately truth is irrelevant; it's perceptions that count in politics. And politicians work to create perceptions, no matter how fallacious they are.

Bushfire Bill

19/10/2009Sir Ian, a typically poor effort from you. One people smuggler, or other type of "evil" person on a boat full of refugees does not tar the rest of the passengers. That is exactly the point of the Prime Minister and of the amendments he made to Howard's laws: we don't demonize boat people.

The Piping Shrike

19/10/2009Hi Monica, AA I didn't say Rudd has demonised the asylum seekers, he has criminalised them. He called asylum seekers 'illegal refugees' for a start, which even the press has agreed not to do. There is of course nothing illegal about seeking asylum in Australia, or coming to Australia to do so. You could argue they are illegal because they have strayed into Australian waters but given there are no immigration offcials 12 miles out in the Timor sea, it's a bit of a moot point. He also indirectly does it by calling people smugglers 'vile'. Why are they vile? They provide a service (albeit an expensive one) for people desperate to give themselves and their family a better life. Often these are just Indonesian fisherman looking to earn a bit extra. They may be earning a 'trade out of people's misery' as our politicians call it but it seems better to me than making politics out of it. Finally the whole premise that these asylum seekers are such a big deal that the government can't even bear itself to consider them, but rather prefers to leave them to rot for a decade in Indonesian detention camps implies they are a problem if they are let in. Rubbish. Regards

Bilko

19/10/2009aa off topic can you insert numbers against entries like possum or poll bludger makes it easier to skip to the last point reached that is if my alzeimers has not kicked and I can't remember where I got to last time viewed cheers ps great topic and now the smirk and the hells angel have resigned just leaves truffles to make a set

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19/10/2009Piping Shrike, BB This episode shows how careful all who comment need to be with the use of words. As I understand it, the words ‘illegal immigrant’ or ‘illegal refugee’ can only be used [i]post hoc[/i]. If Rudd used that term, it was inappropriate. Describing arrivals as ‘illegals’ before processing, as was done in the Howard era, is not just inappropriate but pejorative. On the other hand to what does the term ‘illegal immigration’ apply? Does it apply to the unheralded arrival of boats, or the arrival of people in Australian waters or at airports without a passport or a visa, or to the overstaying of a visa? For what it’s worth, Wikipedia says [i]“Illegal immigration is immigration across national borders in a way that violates the immigration laws of the destination country. Illegal immigrants are also known as illegal aliens to differentiate them from legal aliens. In politics, the term may imply a larger set of social issues and time constraints with disputed consequences in areas such as economy, social welfare, education, health care, slavery, prostitution, legal protections, voting rights, public services, and human rights.[/i] If there’s confusion about the precise meaning of these terms, they might better be avoided in discourse on this subject. Rudd’s use of the word ‘vile’ to describe people smugglers may seem over the top for some, but he seems genuinely to feel contempt for their exploitation of desperate people, and hugely profiting from their misery. In my view, the fishermen who transport the people are not the real people smugglers; they are simply the vehicle used by people smugglers to exercise their trade. They are often poor, with limited fishing opportunities, who welcome the opportunity to make a little extra. But they are often charged with ‘people smuggling’ in Australia. Abraham Lauhenapessy, known as Captain Bram, is a convicted people smuggler who has already served two years in prison in Indonesia. He was on board the Sri Lakan boat and presumably in receipt of US$15,000 per head from the people on board. In my view, it is people like this that deserve the label ‘people smuggler’. To avoid misunderstanding in discussing this controversial issue, we need an agreed lexicon to define what each term is meant to mean. Bilko will do. Yes, at last Brendan and Peter have made their decision irreversible. Malcolm is now all on his own. I’m about to post a piece [i]Don’t poke the media – it might bite[/i]

refurbished copier

19/10/2009Hi, I really enjoy reading your website. I got many ideas for my blog. Thanks for the information.

monica

19/10/2009TPS, thanks for your reply. O.K., I understand what you're saying. I hadn't heard the PM use the term 'illegal refugees' and agree it's not right to do so. I also think his referring to people smugglers as 'vile' is problematic as I indicated above. In my view there is a difference between people who are ordinarily fisher folk, whose livelihoods may be threatened (such as the fishermen turned pirates in the Gulf of Oman), versus those making big bucks out of smuggling people. But it's not straight forward, is it? I suspect, at times, the PMs innate social conservatism runs up against his compassion and his expressive capacity, not to mention, his political antennae being tuned to what strategy is available. Finally, a much higher proportion of people arriving by boat vs. plane are judged to be refugees and accepted as such. I think there could be a problem if differential processing came to apply to refugees using different modes of transport.

dog fence

21/10/2009Malcolm Turnbull....comes under lots of criticism....but i personally support him and his work....so yes if Mr.Turnbull says its right than it must be right!!
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