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One positive thing to emerge from the stand-off with Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Indonesia is that it has forced the Australian Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, to confront the source of the problem.

In a flying visit to Colombo over the weekend, he urged the Sri Lankan government to crack down on people smugglers and offered assistance to re-build the country after the disastrous 30 year civil war.

All a bit rich when it was Sri Lankan government forces who caused most of the damage and instead of negotiating with the Tamil minority, bankrupted the country in order to crush them. That being the sole aim of the use of military force and the continued detention of 300,000 Tamils in military run camps, seven months after the cessation of hostilities.

People smugglers arise in respect to demand. They are an end product as a result of internal repression. There are no people smugglers operating out of Australia. The minor reform of refugee policy, has not led to an exodus of people from China, Vietnam or India.

It is the push factor in operation with people from Sri Lanka, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan that is creating the need for people smuggler operations.

Smith’s visit to Sri Lanka will achieve little, particularly a visit of such short duration. Despite the polite words, the inward looking jingoistic Sri Lankan government will have been offended.

Smith’s visit was all about domestic politics; trying to get the Sri Lankan government to cooperate in solving an Australian political issue.

Politicians of the major parties do not welcome advice from visiting academics, UN officials and others on what reforms Australia should undertake with respect to Indigenous Australians.

They should not expect a self-centred fly-in fly-out to be any better received in Sri Lanka. Smith did not visit the camps nor seek to make any other humanitarian gesture toward displaced Tamils.

Through one-eyed diplomacy Australia has created the dilemma it is now faced with. For 30 years it backed one side in an increasingly bitter civil war. It never once called for negotiations, backed a Commonwealth, UN, or the only initiative which did develop, that of the Norwegian government.

The consequence was the crushing of the Tamils, under an agenda amounting to genocide, which has led them to seek an escape from persecution.

Successive Australian governments have gone along with the western hysteria of labelling all dissident groups terrorists.

The Sri Lankan government seized on this and sold the pup that all Tamil soldiers were terrorists, mainly because of Tamil suicide bombers targeting civilians in Colombo and other centres.

Sri Lanka did not label themselves terrorists for commando and other military raids on Tamil homes and the extra judicial killings of young Tamils picked off the streets of Colombo.

These activities became tit for tat. So why did the Australian government take sides?

The Sri Lankan High Commission in Australia should be requested to stop its harassment of Australian citizens of Tamil origin and of other abuses of diplomatic privilege centred on justifying and defending genocide.

Australian agencies particularly the AFP, should cease giving weight to the dubious claims and statements of Sri Lankan government and Sinhalese operative, Rohan Gunaratna, self styled expert on terrorism with a vested interest in denigrating Tamils from his own country. He demonstrates little understanding on the causes of terrorism.

The Australian government has created a problem throughout the region by dealing uncritically with corrupt regimes with the notable and laudable exception of Fiji. Despite democratic trappings the government of Sri Lanka is no better than the government of Fiji.

Australia needs to inject some consistency and realism into the conduct of its foreign policy.

Australia appears to have learnt nothing from East Timor. Denial is no solution to the repression of people, sooner or later the boil will burst and the consequences will have to be dealt with.

Suppression of legitimate aspirations and grievances by less than well intentioned governments in the region, toward minority groups, will eventually lead to asylum seekers.

Failure to address the loss of habitable and productive land as a result of climate change will force the movement of people, as will the inequitable distribution of wealth.

Australia cannot address these issues through the maintenance of fortress Australia, unless of course it does not care for the human consequences of vessels sunk, the warehousing of families or their enforced removal to further danger and suffering.

Australia needs to take a lead within the region and establish a forum where issues of the current and future needs of people can be discussed openly and clearly.

The region needs another Colombo Plan, perhaps a Canberra Plan, where issues of agriculture, fisheries, conservation of rain forests, nurturing the increasingly scarce resource of potable water, as well as support for economic and political reform, all within the context of climate change and other positive and negative changes taking place in our neighbourhood.

The CSIRO should have a major role and Australia should return to a program of providing scholarships to the bright and needy, rather than rely on the dubious benefit of privately run education programs.

The Plan should be genuinely altruistic seeking a frank discourse and genuine co-operation to help ameliorate the end result problem of refugees.

The appointment of veteran diplomat John McCarthy as a special representative to Sri Lanka was a good move. McCarthy has extensive regional experience and brings intelligence, problem solving and lateral thinking to the art of diplomacy. He might be considered suitable to establish a regional program of confidence building and mutual assistance.

The Australian Government needs to begin an education program within Australia on what it means to be an asylum seeker and refugee.

It needs to act with maturity to take the hysteria out of policy and decision making. It needs to provide leadership because the issue of asylum seekers is not going to go away.

It might seek to put boat people on planes by addressing claims at source, i.e., the camps in Sri Lanka. It might crack down on illegal over stayers arriving by plane and the corrupt issuing of business, student and travel visas.

It might take more refugees and fewer economic immigrants.