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Published: ABC the Drum Unleashed and The Canberra Times

The most recent tragedy to befall the minority class of refugees known as, boat borne asylum seekers, has brought home the absolute bankruptcy, both moral and practical, of the policy and politics surrounding the needs of these desperate people.

Neither of the two major parties in this country have the intellectual capacity or emotional maturity to develop a sustainable response to the phenomena of abused individuals taking the initiative, with limited funds, in order to avoid becoming long-term victims and supplicants.

It might surprise both sides of government that the majority of boat arrivals accepted into this country do not want to receive handouts. They wish to work, they do work and they work hard. They go without and they sacrifice in order that their kids do well. They put aside money to send home to family and other relatives, they pay off the people who helped get them to Australia, known by the emotional dwarfs who are in temporary positions of power in this country as people smugglers and they put aside money to pay rent and if they are lucky mortgages. For you have to be lucky to get a mortgage in this country at this time.

I have been dealing with issues surrounding refugees since 1972 and those issues and the needs associated with them have not changed.

Having dealt at first-hand with these issues it is stating the obvious to observe that those in government, making cruel and stupid pronouncements, have no experience or indeed interest, outside of the dynamic of seeking political advantage, to understand and deal with the human aspects of displaced and traumatised people. They throw themselves upon the mercy of this country and are entitled to do so under the UN Convention on Refugees which has been incorporated into Australian law.

These claimants are not illegal entrants in any sense of the word and to call them such and to treat them as such is illegal under Australian and international law. It is to the eternal shame of the smart-arsed main stream media that they have gone along with this pejorative labelling and/or have done little to challenge this abuse of our laws and legal procedures.

At the outset it is possible to make an observation about the tragic deaths by drowning of desperate people on the rocks of Christmas Island; either their presence and plight were ignored until it was too late to effectively intervene under the conditions prevailing or the system of detection, normally in place, broke down.

In an altogether predictable reaction the government has gone after the person they claim organised the passage of the ill-fated asylum seekers to Australia from Indonesia. To have identified the so-called people smuggler so early after the event indicates a degree of intelligence and involvement on the part of the AFP that needs explanation.

In that murky world of desperation, need and the avariciousness and corruption that it breeds, what is the role of our largely under-scrutinised AFP? Why did Gillard, from the outset, order a criminal investigation? Who advised her on that score? Was it the same brilliant minds that had her declaring that Julian Assange had broken Australian laws?

It should not need reiterating but it does; people smugglers respond to need. The desperation of traumatised and marginalised people creates a market. A market, surely members of Federal Parliament can understand that, banging on, as many do, about the need for market forces to operate even with respect to our finite and limited water supply.

Both sides of politics are gung-ho free marketeers; people smuggling is an expression of this ideal. People smugglers do not initiate the market they respond to it. That is why the vessels are fishing boats, they were designed to earn money from an altogether different undertaking. The desperation of the dispossessed has created a market which brings better financial reward than fishing.

The mindset, developed into policy, that the problem of boat-borne asylum seekers begins and ends with people smugglers prevents a more sophisticated consideration of the cause and effect of this particular movement of people, which must be set against the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers who arrive in this country by plane.

Dirty, grubby domestic politics ensures that little rational discussion of this issue can take place with both major parties slithering and sliding further and further to the murky right in their attempts to out-manoeuvre each other whilst appealing to and bolstering low-life opinion on the issue in the Australian community – a continuing and unedifying insight into what passes for political leadership in this country.

Surely it must have dawned on both sides of politics by now that current management of this will not win the party in power any points or kudos; a cute and convenient issue to throw at the Government when in opposition, a disaster when in power.

The most recent tragic sinking of an asylum seeker vessel offers Gillard and the Government the opportunity to remove the issue as a political football. She should convene a Royal Commission to examine the whole issue of asylum seekers arriving by boat with particular reference to the latest tragedy. Once completed both sides of government would have an opportunity to put aside the politics of the issue by referring to and creating policy around the findings of an independent arbitrator.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and was a diplomat and member of the refugee review tribunal.

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