page loader

Published in The Drum and in the Canberra Times 13 May 2011

Out of all the various groups of asylum seekers in Australia, why are asylum seekers arriving by boat being persecuted by the Australian Government?

Why is the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, being so vindictive to desperate people arriving by boat on our shores? Why does she allow the erratic Tony Abbott and his attack dog, Scott Morrison, to set the boat arrival agenda? They don’t make an issue of refugees arriving by aircraft, however those arriving by boat receive their racist bile in bucket loads.

The once proud Labor Party has succumbed to their venom. This is the party which once championed human rights, took a stand against Apartheid, sponsored support for refugees in the 1980’s and early 90’s and saw the leaders Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd express compassion for the dignity of Aboriginals.

Is this demonization of the most defenceless in our state, in our care, being undertaken to win the hearts and minds of fellow Australians? If so, God help the lot of us. Have we fallen so low that to please our compatriots we must bully and beat the supplicants that come begging for our mercy and help?
Church leaders are absent on this issue. Where is their defence of the defenceless?
Shame on the leaders of our major religious organisations for wallowing in the same secular cesspit as our morally bereft representatives.

Why is the quality of our mercy so strained? What are our law makers so afraid of?

Asylum seekers arriving by boat feed into our fear of invasion from the north. This fear has been present in the national psyche since the 1850’s gold rush. Why haven’t we been able to shake it off? It has driven us to seek the military protection of first Britain and then America. Why didn’t it push us toward self-reliance? Why haven’t we matured?

“Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free…” puerile and selfish, with diminished moral courage.

“We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil…”
All the many refugees that I know, work; they want to work. Ali, a friend and former refugee, went to Sydney. I asked him what he was doing, he said, toiling. I said, yes but what are you actually doing? He said, toiling mate, you know putting toils on walls.

The government talks of bringing in more skilled migrants, why don’t they train refugees?

“Our home is girt by sea…” And that makes it difficult for anyone to come here by sea and that is why the vast majority of asylum seekers arrive in Australia by plane.

“Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands…”
It is, sadly, a country of repute moving toward disrepute on the record of its care for the disadvantaged, the needy and those seeking refuge. It is acquiring an international reputation that will not assist in getting a seat on the UN Security Council.

“For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share…”

Wonderful sentiments, but written before the Department of Immigration was given its charter by John Howard to socially engineer the future of the country and our racial characteristics. Together with Defence, Immigration is a closed shop, wagging the fearful tails of Chris Bowen and Julia Gillard.

To open up former defence facilities on Manus Island in PNG, is a desperate and futile political ploy. It does nothing to remedy the government’s lack of courage. There is not sufficient courage within the Labor Party to overcome Abbott’s bullying. (“With courage let us all combine”) Instead he pushes them lower and lower. It will not win the Labor Party an election to grovel to the Coalition (of the Boot).

The Malaysian solution would be laughable were it not so tragic for the victims of Gillard’s abuse and for the moral and mental health of this nation. Again it will solve nothing. With the problems it will create for the returnees the ‘solution’ will bite the hand that shoved them into despair and limbo.

Julia will be hard pressed to overcome a growing reputation as a nasty, shallow and policy-free manager. She is no leader.
“For we are young (immature) and (selfishly) free…”

All wealthy democratic nations are the desired destination of asylum seekers. They always have been and they always will be. As the world’s population increases so too do the number of asylum seekers. There is a direct correlation between war, dysfunctional states, poverty, ideological and religious disputes and asylum seeker movements.

There are 20 million refugees worldwide and numbers are growing. Climate change, the decline in potable water and arable land will add further pressure on numbers. Rather than trying to sweep the problem under the carpet, why doesn’t Australia take the initiative and convene an international conference under UN auspices to examine and establish positive responses to what is an ongoing need.

Such a conference might give UNHCR more authority and power to handle the complex issue of asylum seeking and assist in the provision of better outcomes than the poor deal they have become party to with Australia and Malaysia.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.