Monday, June 20, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - time for Labor to change the tune, rather than play Abbott's whistle!

Again, the wedge is in. Labor finds itself wedged between the fear of the 'yellow peril' bogey that conservative parties have trotted out successfully throughout our short history and the progressive left's advocacy for the universality of human rights. A cursory glance at the numbers of people who arrive in this country by boat in irregular circumstances - ie, less than half a per cent of those who seek asylum - is proof enough that this divisive issue has nothing to do with a genuine concern.

It is base politics, pure and simple. Are people escaping repressive fundamentalist regimes and violent upheaval today not worthy of our compassion? In his review of Caroline Moorehead's Human Cargo Mike Philips wrote,

"Perhaps the element which makes Moorehead's story so urgent and terrifying is her description of a history in which governments' perception of refugees altered with the end of the cold war, when the "good" refugees fleeing communism, suddenly transformed into "bad" refugees threatening our civilisation. In fact, the vast bulk of refugees remain in their own region, or are accommodated in the world's poorest countries, which are least able to carry the burden.

Australia provides the most extreme example of a state's anxiety to barricade its borders by its policy of stopping boats on the high seas and dumping refugees on its poorer neighbours. Imprisoned behind razor wire, Australia's asylum-seekers protested by sewing their lips together, an act of self mutilation reflecting the desperation to which they had been driven by their treatment."

We are seeing this scenario play out again. Labor is scurrying to find a regional approach that stops boats but does'nt breach the UN convention on treatment of refugees. It will not adopt the full Pacific Solution, but in the eyes of human rights advocates it is failing to meet its progressive charter in this area. The mandatory detention regime opened a Pandora's box of opportunities for low rent political agendas, which politicians like Howard and Abbott have exploited ruthlessly. Labor is continually playing catch up, rather than biting the bullet by re-examining the rationale for long-term mandatory detention and changing the tenor of the whole debate. Leadership requires courage to take the steps to change opinion through education and cogent debate.

Where does the so-called media intelligentsia stand on the current state of play in the human rights battles? Wishy washy as usual methinks. The unedifying sight of Labor politicians jumping on the xenophobia bandwagon has human rights advocates aghast as they see defenceless people used as betting chips in a nasty bidding war. Unmitigated acts of bastardry continue unabated, leaving desperate people with little choice but to self-harm or cry out through extreme acts.

Abbott knows he is on a winner with large slices of the electorate, accustomed to his brand of political correctness - its ok to be afraid of refugees and to treat them like social pariahs, but 'don't worry about that while I'm around!'. This was the Howard credo, honed so well after Tampa. Get the troops out to bash Labor on every issue that panders to our darkest fears. Set up the straw dog to fear, find someone or some group to blame & punish and then put yourself forward as the saviour of the day. The security man who sells you razor wire to keep out pygmy possums, and if they still get in, rounds them up and trains them to do your every bidding. Its always easy when the group you are hounding are defenseless, vulnerable and scared of being kicked back over the fence.

Way to go Abbott. Something you and your following can be very proud of.

Message to Labor - time to change tack in tackling this wedge!

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