Sunday, October 16, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - can Australia 'grow up' and confront its past failings in this area of human rights?

The Howard govt turned itself inside out to excise huge slices of the migration zone as part of its manic determination to repel 'boat people'. The Pacific Solution fiasco underpinned the 'illegal boat people' wedge Howard launched in 2001. I was part of the PM's task force that worked on these issues.

Sadly, the 'dog whistle' has been sounded loud and clear by Abbott and his conga line of wing nut mates, and the 'xenophobe' crowd have responded with alacrity. Within their simple-minded construct it's all the Gillard government's fault! Labor instigated a more humane approach to refugees, although it would have been improved by taking the Christmas Island stopover out of the equation and emphasising community processing. Rudd abolished the egregious TPV regime, which was a violation of refugee rights and a nasty scar on our human rights landscape. Having explored regional offshore processing options to negate the people smuggling trade, Gillard is now flagging a shift toward a more reasoned approach, having failed to get bi-partisanship on offshore processing!

The Coalition's constant vilification of Labor for being weak on border protection has now morphed into a hypocritical concern for the rights of refugees. These of course - yes, you guessed it - will be protected on Nauru.

But how can anyone forget the Libs' response to Tampa and kids overboard? Blame the victims for their own plight, extract as much sensationalism out of the role of people smugglers, put words in the mouth of ADF personnel who cannot answer for themselves, and then whip up public sentiment against refugees. Throw in dollops of confected outrage over your political opponents complete lack of preparedness to face down the 'threat' and you have your stock in trade 'dog whistle' response to the terrible plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Oh, I forgot - then you can set about making weak neighbouring countries complicit in policies that violate human rights! Sadly, the Labor government fell in behind this construct too easily!

The cruel stupidity of processing asylum seekers in excised areas (unable to access the same legal rights as those who reach our migration zone by air) or in countries unwilling to treat people humanely, must end. Either by default or Machiavellian manoeuvring, Labor can now align our Migration Act with international law and refugee conventions and kick the Howard construct to the 'shit house' of history.

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