10 July 2014

Time for leadership, and courage, on asylum seekers

The temporary injunction granted recently by the High Court is a sure sign that the Coalition government will try to ‘stop the boats’ by any means. The Gillard government introduced “advanced screening” for Sri Lankan boat people discreetly, but discontinued the practice after legal advice.
How do we get to this point? Sending back refugees to where their fate is almost certain persecution, even death?
The simple answer is that our political gladiators have convinced us that we just don’t want these 'boat people': “illegals”, “terrorists”, “economic opportunists” and Muslims, whom our social warriors assure us would destroy our way of life – reminiscent of the way the Chinese were unfortunately vilified in the 19th century.
It is high time for Labor to admit its errors, eat humble pie, and craft as dignified a strategy as possible to approach the Liberals to resume the pre-Tampa bipartisanship on refugees.
It is the moral thing to do: to lead our nation back to treating asylum seekers as people, and not as we do now by sacrificing them as scapegoats on the altar of political one-upmanship. We did just that with the Vietnamese boat people in 1975.
When the din of political auctioning, to clamour who is better at ‘cruelling the boat people out’, is removed through bipartisanship, our politicians will be able to hear the voices from their conscience and collaboratively craft policies which would make us proud to be human and Australian.
The past 13 years have been shameful for us as a nation.
The Tampa fiasco in 2001 was a Howard dog-whistle that Beazley did not have the “ticker” to stand up to. Then the chaotic Rudd, in desperation in 2013, about-faced and out-did Howard with his Manus Island mirage – the resettling of refugees in PNG! All through this, both sides resorted to prolonged off-shore detention, for one thing and one thing only – to break their hapless souls down psychologically. And we succeeded by no mean scale.
It’s time for Labor to show leadership.
We can do better, morally. And financially, the $4 billion the government earmarked during 2013/14 to ‘stop the boats’; a sum roughly that the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner for Refugees gets to protect some 40 million displaced persons worldwide; could be much better used to bring about an improvement in conditions in the source countries from which asylum seekers flee. We are, after all, a middle power allied to the US, said to be punching above our weight, and currently sitting on the UN Security Council.
All we need now is courage.

 Chek Ling 

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