Australian elections 2010: a festival of cruelty towards refugees?

Posted by admin on Apr 7th, 2010

Jay Fletcher, April 7, 2010, Socialist Alliance

As the Coalition strives to make “border control” a vote-changing issue and the Rudd government continues to claim its approach is best at keeping the “people smugglers” and the “queue-jumpers” under control, do we face the dark prospect of another refugee-bashing federal election? As things stand, it looks likely. Labor agrees with the Coalition that asylum seeker boats reaching Australian waters pose a genuine problem of national security. So why wouldn’t Tony Abbott and Co. maintain their current offensive about the “unprecedented flood of illegal arrivals” up until election time?

Coalition shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison certainly feels he has Labor cornered. He said on March 30: “It was Julia Gillard who said in opposition, ‘another boat on the way, another policy failure’. On Julia Gillard’s benchmark, Labor’s 100 boat arrivals on the Rudd Government’s watch means 100 Labor policy failures.”

The Australian corporate media, especially the Murdoch press, has been doing its bit to boost the useful hysteria, keeping running tallies of boats intercepted by the Australian navy and beds still available in the Christmas Island detention centre. The “overflow” that was transferred to the mainland has cause some of the worst fear-mongering since the previous Howard government’s “children overboard affair”.

(Little or no mention, of course, of issues that might make us sympathise with asylum seekers as fellow human beings—like the fact that conditions at the Christmas Island detention centre have deteriorated rapidly, that whole families are living in tents and that Afghan and Tamil men are being kept in maximum-security style conditions.)

Many people voted for Rudd with the hope of change, and have been thoroughly disappointed since. Rudd’s promises since the 2007 election have largely failed. And it’s further emboldened the Coalition and boosted its refugee-bashing. Why not try to turn the anger and resentment Rudd’s failures are generating against refugees, and into votes for the Coalition?

When the March 28 Brisbane Sunday Mail carried a front page headline screaming “They’re Here!” (complete with a photo of “suspected immigration detainees returning from a shopping excursion”) there were over 400 responses on the paper’s web site. Most were bitter about the “privileged treatment” detainees were getting from the Rudd government. Coalition strategists won’t have missed that.

In this filthy atmosphere Tony Abbott is also feeling more confident about the Coalition’s alternative policy. On March 30 he said: “John Howard stopped the flow and, given his success, there is no reason why a future government that had sufficient resolve could not do the same thing. We would do whatever it takes to ensure that effective deterrents are in place.”

“Effective deterrents” include temporary protection visas, the cruel and arbitrary measure originally introduced by the Howard government (and first suggested by One Nation leader and racist zealot Pauline Hanson).

Faced with the prospect of an election in which refugees are cruelly used as scapegoats by both Labor and Liberal, Socialist Alliance candidates will do their utmost to debunk the myths surrounding refugees and asylum seekers—their “queue-jumping”, “privileges” and all the rest of the lies.

They will ask the question: how does a cruel, inhumane and discriminatory policy towards asylum seekers help improve the life of even one worker, pensioner, job-seeker or disabled person in this country?

Our candidates will also show that a major problem with Abbott’s outrageously racist flouting of the refugee issue means that the Rudd government can parade as compassionate when this is simply untrue.

Yes, Rudd was forced by a strong refugee rights movement in Australia to abolish some of Howard’s worst policies, such as temporary protection visas and the mandatory detention of children. But Australia’s refugee policy remains one of the toughest in the world. It has maintained mandatory detention and offshore processing of all refugees who risk the perilous passage to Australia by boat.

The excision of Australia’s migration zone, which includes Christmas Island, denies refugees access to Australia’s legal system. Refugees are locked up and treated worse than criminals, denied their rights and vilified by the media.

Moreover, despite the insistence of the major parties and the corporate media that Australia is “threatened” by the rise in asylum seekers, the number Australia receives is actually tiny.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has recently released statistics on global asylum trends for 2009 that showed that 377,200 sought refuge in industrialised countries, mainly in Europe and North America. In comparison, Australia received only 1400 more asylum claims than in 2008. It took merely 1.6% of registered refugees globally and ranked 16th.

Australia needs to massively increase its intake to begin to genuinely address the rise of refugees around the world. It must also end its role in wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and cut all ties with the government of Sri Lanka until it ceases its brutally repressive policies towards the Tamil people.

All immigration detention facilities, including Villawood and Christmas Island, must be closed for good. We must guarantee the right of asylum seekers to immediately apply for asylum in Australia and let them be processed and settled in the community.

Ordinary human decency demands no less.

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