June 29, 2012

The issue of stopping the boats

Yesterday, I sat patiently and listened to our politicians speak about solving the ongoing issue of people smuggling. All sides gave their personal and political opinions, and at times, the impact of this very human drama took its toll, even on the most hardened politicians. 

But what struck me more than anything else in this emotional debate, was that the Liberal Mp's seemed to have been struck down by some kind of historical amnesia regarding what took place during the Howard years.

And while they were able to remember that Mr. Howard had singlehandedly stopped the boats (sic), they seemed to have forgotten the men, women and children who languished for years and years inside those horrific Australian Correctional Management (ACM) detention camps, and the kids of 14, 15 and 16 years of age who had sewn their lips together in sheer desperation after being held prisoner for years without any word about when and if their application would be processed.

Suddenly they had forgotten the children overboard scandal or the countless injustices that took place inside the camps, or the way that refugees were being vilified by both the government and the media, day after day after day.

And suddenly, these Liberal MP's standing in the Parliament and describing the successes of their predecessor, seemed to have confused the words 'compassionate and humanitarian' with a more accurate description somewhere in the realm of 'cruel', 'damaging, evil and inhumane'. 

Criticising the Malaysian solution because it is inhumane is all fine and well if you have a clean humanitarian track record and you are calling for a humanitarian approach to the current crisis.

However, we all know what took place under the Howard administration and that is why we must never support a return to the Pacific Solution or any solution that places refugees outside the realm of Australian law and hides them away from the public.  

What took place yesterday in the Parliament was nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to the overly publicised tragedies that took place in Australian waters and deeply embarrassed the Australian Government.

If the Gillard Government was so intent on stopping people smugglers and if they were so moved by the deaths taking place at sea, then why did they wait until two more boats had capsized before convening to find a solution? Why when it has been months since the Malaysian Solution was shot down by the High Court? 

The problem with this debate is that you are never going to stop the boats with a humanitarian approach.

You either stop the boats with a hardline approach, as in the case of Howard's abhorrent Pacific solution / mandatory detention policy, or you accept that the boats will keep coming because of the simple fact that there are not enough places and desperate people will weigh up their options and risk drowning on a leaky boat if they think it will be worth it. In other words, if the ends justify the means then the boats will keep coming. 

Just because people are desperate does not mean they are stupid and they will not risk the long arduous journey if they are going to be locked up upon arrival - for years on end - and then forced to live on TPV's whereby they are not permitted to work or receive entitlements in order to live and provide for their families. 

That is precisely what happened under the Howard administration, whereby those who survived the terrifying and arduous boat journey were then subjected to years locked away in the camps.

Following that they were either deported back to their country of origin or placed on a TPV which meant they could not work to support themselves or their families. That is the only reason Howard stopped the boats, because he was guilty of grave human rights violations, and to pretend he did anything credible or worthy is simply despicable. 

Of course both the Liberal and Labor governments know exactly why the Pacific Solution worked, and that is why both parties are fighting for their own version of a hardline offshore disincentive, masked and packaged as a humanitarian approach.

The problem with both of these suggestions is their lack of transparency. Hiding people away in either Malaysia or Naru for "processing" just gives a green light to those government authorities to carry out any number of human rights violations, away from the rule and protection of Australian law. 

I will never forget what happened in this country under the Howard administration because I lived through it - we all did. Neither Labor nor the coalition have any qualms about moving refugees offshore  and away from the public eye so that this issue can be silenced.

They want this problem to go away and they will not be held accountable for what happens to those refugees once they leave Australian waters. We must not allow that to happen. 

The only real way forward now is to stop the demand for people smugglers by allocating more humanitarian places than the current 7000.  Australia has the capacity to process all refugees on the mainland, both effectively and humanely.

We did it in the 1970's with the Indo-chinese and we can do it again now. We do not need Malaysia or Naru and we do not need to make people suffer anymore than we already have. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's just a sad state of affairs that we are still talking about this as a lucky nation when people are dying in their countries.