EDITORIAL FRIDAY 23.10.09.
The current debate over asylum seekers is all about politics and not at all actually about the asylum seekers. The discussion has centred around accusations that the current upswing in numbers is the direct result of changes in Australian policy made by the Rudd government. It has focused on the supposed threat to Australia’s border security. The cost of increasing the number of beds on Christmas Island, and of paying for more facilities in Indonesia has been attacked, with the suggestion being made that the money could be better spent on needy Australians. The asylum seekers themselves have been described as illegal immigrants and queue jumpers, giving the impression that their claims to refugee status are not legitimate. But none of the debate or discussion has actually confronted the truth about displaced persons in the world, and what has propelled them to undertake such a hazardous journey.
Instead, the tone of the debate has been elevated to the level of hysteria, focusing on the threat to Australia. It is propelled by politics, not reality, as a few hundred asylum seekers on a few dozen decrepit boats does not amount to an invasion. But it is in the interests of the federal opposition to generate a climate of fear so that the Rudd government is blamed for a national security crisis which does not exist. Equally, it is in the interests of the government to appear to be doing something, and preferably something tough, about the perceived crisis. But the real crisis is the increase in asylum seekers who have been displaced by events beyond their control, and more importantly beyond ours. All the raging rhetoric spouting forth from Australian politicians makes no difference to what is going on in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and even in Indonesia. It only has an impact on public opinion here in Australia.
The claim by Liberal M.P. Wilson Tuckey that would be terrorists might conceal themselves among asylum seekers is nothing more than blatant, unashamed fearmongering. The purpose of such statements is to generate a political result by influencing public sentiment, not so much about the asylum seekers themselves, but about the government. The fact that public sentiment is also turned against the asylum seekers at the same time is just collateral damage. They are unfortunate pawns in the political game of which politicians can present the toughest image to appease a fearful public, when the public have been made to be fearful by those same politicians in the first place. And while Malcolm Turnbull will not allow himself to be caught using such divisive language, I suspect that it suits the Liberal Party to have someone like Wilson Tuckey spreading such fears among those sectors of the community where they will be well received. Far better for them to have him inside the tent, urinating out of the door, rather than standing outside it, peeing in.
I have already been criticized by quite a few people for expressing my views on a talk back radio show which might otherwise be expected to pander to this sort of hysterical nonsense. But others have equally thanked me, so it is clear that there are divided opinions out in the community about this matter. It is important to have the debate, because there are big issues at stake, not just about what is best for Australia, but also about fundamental human rights. It is even more important that the debate should actually focus on the real crisis, and not on the beat up histrionics about whether our borders are secure, and which political party has the toughest policies to prevent asylum seekers from actually seeking asylum.
The truth is that our border protection policies are working well. Boats are being intercepted, and people are being detained. We know from decades of experience that the vast majority of asylum seekers are ultimately found to be genuine, regardless of whether they are processed here, on Nauru, or in Indonesia. It’s not our fault that there are more people seeking assistance, and some would say it’s not our problem to deal with either. But that is what is supposed to mark Australia apart from those oppressive nations which persecute their own people and do not respect human rights as we do.
Australia is supposed to be better than that.