Quick points on current refugee debate

I finally watched the Q&A episode with Turnbull about refugees. The debate around asylum seekers is so flawed it is ridiculous. Watching the show was like watching two intelligent politicians headbutt each other to prove who was the manliest, only to step back every now and again to make witty quips to show they weren’t just brain-dead apes. The refugee debate has become hijacked by partisanship, but not in the way the ALP and the Liberals would like you to believe. No, it isn’t just an issue of the ALP needing to win the Malaysia Solution and the Liberals needing to win Howard’s Solution (‘Pacific’), it’s an issue of winning the debate to say No! to foreigners, No! to refugees, and No! to immigration. You see this pervasive in the union movement with anti-foreigner sentiment.

Anyway, this bullshit about border control has gotten the public so fixated on being anti-boats that I’m starting to doubt the future of an Australia where something positive like same-sex marriage can get support but something like on-shore processing can’t. Perhaps we need more celebrities.  Here are a few points I just don’t understand are actually bought in to by the mainstream press / voters:

1. People keep saying “why do the Greens want people to compromise to them, why can’t they compromise to Labor?” The question isn’t about political compromise, the question is about doing what is reasonable. When all major legal scholars, humanitarian activists, civil society actors, the UN, Western societies, etc. have the same opinion on what to do, why stick with ‘winning the debate’ instead of doing something which is rationale and humane?

2. Labor keeps saying “we need off-shore processing now to stop the deaths!” I don’t know how passing legislation that is clearly a long-term ‘solution’ which would require a bilateral / regional framework to be set up and institutions in Malaysia to be built and for it to actually be implemented through policy – especially in the military – is an ‘immediate’ solution. Does Labor really think refugee transporters will suddenly be like “oh my god the Malaysia Solution! We better stop right away!”? If they do, they’re idiots, if they don’t, they’re deceitful.

3. How is off-shore processing the only way to stop people coming in by boat anyway? I can understand why Howard thought mandatory detention and TPVs would make refugees hesitant for coming to Australia (because they would be treated pretty shit), but off-shore processing doesn’t inherently have that same kind of deterrence value. What it does do however is stop refugees from tainting White Australia.

4. Normally I don’t like to deny people their feelings, but I’m going to call bullshit on this entire debacle: every Liberal MP who cried in parliament is a lying turd. They don’t care people died. This isn’t an indictment – people often don’t care when people they don’t know died, which is perfectly natural. What is bad is that these crocodile tears became a political manoeuvre, that they really really really want refugees to be processed in Nauru because Liberals care, not because half of them are racist. A speaker (I believe it was Savitri Taylor) on refugee issues at La Trobe University put it perfectly: “We don’t want to see them die is just that – we just don’t want to see them die”. Out of sight, out of mind. When refugees are not in Australian territory, they become the burden of everyone else. Screw empathy.

5. When did people smugglers become the worst people in the universe? I’m sure some of them are lovely and some of them are crooks. How do you break any black market activity? Legalise it. Currently it is nigh-on impossible to come into Australia the ‘legit’ way. Make it easier. Bring people here not by boats, but with navy ships – we’re not using them for anything else, are we?

That’s probably it by now, don’t be surprised if I add a second part to this some time in the future.



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