The Race To The Bottom

2 August 2013

Alternative title:  How Low Can We Get?

Apparently we in Australia have a “National Emergency”.  So bad, according to the Opposition, that if they win the next election, they’ll appoint a three-star military officer to deal with it.  It would appear that our borders have been compromised and we should all be quaking in our beds at night. 

Because about 20,000 people arrive here every year without proper “paperwork”. They’ve “jumped the queue”.  They get on boats to flee what horrors their lives hold and they try to get to Australia.  Incidentally about 98% I believe are assessed to be genuine refugees or asylum seekers.

Paperwork?  Take the Afghanis who fled here when the Taliban was running their country as an example.   Your average Afghani family I don’t suppose took much in the way of foreign holidays so wouldn’t have had any need for a passport.  They wanted to flee the country because of persecution by their Government.  They’re hardly likely to be able to go to that same Government and ask for the proper paperwork to enable them to do so.  And join a queue??  Neither Australia, the UK or the USA even had an embassy in Afghanistan then.   Where was this queue? They fled to Pakistan (now that IS a country with a refugee problem but we don’t seem to care about that. And Jordan?  They have a million plus people who’ve fled from Syria.)  From Pakistan they try to get to Indonesia where they aren’t allowed to work, their children can’t go to school and if they’re assessed as genuine refugees they can wait up to THIRTY YEARS to be relocated,

So they try to get to Australia.  In dreadful boats.  And they know they’re risking their lives because they know that others have died.  That is the risk they choose to take but Tony Abbott et al is saying that he’ll turn the boats around and tow them in the direction of Indonesia.  So their chances of dying at sea will then have doubled but this time their deaths would be on our conscience (or should be).

So Kevin Rudd comes along with an alternative.  All refugees and asylum seekers arriving here by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea to a detention centre.  If they’re assessed to be “genuine”, they can then live in the PNG community, ie they will NEVER be allowed into Australia.  I’m not a human rights lawyer, or any sort of lawyer, but I’ll be interested to hear what the courts make of that one.  Someone applies for refuge in Australia, their application is found to be valid, but we won’t let them into Australia.  We’ll just double the population of PNG.  John Howard said “We’ll decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”.  Don’t the people of PNG have that same right which their Government has now sold for presumably an awful lot of money?  Even unaccompanied children will be sent there – and bear in mind that some of these children weren’t unaccompanied when they set out on this journey.

The hypocrisy that’s being spouted about all this is breathtaking.  Both sides are saying that it’s because they’re concerned about the safety of these people.  If we take this hard line boats may stop coming and lives won’t be at risk.  If we were concerned about their safety, we would immediately remove them from the boats as soon as they’re spotted.  We WOULDN’T  turn them around and point them in the direction of Indonesia.  And presumably once they know that’s going to happen, the people on board will attempt to wreck their boat. 

I read a book recently written by a man who came to Australia as a child from Vietnam.  (Now there’s a success story of immigration to Australia – and they were mainly “illegals”).  A number of people died along the way.  Eventually they were spotted by a German tanker and the crew threw them an axe.  The language barrier meant that it took a while to understand what this was for.  They were being TOLD to wreck their boat so that legally the tanker HAD to pick them up and deliver them to safety.  

No we can’t take every refugee in the world who’d like to come here but we don’t have to treat them as pariahs, vilify them and dump them in a country whose human rights’ record isn’t exactly world-renowned.  Ironically these are probably the very people this country needs.  Not those who come here in search of more sunshine and a laid-back lifestyle but those who appreciate the freedoms that we can offer them and are determined to make a better life for their families.  In the same book I mentioned, the boy’s father constantly told his children that they owed a huge debt of gratitude to Australia which should be repaid by the work they did and the lives they led here. 

National Emergency?  I think that would be better used to describe the lives of the only people in Australia who AREN’T immigrants.  So many Aboriginal Australians live in conditions that resemble the townships and camps of Africa, they have little employment, they have major medical problems now that we’ve introduced them to our diet and “lifestyle” and the life expectancy of an Aboriginal man is 56 (yes, FIFTY SIX).  Now that’s an emergency.



  1. Wow. Just… you said it. Clearly and simply. Thanks.

  2. Really clear as M-H says, and (to me) pretty unarguable.

    You seem to have the same problem we do with both sides of party politics fighting for the lowest common denominator and assuming we as voters want this. depressing.

  3. I miss Julia

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