If Australians were embarrassed with our swim team’s efforts in the Olympic pool, a greater national shame awaits us with the looming reintroduction of offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Over the last six weeks a panel of experts, headed by former Defence Chief Angus Houston, met with various organisations around the country and from those meetings produced 22 recommendations for an ALP policy on asylum seekers, or rather ‘boat people.’  Amazingly Houston came out with the statement that, ‘There are very few new ideas in this arena,’ and sadly, that is exactly what the panel served to the Australian public.

Paris Aristotle, Angus Houston and Michael L’Estrange

Right from the first recommendation it is clear that something is amiss, ‘The Panel recommends… The application of a ‘no advantage’ principle to ensure that no benefit is gained through circumventing regular migration arrangements.’  Please tell me Houston et al, what the ‘advantage’ is coming to Australia by boat?  What is the advantage of fleeing the Taliban rather than al Shabaab or the Janjaweed?  What is the advantage of illegal and dangerous travel through Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, what is the advantage of leaky boat rides through the Indian Ocean, what is the advantage paying thousands of dollars to people smugglers, what is the advantage of mandatory detention, of mental health breakdown, of being a political football and of leaving your family behind to find safety only to be mistreated by those who are obligated to protect you?  Astonishingly, two sentences later the panel recommend ‘Adherence by Australia to its international obligations!’

Many of the further recommendations are impenetrable to the layman, due to the obfuscating language they use, language which has ‘regrettably’ – to borrow a polispeak favourite – infected modern English.  If anyone can tell me what recommendation 3 means (pictured below), I will gladly adorn a triangle hat with a ‘D’ on it.

What??? – The only piece of jargon missing is ‘moving forward.’

Essentially the report contains three key recommendations:

  • Offshore processing be reinstated, on Nauru and Manus Island – ‘as a matter of urgency,’ possibly code for political expediency?
  • Asylum seekers who arrive by boat and who are found to be refugees, should not be allowed access to family reunion through the Special Humanitarian Program – this is pure punishment for those who arrive by boat.
  • Increase Australia’s refugee intake to 20,000 – the one sparkle of light in an otherwise depressing report (although this number is still weighed against boat arrivals and Australia is the only country who does this)
PM Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen

Amid the torrent of Liberal chest beating, Labor back flipping and Green stubbornness in the Federal parliament today, making the Olympic Games already seem a distant memory, was the underlying and unspoken agreement between the two major parties that these recommendations will pass.

Predictions.

  • The boats will continue to arrive – when will Australia’s so called experts, politicians, media and general public wake up to the fact that domestic detention policy has such a minimal effect on boat arrivals as to be almost non existent?  Push factors far outweigh pull factors.  The only two guaranteed ways to stop people coming here by boat is if their country is safe or our country is worse.
  • We will see more women and children on boats – denying refugees the chance at family reunion simply because they arrived by boat is pure punishment and because of this more women and children will make the journey.  Furthermore, many more women and children will die en route to Australia and we will never know those full numbers.
  • If offshore processing is reintroduced, we will see an increase in detention times alongside in increase in mental health problems of those detained,any of who will be children.  If Nauru and Manus Island are reopened, we might as well wheel John Howard back into the Lodge because these are his cruel and inhumane policies exhumed.

If this is the best response Australia can come up with then we are in serious trouble.  If our leaders cannot produce humane, mature and sensible ideas to deal with asylum seekers who arrive by boat we have no right to call ourselves a ‘developed nation.’  Two years ago, Tanzania, a so called ‘developing country’ of more than 45 million people granted citizenship to 162,000 Burundian refugees – a gesture that leaves Australia’s attitude towards a few thousand boat arrivals in the dust.

Former PM Malcolm Fraser at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne

We may all be sick of hearing about ‘boat people’ and asylum seeker and detention, but until our leaders actually engage with the many ‘new ideas’ that really do exist, we cannot and will not ‘stop the boats.’

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