11 July 2010
Australia, Asylum Seekers, and Offshore Processing...
Excuse the cynicism. But, for all the fanfare of the announcement of the regional processing center supposedly destined for Timor Leste, and then Papua New Guinea, and then Timor Leste again, and perhaps for any regional nation willing to take it on, this policy, if it is such a thing, is half-baked and destined to disappear into the great depths like many suspect that the leaky boats bringing asylum seekers to these shores do.
The Timor and Papuan solutions have both been rejected by the powers that be in both of those sovereign nations. Yet, despite these rejections the PM is still pushing the policy and hoping that courtesy meetings with the Timor Leste government will bear some fruit and perhaps a processing center. Maybe it will, but it will be on the terms of the East Timorese and not the Australian government who seemingly seriously miscalculated the good will that the East Timorese were going to show on this one.
The government is not setting a very explicit timetable for completion on this one. It is being described as important and ongoing. It is also being described as a problem without a "quick fix". This must surely be read as meaning that the timetable for a processing center is dependent more on our regional neighbours than it is on the ability of Ms. Gillard and her cabinet to foist this onto them no matter what.
This all brings the obvious comparisons to the fore. Of particular note is the speed with which John Howard and his band of merry asylum seeker movers were able to negotiate a "compromise" with Nauru and then get a processing center up and running there. The comparison does no favours to the current PM and her band of merry followers when the numbers are put forward. The current number seems to be 2013. In contrast, the Liberal government got their center in just on a month.
The ABC are reporting that the FM, Stephen Smith, is off to Jakarta this week for a meeting or two. It is also suggested that the regional processing facility is going to be on the agenda. Smith, himself, has stated that the Indonesians were informed of the PM's intention to make the big offshore processing center announcement before it was actually made. Now, if this is true, then it beggars belief that all the press to date suggests that the Australian government did not get around to telling Xanana Gusmao, the Timor Leste Prime Minister, that the big announcement was imminent. Further, judging by the reaction of a good number of Timor Leste politicians it would seem equally evident that the Australian government did not think them worthy of a heads up either.
It appears that the number crunchers at Labor party headquarters have determined that Australians want a hard-nosed approach to asylum seekers that includes making sure that they stay offshore and are processed offshore. Ostensibly this is supposed to be a deterrent to people smugglers. However, it is not the people smugglers that need deterring, it is the people seeking asylum and refugee status that need deterring. If you are fleeing violence and persecution or possible death, then an offshore processing facility is hardly a deterrent. At best it is an additional step to a better life, and at worst it is a temporary reprieve before being sent back to wherever it is that person came from.
Personally, I think the number crunchers are over-estimating the emotions of the broader community on this one. Australians are about fairness and doing what is right. Ask them and they will tell you that they have serious reservations about putting children and women behind bars and razor wire while they are in detention, often for months and years.
Maybe it is time Labor took the high moral ground on this issue and stumped up a policy that is significantly different from that of the opposition. Come to think of it, anything that was even slightly humanitarian in nature would be a vast improvement over what is on offer from the opposition.
Asylum seekers are not our problem, politicians are.