11 July 2010

Australia, Asylum Seekers, and Offshore Processing...

Madam Prime Minister what is the time frame for this grand plan to develop and build an offshore processing center that is going to handle all these boat people flooding Australian shores? One would imagine considering the urgency with which the policy was announced that these facilities will be in place in the quickest possible time, yes?

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.

4 comments:

H. Nizam said...

Rob,
If I am not wrong most of the asylum seekers are from Afghanistan,a land locked country. And the best land route they can pass would be through Pakistan, or Iran.
Therefore, I thought it would be better to stop them from those countries.
Maybe because Pakistan is far much harder to deal with compared to Timor L'Este, Papua New Guinea, Nauru and perhaps Indonesia.
Just a thought.

Rob Baiton said...

@ Harry...

Interesting thought. My initial guess and response would be that it is too hard to try and stop potential asylum seekers and refugees in their home country. There are plenty who transit through other places way before they ever get on boats.

For example, there are plenty of Afghanis who make it to Indonesia and then board boats from there.

My personal view is that these individuals / families need to be processed closer to Australia. My personal preference is that if they make it to us here, then they are processed here.

I really do not see what we can do on Nauru that we cannot do onshore. It would seem to me that the 'fear' is that if they are processed onshore and then fall through the cracks in the system they will disappear into the community as illegal immigrants to never be found again. This, I think, is an irrational fear.

On another note. Anything that appears as a post on my blog that you want to repost or link to, feel free. You do not need to ask my permission. Just tell me if you do it, and where you repost, so that I can check it out. You never know, I might have to defend myself from some nasty comments or something ;)

umihoney said...

The problem of illegal immigrants disappearing into the community is very real. They are those that came in legally and turned illegal in due course. For some Australia maybe their initial destination..in the mean time they become the headache of the transit country.

Rob Baiton said...

@ Umihoney...

I am not saying that it does not happen or that the problem is not a real one. I am saying on the grand scale of things it is a minority of people that do disappear through the cracks, and that this does not necessarily mean that the appropriate response is to then process all asylum seekers and refugees in offshore facilities.

I do appreciate your point though :D