Saturday, 2 January 2010
Sanity in Retrospect
Mike Steketee writes in today’s Australian on the topic of refugees.
Towards the end of his article he compares the Fraser government's approach to the arrival of boat people in the seventies to that applying in the current political climate -
A few factors worked in Fraser's favour. One was the sentiment that Australia had a moral obligation to help the victims of a war in which we had fought. It was an argument he put forcefully, together with his admiration for the refugees. "If you embrace a positive view and embrace the courage of the people who are prepared to try and get a better life for themselves and their families, I think the political pressure starts to diminish," he says.
The contrast, of course, is with the Howard government, which pandered to the fear following 9/11 that Iraqis and Afghans fleeing by boat included terrorists (ASIO did not reject a single person on these grounds). Yet Australia's moral obligation was as strong as that following the Vietnam war: the refugees were fleeing Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, who the Howard government thought sufficiently reprehensible to wage war against. But the government never put the argument.
The key factor in resolving the issue in the 70s was an international agreement that stemmed the flow from Vietnam but allowed large numbers of refugees to go to Western countries. Such co-operation, combined with humane treatment of asylum-seekers, is the best way to cut boat arrivals.
Fraser is also quoted in yesterday’s Canberra Times -
''It demeans Australia to be having a purely political argument on this subject. When I was prime minister, Gough [Whitlam] initially opposed accepting Indo-Chinese refugees but then he changed his position and we had a bipartisan agreement,'' Mr Fraser said.
''Turning the boats back is pure Hansonism, you could well ask what has happened to the Liberal Party. Abbott said he would consult, implying Turnbull didn't, but he has announced this policy and I doubt he had a cabinet meeting before announcing it.''
I’ve blogged on this before. The tragic outcome of Howard’s behaviour in 2001 is that the issue has been appropriated by the merchants of hate. It’s interesting to look back to what was a more enlightened time.
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