Monday, 27 July 2015

Submission to Brutality

So Labor has finally lined up with the Coalition in a craven act of bipartisan brutality.
Pragmatically, Labor didn't have much option, since that day of infamy, 29th August 2001, when a weak Prime Minister, sniffing the political wind with an election approaching (an election that he looked like losing) picked up the whiff of fear and loathing, and used it.

The politicisation of the issue, and exploitative refinements such as demonising vulnerable people and conflating fear of refugees with the great fear - terrorism, has fatally poisoned the debate.

Emotion has trumped reason, and any political party ignoring this situation is committing electoral suicide. Both major parties share blame. There is nothing that exposes their collective lack of leadership more starkly than this episode.

Amongst other historical absurdities such as excising our territory, our defence forces will continue to be misused doing the dirty work of the arch cowards in our political class. This political class puts expediency before humanity and has reduced itself to the level of the apparatchiks who were out and about in the days of the Third Reich.

Let's face it - a detention centre is a concentration camp under another name. About the only material difference is that Australian detention centres (they are Australian, whether in PNG or on Manus) don't have gas chambers attached.

The refugee debate post Tampa has become one of the most shameful episodes in Australian history. My country has gone from a point where it was a bastion of compassion and humanity to what is effectively a civil rights backwater in the short space of fourteen years.

It did not have to be so.

Wind the clock back to 1975, and the fall of Saigon. This event was the trigger for one of the greatest exodus of refugees in the history of our part of the world. Between 1978 and the late eighties, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people arrived in refugee camps in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

The boat people comprised only part of the Vietnamese resettled abroad from 1975 until the end of the twentieth century. A total of more than 1.6 million Vietnamese were resettled between 1975 and 1997. Of that number more than 700,000 were boat people; the remaining 900,000 were resettled under the Orderly Departure Program or in China or Malaysia.

The Geneva Conference of June 1989 produced the Comprehensive Plan of Action, which, over time, saw the ordered settlement of the bulk of these refugees, many of whom went on to become valued citizens of their adopted countries. Australia took 130000. Countries involved included Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

This multinational conference was an example of international cooperation, free of the tyranny of national politics, driven only by compassion, and provides a template for the humane management of similar migrations since. It was people of the calibre of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (sadly assassinated in Iraq in 2003), who had the courage, drive and wisdom to pursue the international agreements.

Perhaps the absence of individuals with his vision and intellect in our national political scene  is responsible for the squalid mess that has become refugee policy in Australia.

Forty years ago, we had a bi-partisan approach to asylum seekers during which we settled Vietnamese here. Now we ship them back to be exposed to whatever tyranny awaits.

That's progress?

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