A one-way Qantas flight from Darwin to Jakarta costs as little as $441. That’s worth bearing in mind as the federal government moves ahead with its woeful plan to release asylum seekers out of detention, expecting them to live on welfare payments of around $220 a week and denying them the right to work for up to FIVE YEARS.
State governments predict a “social catastrophe”; welfare groups say it will put enormous pressure on already over-stretched programs and resources; and Labor Left faction chief Doug Cameron warns of a new “underclass” if 8000 detainees are dumped into communities across Australia.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, however, maintains it’s all part of a “no advantage” regime that sends a strong message to prospective asylum seekers that they’ll be no better off if they jump genuine refugee queues and arrive by boat.
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Since August 13 the Government has been forced to pack almost all its asylum seeker deterrents into the rickety vessel called Off-Shore Processing. Today the Government had to acknowledge its policy craft had sunk.
Any discouragement of asylum seekers it might have carried has disappeared. In fact, the prospects for boat people look somewhat brighter. Nauru and Christmas Island have been overwhelmed by asylum seeker arrivals since August 13, and Manus Island in P-NG is only now open for business and soon will be full.
So Immigration Minister Chris Bowen today announced that two on-shore centre in Tasmania and Victoria would be re-opened as detention facilities and more asylum seekers would be sent into the general community.
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Julia Gillard must wonder what she has done to offend the political Gods.
How else could she explain that with unearthly regularity, every new policy she employs is followed by an event seemingly contrived to destroy it.
Even when, as in the case of this week’s backflip on asylum seekers, had she chosen the alternative, to do nothing, it would arguably have been worse.
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It is difficult to imagine that Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison will surrender his high political profile and undoubted effectiveness by signing on to the 22 Houston panel recommendations released yesterday.
The asylum seeker debate has been good for Mr Morrison and the Opposition, ranking with carbon pricing as an issue that has consistently rattled the Government.
This has ensured he is a Question Time constant, one of a handful of Opposition front benchers who regularly gets the nod to take on his ministerial opponent.
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The Houston report today gave Labor and the Liberals a joint starting point from which to roll the Greens, the only party totally opposed to off-shore processing of asylum seekers.
Voters want an end to the parliamentary trench warfare on asylum seeker management. They want something done about the increasing number of boat arrivals.
And today that possibility was presented in the 22 recommendations from the independent panel headed by former defence chief Angus Houston.
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The best offer Julia Gillard has had over the past three weeks was from Liberal Malcolm Turnbull. But she didn’t heed it and is now in even deeper trouble over asylum seekers.
Mr Turnbull opened the way for the Opposition and the Government to compromise on Nauru as a centre for the assessment of asylum seekers, a better version of the camp which operated under the John Howard government.
And if it didn’t work, the Gillard Government had the right, Mr Turnbull said, to close it down and go to a policy elsewhere. He cautioned the Prime Minister not to allow “her conception of the perfect to be the enemy of the good”. It was advice to bend a little to get something rather than nothing.
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When Tony Abbott visited the RSPCA in Canberra on Tuesday, one of the staff introduced him to a pet rat. “Wow!” said Abbott. “I suppose I should show professional respect to an animal like that, shouldn’t I?”
It was a good joke, equating rats and politicians. But by week’s end, most Australians probably thought it was unfair to the rodents. They certainly weren’t laughing. Our politicians brought contempt on themselves and on the institution of parliament. A number of them confessed to feeling shame as they headed off for their six week winter break.
After all the talk, all the tears, all the hand-wringing over the tragic deaths of asylum seeker at sea - nothing! Is it any wonder, as the Lowy Institute found in a recent survey, that Australians are losing faith in democracy, with only 60 per cent now believing it is preferable to other forms of government.
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It is possible to be so ideologically pure as to be useless, so fixed in your politics that your actions have the contrary effect to your stated intentions. That is the situation the Australian Greens find themselves in over border protection.
Their obstinate refusal to be even remotely pragmatic in their opposition to offshore processing has one obvious effect. It ensures that Australia will remain a beacon for asylum seekers, that the boats will continue to come, and more people will risk death. If you keep telling desperate people that they will be processed onshore, you turn their chances of landing into a deadly lottery.
I am not saying that out of any attempt to lay a guilt trip on the Greens. This debate over the past 48 hours has been more emotive and unpleasant than probably at any stage over the past few years – and it has never been particularly good. I am sure that the Greens are driven by a sense of compassion and humanitarianism. What I’m saying is that that sense is so strong that it blinds them to practical realities.
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As Labor and Coalition politicians wallow in a moral quagmire while failing to settle on the difficult issue of how to prevent boat people from risking their lives at sea, many people are asking: What is Indonesia is doing about it?
According to well-placed sources, about 300 displaced people or economic refugees arrive each week at Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta International Airport. They come in on one-way tickets from places like Dubai, New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur and they carry fake travel documents.
They speak no Indonesian, they have no job to go to and they move straight from the airport to a half-way house run by one of a number of people-smuggling syndicates with close links to Indonesian officials. But most do have cash lots of cash.
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A workable border security policy for responding to irregular maritime arrivals should not be this hard - but it has proven too much for a bitterly partisan parliament.
The nation’s legislators have been locked in a deadly embrace now for years on this subject - a fact only aggravated by the advent of minority government, the constant spectre of an election, and a Senate beholden to a minor party.
Correctly, the humane treatment of people arriving here by boat is seen as a clear moral issue. However, this fact has fuelled some of the most heated and unproductive arguments and obscured the practical dimensions of policy - such as the uncomfortable fact that well-intentioned liberal rules masquerading as compassion can actually wind up being the opposite.
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A serious, if unintended problem has emerged from the last changes the Parliament made to the Family Law Act.
The changes were designed to improve shared parenting, but the safety of the child was meant to take precedence.
However it seems the courts are interpreting the changed law to mean that the right of the non-custodial parent to know the child or children is of greater consideration than the safety of the child.
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