Ahmed* was an unaccompanied 15 year Hazara boy when he reached Christmas Island on his second attempt in 2010. He would have been in the 800 the Government wanted to send to Malaysia as part of their human swap deal but for the High Court’s intervention.
Even now, almost two years later, his face clouds as he talks of that time of indecision on Christmas Island, the anguish and bitter disappointment of having reached safety to then be despatched again into the unknown. He is still marked by the cruelty of that proposal.
This cruelty is what both major parties want us to be known for throughout our region. South East Asia has the lowest density of Refugee Convention signatory countries. Australia was among the first to ratify this 60 years ago but very few of our neighbours have followed our example. The experience of the Pacific Solution showed that we are not going to be swamped with other countries’ offers of resettling refugees who have come to us for protection. We can’t have it all ways.
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Last weekend, a horrible thing happened, and something beautiful did too. First, we watched the terrible sequel to last year’s asylum boat tragedy on Christmas Island. 17 bodies, up to 90 feared dead.
Then, thousands of people across Australia went for a walk. From Perth to Sydney, Adelaide to Darwin, Hobart to Rockhampton, in Melbourne, Newcastle, Fremantle, Brisbane, Canberra, and Toowamba - they went for a stroll.
They walked through their cities, through their local parks, to gather and at local places of significance. They were migrants, they were refugees, they were international students.
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Someone, please, grant us the compassion to accept the genuine refugees, the courage to find the scammers, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Compassion and wisdom are thin on the ground in the latest asylum seeker scuffle, and too many keep confusing cruelty with courage.
Last week’s Four Corners report, which revealed that people smugglers – such as ‘Captain Emad’ – can sneak in and set up shop in Australia, has triggered the usual outpouring of bile from Haters Anonymous, ineffectual defensiveness from the Government, and a new Opposition policy.
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In a kooky swapsie deal, Australia and Malaysia entered into a “cooperative transfer agreement” on asylum seekers, only to have the deal trounced by the High Court.
Under the Malaysia Solution the next 800 asylum seekers to arrive in Australia would be shipped off to Malaysia to join the ‘queue’ there. In return Australia would take an extra 4000 refugees from Malaysia.
Refugee advocates were chuffed that we’d take extra refugees but dismayed at the idea of sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, where they were reportedly badly treated. Critics said it was both inhumane and ineffective, and many were pre-occupied by the maths of 800 for 4000.
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Welcome to the return of I Call Bullshit, a regular Punch column on all things that reek of magical thinking and mistruths, pseudoscience and spin.
So, riots, eh? Australia’s just a tinderbox of simmering tensions, waiting to explode into unconstrained groupthink violence, with much gnashing of teeth and smashing of Harvey Norman windows. If you believe everything you hear, you’d think that a flood of boatpeople will immediately flood detention centres then flood into the community causing floods of riots. Flood’s such a good word, isn’t it?
People would not be able to help themselves; all those men and women and children fleeing persecution would force their hand, and they would have to start stealing televisions. Be afraid. Grab the lifejackets!
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The Gillard Government’s legal miscalculation of its Malaysian enterprise will amplify Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s consistent theme that it is an administration which simply can’t get anything right.
It isn’t the first instance of clumsy handling of the asylum seeker debate and the political imperatives which are driving national attention on what is, essentially, a minor matter.
Against solid advice - including that of Kevin Rudd - the Government tried to get a detention centre deal with East Timor but had to limp away embarrassed from negotiations which were always destined to fail.
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The taut grimace on Chris Bowen’s babyish countenance said it all.
This was as tough a task as the widely respected Immigration Minister had confronted in politics. He admitted as much.
The High Court, the body with which one cannot quibble and from which there is no remedy, no higher court of appeal - even for a federal government - had cut down his Malaysian people-swap in the most cavalier fashion.
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In ruling the so-called ‘Malaysia Solution’ invalid, the High Court has delivered a spectacular blow to the beleaguered Gillard government in one of its most vulnerable policy areas – asylum seekers.
After an election in which the Opposition almost knocked off a first-term government on a platform that contained a promise to “stop the boats”, the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was tasked with devising a credible solution to the problem of unlawful arrivals by non-citizens.
The desperate need for new thinking from the government was only underscored by the tragic loss of life when a vessel carrying asylum seekers was wrecked off Christmas Island in December.
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