Lyall Mercer has been a consultant to members of the Nauru Parliament in the past, which has given him a unique insight into their thinking and convinced him that Nauru would have be a better answer to the current asylum seeker debacle.
Nauru is not the simplistic and utopian answer to all of Australia’s asylum seeker challenges, but there would be many advantages of setting up camp in this tiny island nation.
The Federal Government is being stubborn and offensively stupid by continuing to talk about Malaysia. Given their failed talks with East Timor and various other nations, they have no credibility left on this subject.
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The sinking of another asylum-seeker boat on its way to Australia, and the loss of life involved, should focus the minds of our politicians. The partisan point-scoring we have got used to on this issue must stop.
It is time for leaders of all parties to act like adults. If they are genuinely concerned by this human tragedy in the Indian Ocean, midway between Indonesia and Christmas Island, the Government and Opposition will now find a way to work together.
Each side will drop the insistence that “We’re right and you’re wrong”. They will seek common ground. They will find a bipartisan solution, even if it involves compromise and loss of face.
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The shocking loss of so many lives off the coast of Christmas Island is yet another appalling tragedy for people seeking freedom from persecution. It will cause great anxiety for people in Sri Lanka, in Australia and elsewhere who fear that relatives and friends are among those who have perished.
The accident will revive sad memories of previous tragedies, particularly for families in Australia who still don’t know the fate of their loved ones.
Inevitably, such a tragedy will also prompt debate about why asylum seekers would risk their lives in this way. From the comfort of their homes, many people in Australia may find it difficult to understand the level of despair that drives people to take these dangerous journeys.
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The tragedy of the deaths of scores of boat people on their way to Australia has exposed all parties to the charge they have abandoned the will and skill to address the asylum seeker issue.
The Government, the Opposition and the Greens have retreated to their political redoubts on the matter and a sullen impasse is preventing any serious bid to resolve what is a major humanitarian problem.
The drownings continue and this latest incident in which 90 people might have lost their lives could shake all three out of the stalemate. But the huge political investment in competing policies on boat people will make that difficult for them.
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A straightforward decision by the High Court: the government’s “Malaysian solution” was illegal. But that simple decision is surrounded by a kaleidoscope of complexities, conundrums and challenges. Julia Gillard has to find a way through the maze, and come out of it with a policy which will not cause key elements of her support base to rebel against her.
The maze is complex indeed. The Greens are demanding that all asylum seekers be vetted in Australia. This would be a massive “pull” factor, which goes against the oft-stated aim of the government to stop the boats.
But with the Greens holding a balance of power in the Senate, and one Green, Adam Bandt, holding the tenure of the government with his single vote in the House, there will have to be some real ducking and weaving.
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It is one of the most resonant phrases in our national mythology: “Lest we forget”. On November 11 each year and on Anzac day we say it or think it.
But forgetting lies at the heart of this country. We have constructed a myth about ourselves which cannot survive unless we forget some painful truths. A veil of comforting amnesia protects our vanity and the comfortable dream we have conjured for ourselves.
Since John Howard saw the votes to be had by appropriating some of Pauline Hanson’s racism, boat people have been tagged “illegals”. Howard won the 2001 election on it; Abbott persists in it. Gillard and Bowen go along with it, hesitating between decency and victory, but for their troubles are likely to be denied both.
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It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the general public finds itself dismayed and outraged about our live export industry, which transports our happy, healthy cows to deepest darkest Asia to meet a cruel and violent death, at the same time as our government is preparing to transport our refugees to the very same region and it’s only the Greens and the usual bleeding-heart refo activists that are arcing up.
This week, we heard Senator Sarah Hanson-Young hopes to thwart the Government’s plan to send refugees to Malaysia – where refugee treatment includes the occasional caning – by introducing an amendment to the Migration Act that will oblige Julia Gillard to seek the Parliament’s permission before sending refugees to a third country.
The opposition will support Hanson-Young out of sheer contrarianism rather than concern for human rights. But she’ll take her support where she can get it, since the tens of thousands who signed online petitions and wrote to their local members begging them to save our cows don’t seem to have much compassion left over for the human cargo.
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What is the Malaysian Solution?
The “Malaysian solution” refers to a policy recently announced by the Gillard Government whereby up to 800 asylum seekers trying to enter Australia will be sent to the back of the queue in Malaysia. In exchange, Malaysia will send 4000 genuine refugees to Australia over a four year period.
Is there a queue?
The notion of a queue has been criticised as an oversimplification. The number of displaced persons is vastly higher than the available resettlement places and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that operates the scheme does not have a presence in some of the most dangerous locations. Nevertheless, it is hoped that being sent to the back of a queue that doesn’t exist will act as an added deterrent.
I’ve heard that the refugees we get from South East Asia aren’t genuine
In fact they are on of the few things you can get in South East Asia that is. Curiously, thousands of Australians travel to South East Asia especially to get fake DVDs, fake designer jeans and fake sunglasses but when it comes to refugees we are sticklers for authenticity.
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