Southern Seas Comfort

To Hell In A Leaky Boat

Many an observer who are more in the humanitarian vein are going to disapprove, but I think Julia Gillard made the most exemplary decision of her time in office by backing off her Malaysian plan and giving into the ‘Nauru Option’.

Ms Gillard said the government’s urgency to reopen Nauru and consequently Manus Island was a bid to stay one step ahead of people smugglers who were looking to crowd people on boats while Parliament debated the necessary the legislation.
”I am concerned people smugglers might try to exploit this window,” she said. ”The sooner this is legislated the better.”
The Prime Minister said she was confident Nauru could be up and running within a month, albeit with temporary accommodations including tents.

One imagines it was a tough, humiliating, teeth-grinding call. She sure didn’t have a hand worth spit with which to play better; the game was up when the boats started sinking, with a hung parliament. The people were getting on boats quicker because they knew the ALP government faced electoral annihilation, and so wanted to get here sooner while the better PM was still in office. It’s ironic when your reputation for humanity invites such crises.

To quote the movie ‘Southern Comfort’, “sometimes it’s time to abandon principles and do what’s right.” That time was clearly upon us a month or so ago when all were up in arms. Of course in that movie, the guy who says the line goes on to blow up the hillbilly’s church.

We all know what the ideal situation should be in our heads, but when all our ideals are in such fierce competition, sometimes the noblest thing is to find the ground upon which to compromise. It is humane to find a way back to something sensible. Amazingly, both the Opposition Leader and the Greens tried to scramble for moral high ground and heaped condemnation on the Prime Minster (and really it’s not as if she isn’t deserving of some of that opprobrium, however…) but in many ways the dire necessity was the need to stop people getting on leaky boats.

I imagine those who want there to be no processing and visas handed out without questions, through to those who want on-shore processing would be appalled by this back down. I imagine the people who think their own xenophobia is some kind of justified position would rejoice in this change of tactic. My own view is that an ugly pragmatism is much more nobler than the crocodile-teared hypocrisy-fest grandstanding we have seen in recent weeks by the likes of Sarah Hanson-Young and Joe Hockey.

If this decision disgusts you, then I would urge you to consider that it is the a decision that is the sum total of the entire Australian polity, and for once, Julia Gillard’s only option as executive was to make the one call she did not want to make. That she took it, actually raises my estimation of her from what I previously made of her.

…But I’m still not voting for you Julia!

Thanks Malcolm, But You’re Not Helping

Malcolm Fraser thinks that the Pacific Solution is racist.

Speaking to the National Times over lunch at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in West Melbourne, Mr Fraser said that with it being proved how mandatory detention traumatises refugees under the Pacific Solution, it was even more inhumane to reintroduce it.

Mr Fraser said amendments to legislation allowing offshore processing of asylum seekers that will be put to Parliament this week would needlessly punish some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

”I think the impact will be tougher than Howard’s Pacific Solution because there is no time limit on how long people will be in these detention centres, it’s indefinite,” he said.

He said children held in detention would be worse off under the recommendations.

”The minister will no longer be guardian of children, so the convention on the rights of the child, which we’ve agreed to, suddenly means nothing.”
Mr Fraser said the amendments would not stop the boats and that more people would be at risk of drowning.

”The Liberals and others say that Howard stopped the boats, but if you look overall at what happened, the Taliban fell. The numbers of refugees going to Europe fell just as dramatically at the same time and no country in Europe had yet introduced the punitive measures that Australia introduced.”

Mr Fraser said the sensible alternative was to have large processing centres, in Malaysia or Indonesia, with the commitment that those recognised as genuine refugees would come to Australia.

Processing centres in Malaysia! Does Mr. Fraser even read the news? If such options were available, I’m sure the Prime Minister would have leapt at it.

Cruelty Thy Name Is Asylum Seeker Policy

Here’s another article, this time with the Refugee Advocates lambasting the move.

”All we have seen is a return to the cruelty and inhumanity of the policies of the past,” said Nick Riemer, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition. ”If the panel’s arrangements are implemented, refugees will suffer and languish in Nauru [and] Manus Island, just as they did under the Howard government.”

Mr Riemer said the panel wanted to ”shunt [asylum seekers] off to places in our region where they had no hope of living in safety”.
”The only place that can give refugees the security and support they need is Australia,” Mr Riemer said.

The panel’s support for offshore processing also drew the ire of human rights lawyer David Manne, who led the successful High Court challenge to the Malaysia plan, which was the government’s previously preferred policy.

I know Nick Riemer in passing. He’s a very nice fellow, well-read and well-spoken and well-meaning. Not to be mean about it, but I often wish Nick would read the things I have read about politics, whether it be deSade, Bataille, Machiavelli or Tacitus. He would have a very different view o the function of the state and how a polity can be viewed, and might not be so definitive in his accusations of cruelty. I’m positive Julia Gillard did not take this course of action out of a desire to inflict cruelty – she’s much too boring and unimaginative a human being for that kind of thing.

The fact of the matter is our polity taken as a whole is nowhere near as emotionally mature as Nick Riemer, and thus, more is the tragedy. That this solution might be the best we can do, is indeed the very picture of that tragedy.


Filed under General

2 responses to “Southern Seas Comfort

  1. jlownie

    It’s weird but my position on the boat people issue has shifted 180′ since about two years ago. Policies that discourage people from getting on boat are policies that save lives. I have nothing against the refugees and I am proud of the fact that my country does in fact offer sanctuary to so many people in desperate situations. And the safest way for them to come into the country (safest for them and for Australia) is through the conventional channels.

    – James

  2. I totally get that. I’m okay with the ugly lives if it’s going to save lives. I’m not okay with people banging on about principles even though it means lives will be put at risk.

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