Australians ask their government for humane refugee treatment for Christmas

Labor’s little better… Latham might have been another story if he didn’t implode, but the party hasn’t really had much of a backbone since Keating. This is poll-driven policy steered by factional apparatchiks, and IMO will only end if the Labor party is democratised like the Liberal party (not they’re worth a damn).

I’d say there has been one other Labor leader that has had a backbone since Keating. A leader that was able to pass huge amounts of legistlation, negotiate through a very rough political climate and do a lot of good. Unfortunately she faced a lot of difficulties including: the most constantly negative opposition leader the country has ever seen; an incredibly hostile and low-brow press; an undermining ego-maniac ex-leader still in the party; more useless opinion polls than you could poke a stick at; and a party that couldn’t stop squabbling amongst themselves about said undermining leader and useless opinion polls. A real pity, I have a feeling that after the dust settles people will remember Julia Gillard much as they remember Whitlam.

Of course, on the issue of Asylum seekers she wasn’t much better than anyone else; but considering it was the Keating Government that introduced mandatory detention, we have to look back further to find a leader that can honestly claim they had a humane approach to the problem. Strangely that leader leads the party that is now pushing the least humane approach we’ve yet seen. Malcolm Fraser.

As long as asylum seekers continue to pay ridiculous sums to people smugglers for their journey, and more recently, baulk at the idea of being resettled somewhere safe that isn’t Australia, you are going to be fighting an uphill battle convincing many that they are not economic refugees.

Is it really that hard to fathom that someone might have both money, and valid concerns for their safety?

baulk at the idea of being resettled somewhere safe that isn't Australia

How would you feel as a Shiite Muslim being sent to Indonesia or Malaysia? What about if you were gay and being sent to Malaysia? Also, its worth remembering we’re not talking about “resettling” we’re talking about sending people to refugee camps in nations that aren’t actually signatories to the refugee convention…

An uphill battle indeed, people are mainly ignorant of the issues.


Not at all, but it does make a mockery of the idea of fairness and merit in the process of asylum.

Equally, is it so hard to fathom that a system that accepts entry without much criteria beyond the money paid to get on a boat is likely to attract everyone (worthy or not) with the money?

No, locking people up because they’ve arrived by boat, rather than by a
plane (which is how the vast majority of asylum seekers in Australia
arrive) makes a mockery of fairness and merit in our asylum seeker process.

I’ve never once argued that asylum claims should be automatically be
accepted, only that people should not be locked up in inhumane conditions,
or sent to where they are likely unsafe, etc; while their claims are
processed. Instead people should be processed in the community with
conditions on their temporary visas, like they were before 1992, and then
if their claim is found to be illegitimate they should be deported like any
other person that has overstayed or violated a visa.


Asylum seekers without documentation come to Australia by boat because airlines will not carry them. Any airline that brings anyone into Australia without a visa is fined heavily and faces the possibility of losing landing rights. Those arriving by boat come via countries that are not signatories or have significant exceptions to the UN Convention of the Status of Refugees and do not offer any chance of permanent re-settlement. (For example Turkey is a signatory but only offer protection to asylum seekers from European countries!)

Most asylum seekers however arrive in Australia by plane on visitor or study visas.

Australia gives permanent residency to around 12,000 refugees from UN refugee camps around the world each year but these are hand-picked going through a process similar to anyone wanting to migrate to Australia (around 25% of the population is not born in Australia) with points given for such things as skills, qualifications, English proficiency and willingness to resettle in smaller regional centers.

A further 8,000 permanent residencies each year are granted to people who applied for asylum within Australia after arriving by air with documentation and in other ‘humanitarian’ categories. But people arriving by boat without documentation are now termed ‘Irregular Maritime Arrivals’ (IMAs) and the policy has become that they will never be resettled in Australia. Instead they are sent for ‘processing’ (if unwilling to return to their country of origin) in either Nauru or Papua New Guinea - both signatories to the UN Convention but with no ability or plan to offer resettlement to those found to be genuine refugees. Previously in the early 1980s Australia gave permanent residency to around 100,000 refugees from Indochina (a high proportion of those arriving by boat without documentation) and in 1989 at the time of the Tienanmen Square massacre all Chinese students in Australia were given the opportunity to apply for permanent residency.

The current situation with the treatment of undocumented asylum seekers arriving by sea stems from:

Pressure on governments by the Immigration Department which like all bureaucracies likes things to be done according to its rules. If the Immigration Department had a persona it would be ‘anal retentive.’

A diversion from the high migration levels required by the business interests that have the largest say in running the country. Although immigration has led to Australia’s population having more than tripled since 1945 - it has never had significant popular support. All the concentration on a few thousands of ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ (IMAs) seeking asylum leaves little room for mention of the hundreds of thousands of permanent immigrants arriving each year.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s around ten percent of the vote went to a new nationalist anti-immigrant party, ‘One Nation’. The mainstream conservative parties assimilated the anti-immigrant policies of One Nation and applied them to asylum seekers arriving by boat. (One Nation is now extinct as a political force.) This then developed into a battle between the two major political groupings (conservatives and the trade union based, Labor Party) to see who could be ‘toughest’ on the IMAs.

To understand how this issue works politically in Australia you need to understand the national proclaimed value of the ‘fair go’. More than a century ago the concept of the ‘fair go’ led to such things as a legislated minimum ‘living’ wage for all (male) workers, 8 hour working days and many other social reforms. However the ‘fair go’ also means that nobody is entitled to something that you can’t have, which degenerates into a downward envy for those in the perceived social pecking order receiving something not deemed to be ‘fair’ (even if that something is to remedy injustice or disadvantage)’. Hence boat arrivals seeking asylum became “queue jumpers” and “illegals” (now officially).

The result is humanitarian disaster.


True, Gillard certainly deserves due credit in the face of constant Murdoch press vilification, what with her earlobes and accent featuring centre stage… I wanted her for PM before Rudd was even opposition leader. She was bloody great in opposition.

And yeah, Keating was a bloody champ, but some things he did sucked arse. Mandatory detention doesn’t gel too well with the Redfern address…

It’s hard to parse his motivation for instituting such injustice; Keating seemed to have too much decency, not to mention contempt for mugs, for pandering to the lowest common denominator to seem at all likely.

Run by racists certainly.

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