Thursday, October 15, 2009

The only issue the Libs agree on

Every so very rarely I think that Malcolm Turnbull might have been a decent Prime Minster if things had gone his way. Then he opens his mouth.

Today he has been doing his level best to sound like John Howard and Phillip Ruddock all rolled into one. He thinks the asylum seekers is a winning issue so he’s running with it. I have no doubt that he doesn’t believe a word of what he says (and you wonder how it is playing in his seat of Wentworth), but this is one issue he knows where the Liberal bread is buttered, and so he is falling into line – note he is falling into line, not the party doing what he as leader would want.

Today he came out with this (he was speaking on Allan Jones’s radio show – nothing like a friendly audience to prattle shite):

''(Mr Rudd) has unpicked a very carefully constructed fabric of policy that has enabled us to have protective borders and little or no illegal arrivals. We are now facing what looks like being the beginning of a flood. Almost 2,000 illegal arrivals under Mr Rudd's policy change meant the Christmas Island detention centre was full.

"He's created the impression we're a soft target and the people smugglers, as is abundantly evident, are using that as a marketing tool and we've had 2,000 arrivals, just under, since he's started softening the policies, and there's ... a lot more to come.”

later in the day he followed up with:

"It's all very well talking tough and describing people smugglers as vermin, we all agree that they are very bad criminals, but what's he going to do about it? But the answer is, so far, nothing."

So Australia’s “soft laws” are being used a marketing tool are they? Let’s see from an interview with the Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were on the boat turned back by the Indonesian navy on Tuesday if this is true:

GEOFF THOMPSON: But Australia was not the first and certain choice for these asylum seekers, simply the cheapest and easiest place to get to…

Clearly, what Rudd needs to do is move Australia east of New Zealand.

Bernard Keane in Crikey once more gives us some facts:

Of the current “surge” in arrivals, 48% are Afghans, and 36% are Sri Lankan. In short, events in Pakistan and Sri Lanka account for nearly 85% of the current increase.

So Sri Lanka where a civil war ended in May this year, and left hundreds of thousands of Tamils displaced, and Pakistan which… gee is anything bad going on there at the moment? It’s so bad there our cricket team won’t even travel there for a fortnight…

OK, so there’s a big push, but why Australia – too soft??  Err no. Keane explains:

Europe is the biggest destination for asylum seekers: 333,000 claims for asylum were made in Europe 2008, including 35,000 in France and 30,000 in the United Kingdom. The United States received just under 50,000 claims and Canada 35,000.

South Africa received 207 000 claims from asylum seekers.

In Australia in 2008, 4750 people sought asylum.

Why do asylum seekers head to Australia? Well, as the figures above show, they don’t.

Australia attracts disproportionately few asylum seekers, because you can’t get here in a truck, or walk here. But most asylum seekers head to neighbouring countries or countries in their own region, which means that, with about 5m in our own region, including 2-3m Afghans, Australia is on the menu of likely destinations, like it or not.

Evidence from the United Kingdom suggests family connections are also important in refugees’ choice of destination, and refugees from Commonwealth or former Commonwealth countries tend to head toward other Commonwealth countries because of historic ties and, possibly, language.

But the other driver is that they don’t have a lot of choice, and this applies regardless of how tough or loose Australia’s refugee assessment process is. Which countries in our region that have signed the UN Refugee Convention? The only ones are Australia, Cambodia, PNG and New Zealand. None of the ASEAN countries have.

Neither Cambodia nor PNG are in any state to take large numbers of refugees, and you can only get to New Zealand via Australia. Which leaves us. Malaysia is not merely not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, but is known for high levels of corruption, with asylum seekers fruitful sources of bribes and extortion under threat of deportation.

So it turns out, it’d be probably good for Rudd to take Australia out of the Commonwealth, and also remove us from the UN Refugee Convention.

The claim is often made by those on the right, that asylum seekers only come by boat, and that these are really “economic refugees” – ones who are just coming here to take advantage of our standard of living. Barnaby Joyce is one in this camp. Here’s what he said upon visiting Christmas Island two weeks ago:

‘‘No doubt there is a proportion who are refugees by dispossession and persecution. But a majority appeared to be economic migrants.
all the people he had seen ‘‘seem very happy here — which is a concern’’.

Just ponder for a moment the views of a Senator of this country who thinks is it bad that people who are under the care of Australian authorities are “happy”. Does he wish that they were starving? Does he want to see them suffer? Does he think a few ritual beatings would help spice things up? Would that make it less concerning?? What an astonishing thing to say. No wonder they are happy – they are alive after a journey from Pakistan or Sri Lanka undertaken by leaky boat, foot and more leaky boats.

The fact is those who come by boat are more likely to be genuine refugees than those who come the easy way by plane. As Keane notes:

Of asylum claims made within Australia by people who have arrived by aircraft, 55% are rejected. The rejection rate of claims made by people who arrive by boat varies between 2-15%.

But then the Liberal Party never cares about the ones who come by plane…

I would like Rudd to be less “tough talking”; – it smacks far too much of his trying to protect his right political flank.

And if he ever brings back temporary protection visas, or the pacific solution, or forces detainees to pay for their detention; well I think I’ll just give up and admit he might as well join the Liberal Party. But then again were he to do bring in those policies he’d be in disagreement with the Liberals. Because while they’re all too happy to say Rudd’s policies have failed, they don't actually have a policy themselves. Here’s the opposition’s Justice and Customs spokesperson, Sussan Ley yesterday on PM:

SUSSAN LEY: What the Government needs to do is to put in place policies that result in effective border protection which we clearly had in the previous government. If they are uncertain of the way forward, they need to hold the independent inquiry that we're calling for. I'm making the point that the Howard government's border protection policies worked. This Government's border protection policies do not work.

SABRA LANE: Let's get it absolutely clear here, you do want the reintroduction of temporary protection visas and the Pacific solution and the reintroduction of charging of fees for being in detention?

SUSSAN LEY: No, I make no specific calls on specific policies. What I say is that the Howard government's border protection policies were tough and that they worked and that the Rudd Government's do not.

SABRA LANE: When you say in your press release "it's time for Mr Rudd to reinstate the Coalition's successful border protection policies to stop the boats and restore integrity of Australia's borders", it's not conditional on any inquiry?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, the inquiry's certainly mentioned elsewhere and it's been mentioned continually by me and by the Opposition. It's time for Mr Rudd to reinstate measures that deal with this problem because he is in government and we are not.

Yep the Libs demand Rudd bring back a policy they won’t even say they will support, except they do support it, but not really, except that it worked, but it’s not their policy, but Rudd should adopt it because…


So my title is wrong – there are two issues the Libs can agree on. The first is that they should criticise Rudd on asylum seekers, and second is that they don’t actually have a policy on asylum seekers.

Yep a rabble.

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