A couple things happened today – Malcolm Turnbull announced the Liberal Party asylum seeker “policy”, and Alexander Downer gave us an insight into what the Howard Government policy on asylum seekers really was.
First let’s look at the policy. For a start you know it’s a complete crock because of two things. First its title: Coalition's strong stand on border protection. That is this has nothing to do with policy, and everything to do with politics; Turnbull wants to appear strong. Second, while releasing the policy, Turnbull announced that further details about the policy would be announced closer to the next election. Which means, this isn’t a policy, it’s a media release – a policy is something that has been researched, surveyed, consulted and arrived at. This “policy” didn’t even get canvassed through the Liberal Party room. But hey, let’s have a look anyway. It consists of four bullet points:
1.We will once again secure our borders. Our aim is to stamp out people smuggling and effectively deter unauthorised arrivals while at the same time treating refugees compassionately in accordance with our obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees.
Great, one quarter of the policy is meaningless words that contain nothing but a platitude – in fact Turnbull wouldn’t even be able to argue this is different from the ALP policy.
2.All processing offshore. We will ensure that unauthorised arrivals seeking asylum are intercepted and processed offshore at Christmas Island, not on the Australian mainland as Mr Rudd is preparing to do.
Err, well this is the ALP policy as well. In fact as Rudd pointed out on 2UE, since Rudd has been elected only one boat has reached the mainland, and every other boat has been processed on Christmas Island… Hmmm you’re not doing well Malcolm; we’re half way through and so far you agree with Kevin Rudd.
3.A non-permanent visa for unauthorised arrivals. We will introduce a non-permanent visa for asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation. Asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation will be granted this safe haven visa rather than Labor’s permanent residency. It will be reassessed after a specific period not longer than three years, and if they are found to be in need of continued protection they will then be eligible for permanent residency. If they are found not to be in need of such protection, they will be returned to their country of origin.
Here we go – the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas, although under the weird name of “Safe Haven Visas”, which is about as Orwellian as you can get. Safe Haven??? That actually sounds like something you would want to get – in fact it sounds like something you would sell to asylum seekers –“Come on down to Australia and we’ll give you a Safe Haven Visa!!” Oh yes please, put me down for one!
But what it amounts to is a return of the TPVs that didn’t work under Howard. How do we know they didn’t work? Well they were introduced in 1999, and yet the arrivals of boat people skyrocketed in 2000 and 2001. And why would they deter boat people? The big thing about TPV is that if you hold one you can’t apply for your family to come and join you in Australia. So if you were the father with 2 kids, what this policy encourages is for you to actually bring your whole family on a leaky boat, rather than you just brave the trip on your own.
How do we know this? Because that is what happened after the TPVs were introduced in 1999. As Sue Hoffmann wrote in May this year;
Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) were also introduced as a deterrent but targeted at asylum seekers rather than people-smugglers. TPVs illustrate how poorly-conceived government policy can have dire consequences. They denied access to family reunion programs, which led to increasing numbers of women and children turning to people-smugglers. TPVs were the reason why hundreds of women and children were on board the SIEV X boat when it sank, claiming 353 lives.
So good policy there Malcolm, you introduce a visa which denies asylum seekers anything but the merest amount of welfare (ie enough to keep them alive… how gracious of us) but which also encourages the whole family of asylum seekers to come. Well done Malcolm, in one fell swoop you have trashed any semblance of the moderate compassionate Liberal you tried to sell yourself as. The Liberal Senator Judith Troeth and MP Petro Georgiou came out straight away with their views:
Liberal backbencher Senator Judith Troeth has told The World Today the visa inflicts mental anguish on asylum seekers and is a backward step for Coalition policy. "I'm sad and disappointed that we're going back to that style of visa because I believe it punishes the victims of people smuggling and not the perpetrators," she said. Fellow backbencher Petro Georgiou has also said that any return to a temporary visa is a "cruel response to legitimate refugees".
At least Turnbull has proved to us all there is not depth to which he will not stoop.
Ok, let’s see the fourth bullet point:
4.A compassionate and fair refugee and humanitarian program. A Turnbull Government will maintain Australia’s substantial humanitarian program for refugees who come to Australia through legitimate processes. This intake will always favour those most in need.
Oh geez. More waffle. So the policy is three quarters waffle that everyone in the world agrees with (and which is also ALP policy), and the other one quarter is bringing back a visa policy that didn’t work last time it was tried. So much for Sharman Stone’s “suite of measures”.
Now let’s move on to Alexander Downer’s words of insight. He was interviewed by Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast. In it he said his usual platitudes about how great the Howard Government policy was, but then he let slip what the real “solution” on the Howard Government was:
The other thing we did, which we did more sotto voce was to tow the boats – I must say this is not something that has generated much publicity recently in Australia – we used to get the Navy not to guide the boats into the Australian shore line what we did was [laughs] we got the navy to tow the boats back to the Indonesian territorial waters, left the boats with enough fuel, food and so on to get to a port in Indonesia – guided them where to go – and them left them.
Obviously monitored them to make sure the boat was safe but disappeared over the horizon. And this worked very effectively, but we did this without any publicity, we didn’t run around boasting that we were doing this because we knew the Indonesian accepted these people back through gritted teeth. But what the present government has done is in a way is what we did over the Tampa make too much noise publicly, back the Indonesians into a corner and so then the Indonesians said they wouldn’t take the people, just as they wouldn’t take the people from the Tampa.
Sotto voce – code for “we did this without the media finding out”. A couple months back the media was reporting on how many boats were intending to come to Australia, and yet back then the media seemed to be unaware that boats had made it to Australia and were be turned around! How many boats? How many people were on these boats? Did all the boats make it safely back to shore once they were “over the horizon”? Just a few questions, I wouldn’t mind being answered…
But the interesting bit about what Downer has revealed is that it highlights that neither the Pacific Solution, nor the TPVs, nor any other policy the Howard Government introduced stopped the boats. In fact they didn’t stop the boats, what they did was turn the boats around. What Downer has revealed is that the “pull” factors were irrelevant. It didn’t matter what policy Howard and Downer and Ruddock introduced, the boats still kept coming. All that Howard and Downer and Ruddock did was turn them around and dump them on Indonesia (geez no wonder they haven’t been all that helpful with the Oceanic Viking!).
But that’s not a solution. That’s like saying you stopped drunken behaviour because you stopped drunks drinking in your pub, by leading them into the pub next door.
So now we know, everything Howard and Downer and Ruddock and Turnbull and Stone and Co have said is for total bull. Putting refugees into detention, putting them on Nauru, bringing in TPVs etc etc etc, were all just window dressing for the Australian public. Howard’s actual policy was to fob it off on to Indonesia, and presumably then put his fingers in his ears and yell “nah nah nah I’m not listening!!!”.
Yeah, that’s great leadership, the kind to make you feel proud to be Australian. Proud that we voted them out of office that is.