Monday, April 5, 2010

Big Australia; small minds

On Saturday Kevin Rudd announced that Tony Burke would take on the new role of Minister for Population. The announcement stated:

In his new role, Minister Burke will consider the likely trajectory of population growth and the challenges and opportunities this will create. Minister Burke will also be tasked with developing the cross government frameworks that will be required to make the most of the opportunities, and minimise the risks, associated with population growth. TonyBurke

Australia's first Population Strategy will consider the social and economic infrastructure Australia will need to support a growing population, including the roads, housing and service delivery network.

It will also consider, as an early priority, the opportunities a growing population will create for economic growth and to further develop and grow Australia's regional towns and communities. The policy will bring a whole-of-government perspective drawing on input from all portfolios.

The strategy will also seek to address the challenges associated with population growth, including the impact on the environment, water, and urban congestion.

The essential reason for the appointment as that as the intergenerational report has suggested Australia could be up to 36 million by 2050, there needs be be a hell of a lot of big thinking done on the issue, and we better start doing it now.

In response Tony Abbott in a door stop interview said this:

TONY ABBOTT: I probably should also say, because the Prime Minister has made an announcement about appointing a new Minister for Population, a few words on this subject. It’s very hard to have a population policy if you haven’t got a border protection policy. It’s very hard to have a sustainable population policy if you can’t control our borders, and I would suggest to the Prime Minister that if he is to be taken seriously on population he’s got to be taken seriously on border protection as well.

Yep, he goes straight onto the issue of asylum seekers. The journalists noticing this, bring him up on it:

QUESTION: Is this just a distraction from other issues like the health debate? We’re talking a tiny number of people, like 22,000 people in the past 35 years.

TONY ABBOTT: I think that when you’ve got three boats a week coming, when you’ve got significant numbers of people perishing at sea because they believe the siren song of the people smugglers, because the people smugglers again have a product thanks to changes that this Government has made, I don’t think anyone can be relaxed about this. I think that it’s impossible to be anything other than seriously concerned about this problem because a sovereign country must maintain control of its borders.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] appointing a Population Minister, though?

TONY ABBOTT: You can’t have a population policy without also having a border protection policy. If you can’t control your borders you can’t sustain your population.

Great credit to the journalist for pointing out the lack of numbers that have come to Australia by boat. Abbott’s response shows that he is nothing more than a small-minded scare mongerer. Just grasp this quote:

 You can’t have a population policy without also having a border protection policy. If you can’t control your borders you can’t sustain your population.

I doubt I have ever heard such a intellectually-bereft line spoken by the Leader of a major political party.

Obviously it’s the new Liberal Party slogan because Joe Hockey, in between doing nothing on economic policy, tweeted the following:

what an easter stunt kr [Kevein Rudd] appts a min for population.He is clearly worried about the boats issue!!

But we can pretty much ignore that because Hockey is an utter fool – the personification of an empty suit. Yes, that 22,000 boat people who have come to Australia over the last 35 years is about population. Sigh… That 22,000 which accounts for less than 0.1% of Australia's population. Let me say that again:


But it is obviously the Liberal Party’s official response because Glenn Milne, who clearly earns his pay at the moment by retyping Liberal Party media releases, wrote today:

Abbott and Morrison calculate that if Australians are concerned about Rudd's capacity to contain the flow of illegal migrants to Australia facilitated by people smugglers then they are justifiably going to have similar concerns about Rudd's unilateral declaration that a "Big Australia" of 36 million by 2050 is a good thing that a Labor government can confidently begin implementing.

The Coalition argument will be simple; if the government can't determine who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come how can they plan for a radical increase in population size with all the implications for infrastructure, water and transport planning such an increase involves? The botched insulation program will surely get a mention, too.

What utter shit. I mean, excuse me, but what utter, utter shit.

scottmorrison_narrowweb__300x365,0 Nothing gets me more angry than the way in which the Liberal Party and many elements of the media treat the asylum seeker issue. It is all about scare of the yellow peril. It is all completely racist in its intent. Here’s Scott Morrison:

"When the Coalition started calling for a population debate, the usual charges of racism followed. However, just like with border protection, this would be a dangerous assumption for Labor to make, let alone assert, as they have. If the Prime Minister continues to ignore this issue and tell Australians to just get used to his big Australia idea, it will not be long before he looks back fondly on the days when he only had to explain his border protection failures."

So to refute charges of racism, he links the population debate with border protection, why? What has 22,000 asylum seekers got to do with Australia’s population of 22.2 million? Answer – nothing, but he wants people to think the two are connected, because then he is able to scare people into thinking that if Australia get a population of 35 million there might be 12 million more migrants (probably asylum seekers!) walking around the streets. Or as the Courier Mail would put it “THEY’RE HERE!” (and they’re going shopping!!).

The Libs like to say the issues are linked because under Howard people became less worried about migration. The reason is the ALP does not use migration as a political wedge issue. The ALP in opposition does not try and talk up the terror of migrants or asylum seekers coming to Australia to take our jobs, or our houses and so the issue dies politically.

But the Liberal Party lives and breathes on that scare and hate mongering side of the political wheel.

Morrison also wheels out the usual bull about refugees should come to Australia only in a nice ordered manner:

Like the Coalition, the vast majority of Australians have no problem with accepting our fair share of refugees. They do, however, want to have a say about who comes and want them to apply off shore like everyone else who is seeking to come to Australia, including from refugee camps around the world.

Here’s is Dr Graham Thom of Amnesty on the process of applying off-shore:

There’s no such thing as a “queue”

Disappointingly, the term “queue jumper” is now so deeply entrenched in our nation’s vernacular that some Australian politicians use it interchangeably with the term “asylum seeker”.

Let me be clear and point out that two are not synonymous. In fact, the queue is a myth.

The resettlement of refugees through the offshore program is crucially important, and the right thing to do. However, it should be recognised that Australia does not have a legal obligation to operate this program. This ‘responsibility sharing’ or ‘burden sharing’ is something we do as a responsible member of the international community, to alleviate the disproportionate pressures placed on countries like Pakistan.

To be resettled in Australia under the offshore program you must either be referred by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or sponsored by someone already living here. If the person sponsoring you is not a family member, or, increasingly, an immediate family member, your chances of success are negligible.

To be referred by UNHCR you must first be allowed to register with UNHCR, then UNHCR must be in a position to be able to refer you to a resettlement country. Last year 75 per cent of all refugees resettled internationally had fled from two countries, Burma and Iraq.

For most refugee populations around the world the opportunities for resettlement, and even registration, are slim, and the future is bleak.

A number of countries in our region refuse to allow UNHCR to even register refugees.

For example, for the last 15 years Bangladesh has refused to allow Burmese refugees to register. Pakistan is now so dangerous UNHCR has had to restrict its operations and Australia’s access has also been severely curtailed. For refugees in these countries and many others, there is no queue.

He then mentions a very important point that is rarely raised by the media:

The origin of the notion of ‘queue jumping’, as Australians understand it in the current refugee debate, lies not in the fact that people living in refugee camps are more deserving of our protection, but in the fact that the previous Australian Government initiated a policy linking the onshore and offshore programs in a fixed quota system.

The linking of the two programs has had a number of very negative consequences. It has meant that an asylum seeker who is granted refugee status onshore is perceived as ‘taking’ a place from a humanitarian entrant offshore. This policy has pitted refugee communities in Australia against each other and created a perception in the Australian community that one refugee group is more deserving than another.

Sadly, it has also fundamentally compromised Australia’s international reputation as a rights-respecting country which recognises that individuals have a fundamental right to flee persecution and seek asylum.

Little wonder that Morrison writes that recent migrants are the ones most against asylum seekers coming by boat – they’re against it because they’re trying to get their own families in (remember the bit about refugees needing a sponsor). But can you imagine the reaction if Rudd delinked the two refugee quotas?

Of course you can – Abbott and Morrison would scream that Rudd has gone soft and given a green light to people smugglers, and the media would mostly go along for the ride. I can hear the talk back radio lines going mad already.

In the past week the best article on the issue in the media came vie Peter van Onselen – a writer I rarely agree with – he wrote in The Australian:

Some commentators point out the unfairness of boatpeople taking up the places of asylum-seekers who have done the right thing and taken refuge in UN-sponsored camps awaiting placement (as if there is always an orderly process for escaping persecution that should be followed).

If that is the concern that needs to be addressed, what's wrong with increasing the annual quota so boatpeople don't take places away from asylum-seekers waiting in camps? We are constantly being told that a big Australia is an important economic goal, so perhaps we could do with the small number of extra citizens. Despite the recent increase in boat arrivals that the opposition is determined to highlight for political advantage, many more people continue to arrive illegally by plane and far fewer of them turn out to be legitimate refugees.

Yet I don't see too many press releases from the opposition attacking this problem (probably because it has always been a problem, including when the Coalition was last in government). And let's not forget that right now Australia houses about 50,000 visa overstayers, mostly from the US, Britain and China.

But the political debate is centred on boatpeople, partly because it plays into people's (inaccurate) fears about hordes of arrivals from underdeveloped countries who threaten our way of life, and partly because opinion polls continue to show that most Australians oppose illegal immigration.

Van Onselen nails the issue – it is all about playing to the fears of people, it has nothing to do with reality. That Abbott, Hockey and Morrison straight away link the issue of population – which in reality is about infrastructure and sustainability of possibly 35 million people – with a minuscule number of boat people (the 4,500 people since 2008 accounts for 0.02% of the population) shows this in spades.

They should be condemned for their small mindedness and meanness.


Jaime [SWHHW] said...

I'd like to see a mainstream journo write a piece with half the common sense of this one.
But then, common sense doesn't sell quite like headlines screaming of queue jumpers, does it?

sawdustmick said...

Jesus Grog I think Abbott and Morrison are onto a winner here. Work it out 22000 divided by 35 equals 630 asylum seekers per year, why that is almost one train load of commuters travelling on the 7.10 am from Gosford to Sydney each morning.

With those sought of numbers no wonder people are crapping their pants, this is an invasion. Although if I am note mistaken are we not all descendants from Boat People.

Apu said...

I know this is off topic but..
Coverage in the US of the Barrier Reef accident.,-full-speed-ahead!

Anonymous said...

"They should be condemned for their small mindedness and meanness."

If the polls start at 56% to the elections they will.

Boy it's hard to be a Liberal these days, you just want to hide in shame.