Tonight I’m betting a few members of the Government are tonight feeling like needed an extra long shower after the grubby political move to suspend processing asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Today the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans suspended assessment of Sri Lankan asylum seekers for 3 months, and Afghanistan refugees for 6 months. The reason he and Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith gave was that circumstances in both countries had changed to the point where :
"As we speak we are witnessing in Sri Lanka, for the first time in two decades, a parliamentary election. In our view, again reflected by the UNHCR's own review processes, it is not now automatically the case that just because you are an Hazara Afghan that you automatically fall within the provisions of the convention."
The logic is bizarre. If the refugees do not meet the conditions of the asylum seeker provisions then they’re sent back (as normal), so if the conditions in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are getting better, then great, more will just be sent back because they won’t meet the criteria. The problem is that with the asylum seeker issue, logic has no role to play.
You see the Government could return every single asylum seeker who comes by boat, but that wouldn’t matter with the Opposition or the media. They are only concerned with numbers of boats. If a boat of 60 people arrives, then that is the figure that gets the big reports. You never here about how many – if any – from that boat are sent back. The media to be brutally honest doesn’t give a stuff – they didn’t report how many of the asylum seekers under Howard’s stupid “Pacific solution” ended up in Australia – (answer, most of them); all that got the reported was that it was the “Pacific solution”, because you see the solution was to stop boats – it had nothing to do with asylum seekers.
So too does this policy. Abbott can come out and say:
“This is an admission by the Government that it was always pull factors - not push factors - that was causing the flow of boats."
But I’m sorry Tony that is total bullshit. Push factors are still the cause, (as are the pull factors – the pull being Australia is a lot better place to live than Indonesia – hands up who would like that pull factor to be reversed?) but what the Government is trying to do is pretend the push factors are not there anymore. So suddenly the Government decide Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are all fine and dandy. Well, ok, let’s have a squiz at the Department of Foreign Affairs’ travel advice for both countries:
- We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Sri Lanka at this time because of the volatile security situation. Sri Lanka remains in a State of Emergency.
- While the conventional conflict in the north of the country between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has ended with the military defeat of the LTTE, there remains a high risk of politically motivated violence throughout the country. Travellers should exercise extreme caution and maintain a high level of personal security awareness.
- Attacks could occur at any time, anywhere in Sri Lanka. Military and government facilities have been the most common targets for attacks and should be avoided. Attacks have also occurred in crowded market areas and on public transport. You should avoid using public transport at all times and exercise a high level of caution close to train stations, bus stops and large public markets.
- Presidential elections were held on 26 January 2010 and Parliamentary elections have been called for 8 April 2010. Incidents of violence and protests associated with the election campaign have occurred since 26 January 2010, including protests in Colombo and other regional centres in response to the detention of defeated Presidential candidate, General (retd.) Sarath Fonseka. Police have used tear gas in response to some protests and injuries have occurred. You should avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent or be a target for politically motivated attacks.
- Curfews have previously been imposed following national elections. Australians in Sri Lanka should prepare for the possibility of curfews and other restrictions during the election period. You should ensure that you have at least several days supply of food, petrol, cash and medicines.
- We strongly advise you not to travel to Afghanistan because of the extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack. If you are in Afghanistan, you should consider leaving. Australians who decide to remain in Afghanistan should ensure that they have personal security measures in place and have contingency plans ready in case they need to suddenly leave the country. You should monitor local information sources for details about the safety and security environment.
- An international coalition has been conducting a military campaign to restore stability to Afghanistan since October 2001 against al-Qa'ida and Taliban operatives. The security situation throughout Afghanistan, particularly in the south of the country, remains extremely dangerous.
- Militants have intensified attacks in major cities and reporting indicates that further attacks are planned, including in March 2010.
- Serious terrorist incidents, including suicide bombings and other bomb attacks, occur regularly in Afghanistan, including in Kabul and Kandahar.
- Some attacks have used multiple, consecutive explosions. A large number of people, including civilian foreign nationals, have been killed. Many recent attacks have targeted international convoys. Australian soldiers have been killed and injured in roadside bomb attacks in Oruzgan Province. Insurgent attacks have increased dramatically over the past few months and continuing violence, including further suicide attacks, is expected. Attacks could occur anywhere, anytime.
- In February 2009, multiple suicide attacks on Afghan Government facilities in central Kabul, including the Justice and Education Ministries, killed and injured dozens of people. Further attacks are likely.
- Recent and credible reports indicate that terrorists may be planning to attack the Kabul International Airport. An attack could occur at any time.
Now look, I know safety is different for foreigners than it is for locals. But this advice isn’t about crime or gangs etc, it’s about politically motivated acts of violence – which means if you’re in the wrong group you may have reason to fear for your life, which means you may need to flee your home. Maybe, maybe not, but the travel advice doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement that all is safe and pleasant between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamils and certainly not in regards to life in Afghanistan.
The Government has justified the change in policy because the UNHCR is reviewing it’s advice on those two countries. In reality the UNHCR is regularly reviewing its advice on about 30 odd countries. The Government could have waited till the UNHCR changed its advice, but no instead it went first. Why?
To answer let’s have a look at two polls – the first by Essential Media, and the second by Roy Morgan. Both organisations are often derided by those on the right as being “ALP friendly”. For example, today’s latest Morgan Poll has the ALP ahead 58% to 42%.
Firstly, Essential Media on Monday released a poll which asked about asylum seekers:
Do you think the Federal Labor Government is too tough or too soft on asylum seekers or is it taking the right approach?
Sixty five percent. That is a big figure. A very big figure.
On Thursday, Morgan Poll released a poll which had this result:
Should asylum seekers arriving by boat be allowed to apply for immigration as now, or should they all be returned and told to apply through normal refugee channels?
Sixty four percent – another big figure and essentially the same as the above question – which can have you logically saying that nearly two thirds of Australians want a tough asylum seeker policy – tough to the point of being mean.
It’s a shameful figure – it reflects poorly on all those in power in Australia – the ALP, the Opposition and the media. The reason it reflects so poorly on these groups is because of the reasons behind the 65%. I wish the pollsters asked the people: “Why?” Is it because they think we are being swamped by asylum seekers? Well if so, then someone should explain the numbers to them. If it is because they think asylum seekers are jumping the queue, then someone should explain to them that there is no bloody queue.
You see I think mostly the reason for the 65% and 64%is ignorance of the facts – facts that have not been explained well enough by the Government, facts that haven’t been reported in the media, facts that have been twisted by the Opposition.
I refuse to believe that the majority of Australians think the way they do because they believe refugees will bring crime and murder and will change Australia into some Asian ghetto. I think this because Morgan also had this poll:
Do you think immigrants are changing Australia’s culture and way of life for better or for worse?”
I think we can leave that 32 percent to their reading of Andrew Bolt and listening to Ray Hadley.
Now it is all fine and dandy for us to say Rudd should stand up to the ignorant mob etc etc, and that he has done something shameful, but the point is he did stand up to the mob, and the figure is 65% against. Maybe he could have stood up to the mob better – you’ll get no argument from me on that – but the reality is it is 65% against. That is 65% against a policy that had bipartisan support when it was introduced in 2008 – although that bipartisan support lasted until Turnbull sold his soul and went down into the soft-on-border-protection gutter. Sixty five percent against a policy that is actually a good one – it treats refugees with dignity, got rid of the vile Temporary Protection Visas, and the idiotic “Pacific Solution”.
Sixty-five percent… The ALP had to do something, especially as Scott Morrison, former head of Tourism Australia and behind the “Where the Bloody Hell are you? campaign, is now head of the “Get your stinking bloody brown Fakir face off my land” campaign and wants nothing more than to make that 65% 100%.
The Government had to do something, because while people are against asylum seekers (who come by boat at any rate), and while they believe the ALP is “too soft”, when Essential Media asked which party was best to handle the issue, this was the result:
Which party would you trust most to handle the issue of asylum seekers?
That’s not a big difference on an issue that has 65% of people thinking the Government has got it wrong. It means that only just over half of the 65 percent in the “too soft” basket want the Libs to run it instead – a figure rather similar to the 34% who think immigrants make the country worse.
In other words, while it is an issue that has wounded the Government the wound was not haemorrhaging blood – in fact there are 51% who are either ambivalent, or still with the ALP, but who want something done a “bit tougher”. This policy at least forces the Opposition to say whether or not they agree with it – and they can’t be against it because it’s “too soft”. They can say Rudd is doing a political fix, but whenever an opposition says that, the real thing they are bitching about is that the Government has done something that the Opposition doesn’t really want to criticize.
And yes, there’ll be stories about Amnesty criticising them – or The Australian will say how the Government is being “attacked from both sides” (note to The Australian – reporting what your readers say in response to an article is not news). But the reality is the Liberals are condemning it only as “a political fix”: the key word is fix. This is a fix for the Government, those who are vehemently against it will have nowhere to go except the Greens, but in reality there’s only 6% of the electorate thinking the Government was “too tough”, and only 18% who though they were “taking the right approach”. The rude fact is the Government can afford to annoy those people on this.
I think the policy stinks, but it is good politics. Good politics because at his point in the election cycle it is better to appease the 51% who want something done a bit tougher (admittedly some of the 6% who think the policy is too tough, would be in the “No Difference” category) than to fight 65% who say you’re too soft.
That it is good politics should make anyone in the media who reports on asylum seekers pause (cf those journalists on twitter who seem to take delight in being the first to tweet the arrival of a new boat) they should ask themselves why the arrival of a piddly boat with 28 asylum seekers people is “news” – the reason: they like the Government and the Opposition pander to the 65%).
Sixty five percent… sixty four percent… with numbers that big, the blame can be shared, and it shouldn’t just be the members of the Government who should feel like taking an extra long showers tonight.