And so it came to pass that the ALP reached that ever hoped for position on asylum seekers where it has come up with a policy that had Andrew Bolt thinking it had merit.
Oh joy. Oh rapture.
Today was not a good day for Australian politics.
It started yesterday when the PM announced a new policy on asylum seekers that involved us sending to Malaysia 800 arrivals by boat, and us in turn taking 4,000 refugees. Officially the policy is thus:
Prime Ministers Najib and Gillard have agreed that core elements of this bilateral arrangement will include:
- 800 irregular maritime arrivals, who arrive in Australia after the date of effect of the arrangement, will be transferred to Malaysia for refugee status determination;
- in return, over four years, Australia will resettle 4000 refugees already currently residing in Malaysia;
- transferees will not receive any preferential treatment over asylum seekers already in Malaysia;
- transferees will be provided with the opportunity to have their asylum claims considered and those in need of international protection will not be refouled;
- transferees will be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards; and
- Australia will fully fund the arrangement.
Australia and Malaysia are working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to operationalise the arrangement.
OK. Firstly – “operationalise”. Really?
Now the good part – taking an additional 4,000 refugees (even if it is over four years) is a very good thing. Big applause from most with any sense of decency (yeah, don’t worry we’ll get to the opposition soon enough).
|Humanitarian Program grants by category 2004–05 to 2009–10|
|Special Humanitarian (offshore)||6585||6736||5183||4795||4511||3233|
|Temporary Humanitarian Concern||17||14||38||84||5||-|
|Total||13 178||14 144||13 017||13 014||13 507||13 770|
As you can see last year we took in 6003 refugees. So even an increase of 1,000 per year is a 17 per cent increase. Excellent.
But clearly while this is great news for the 4,000, it is pretty horrid news for the 800. The big point being that Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Quite quickly it was pointed out (obviously by Tony Abbott) that neither is Nauru and thus the Government is being rather hypocritical on this issue. And I have to say it’s bloody hard to think how they are not.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen addressed this on AM this morning:
SABRA LANE: Malaysia isn't a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. That's been this Government's reasoning behind not opening Nauru. Why is Malaysia acceptable and Nauru is not?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well we're talking about very different propositions is the first point.
Secondly Malaysia as part of this agreement has agreed not to return anybody that we send to Malaysia who is in need of international protection to a country that they are fleeing persecution from, and that is the fundamental tenet of the Refugees Convention.
Now, I’ll agree we are talking a different proposition. Sending asylum seekers to Nauru is just a weigh station for them coming here – 61% of those who went off to the Pacific there under Howard and who were deemed to be legitimate refugees ended up here, and the rest went to other countries including New Zealand. Doubtful that it would be a deterrent anymore (now that the facts of the Pacific “solution” are known)
Also Nauru has no asylum seeker problem so there would be no increase in refugees (which as I have stated, I think is a good thing).
Make that: but.
What of the welfare of the 800 asylum seekers going to Malaysia?
SABRA LANE: How will you ensure that detainees sent to Malaysia are treated humanely?
CHRIS BOWEN: Firstly the prime minister of Malaysia has given a very firm commitment in his joint statement with the Prime Minister of Australia that asylum seekers in Malaysia that are sent by Australia will be treated with dignity and respect.
Now we will have of course a relevant oversight with the Malaysian government, with the UNHCR and IOM (International Organisation for Migration) and potentially with non-government organisations based in both Australia and Malaysia to monitor its implementation.
That's something we've been discussing with the Malaysian government for some time and that would form part of the ongoing discussions in coming weeks.
SABRA LANE: Can you give personal assurances or you're leaving it up to the UNHCR?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well as I say the Australian Government has negotiated an arrangement with Malaysia where Malaysia has very clearly indicated that asylum seekers will be treated with dignity and respect.
Oh good. The Malaysian Government has given us their word.
Let’s have quick squiz at some of the Malaysian Government practices with regards to refugees in the recent past:
In March , the Prisons Department handed over 11 immigration centers to the Immigration Department. People's Volunteer Corps (RELA) with its 480,000 volunteers became in charge of management of these centers.
Abuses by RELA continued during the year, with reports of rape, beatings, extortion, theft, and destroying UNHCR documents. RELA raided and burned to the ground the camp of 75 Chin refugees from Myanmar in January. They detained 23 of the refugees, and took everything of value in the camp, including cell phones, crafts made for sale, and money.
On April 21, detainees at Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre rioted, during which an administration building caught fire. Although Malaysian media reported the riot began when 60 Myanmarese detainees were rejected for resettlement to third countries, the incident actually began on April 20 when immigration officers beat nine detainees … while interrogating them about a cigarette butt and tobacco found in the detention center. Immigration officers eventually returned the Myanmarese to their cells after they denied smoking, but continued to beat the other three detainees. When the Pakistani crawled out of the room where he was beaten foaming at the mouth…
RELA officials arrested 14 detainees… for possession of dangerous weapons and creating mischief by fire or explosives. Two of the arrested reported being beaten and burned with cigarettes as they were driven away from the detention center.
Warms you heart doesn’t it…
This is who we are dealing with.
Now there are glimmers of hope in the policy due to the inclusion of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In fact the UNHCR’s response was not entirely negative – though certainly not deserving of this headline from the ABC:
UNHCR welcomes Malaysia refugee deal
Very cautiously optimistic is a better indication of, UNHCR representative, Richard Towle’s response:
"We need to look at the details of how people will be treated and the various rights and entitlements and conditions for them when they go back there
"But most of the world's refugees are today living in countries that haven't signed the Refugee Convention so the fact that you haven't signed the convention doesn't mean that you're not treated properly.
"Having said that, it is important to identify the core protection safeguards that we would like to see in any return arrangement."
"The core [requirement] which I think everybody agrees on and that's what we call the principle of non-refoulement, that's non-expulsion of asylum seekers and refugees out of the country to face persecution," he said.
The UNHCR points to perhaps the best aspect one can point to of this policy with regards asylum seekers:
Mr Towle says the scheme has the potential to improve the way the region manages refugee flows.
"I think it's very important that this agreement is appropriately monitored and is seen to deliver not only outcomes for governments in terms of dealing with human smuggling and trafficking movements but also is seen to deliver improved protection for people in the region," he said
"I think in that sense it has the potential to... make a significant practical contribution to what we're trying to achieve in the region.
"And if it's a good experience other countries can look at it and say 'yes, that's a positive way of managing these issues. Perhaps we want to embark on similar or other initiatives under a regional cooperation framework'."
Now yes that would be good, and is actually the outcome hoped for by the Government's Regional Policy – but geez, this is Realpolitik at its most ugly. This is seen not just in the policy (which as the UNHCR does have some small glimmers of light) but in the “tough talk” of Bowen and Gillard.
“If people think that the situation for asylum-seekers in Malaysia is difficult, they should endorse the fact that Australia is taking 4000 out (over) the next four years. “There's a lot of focus on the 800 we send and that's perfectly appropriate. “But let's not forget the 92,000 currently in Malaysia (in camps). We take 4000 people and resettle them in Australia and that's a good humanitarian outcome.”
Err yes – the reason we’re worried about the 800 is because the situation for asylum-seekers in Malaysia is “difficult” (though I’d probably use a stronger phrase for getting beaten or burned with cigarette butts). The utilitarian nature of bugger the 800, focus on the 4,000 is pretty stomach churning.
Then the PM (not her finest day, and surely not what she entered politics to find herself saying):
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) what would happen when the next boat arrives and there’s children on that boat. What rules have you set up for sending children back to Malaysia?
PM: Well, as you’ve seen from what we’ve announced so far, there is a commitment between me and the Malaysian Prime Minister to finalise an agreement for 800 people who seek to come to Australia by boat to go to Malaysia. We’ll obviously announce full details of all of this arrangement when the agreement is finalised, but we are intending to take a fairly tough approach – a tough approach to ensuring that we send a message to people smugglers right up the pipeline, that the can no longer say to people that they can get them to Australia. If you get on a boat, then the risk you run is that you end up in Malaysia, and I’m not going to put any conditions or caveats on that.
JOURNALIST: Will they be forcibly removed, if necessary?
PM: Well, as the Minister for Immigration said when he went with me to the press conference on Saturday, this is tough policy, and yes, we expect resistance, we expect protests, and no-one should doubt our determination to get this done.
So it’s a tough policy, that may involve sending children to a country that in the past has done this (again via the UNHCR):
Malaysian immigration officials continued to sell deportees to gangs of traffickers operating along the Thailand-Malaysia border. The gangs paid from $250 to $500 per deportee. The traffickers demanded fees of 1,400 to 3,000 ringgit (about $400 to $860) to smuggle the deportees back into Malaysia. They typically sold those who could not pay (perhaps 20 percent), the men onto fishing boats, the women into brothels, and the children to gangs that exploit child beggars.
I’d be hoping for some damn good oversight from the UNHCR of the 800. Will there be?
Senator Cameron, who tackled Ms Gillard on the issue at today's caucus meeting, said he'd come to see it as an “innovative” solution after detailed briefings.“I think that this has a positive approach in that we will be taking more refugees and people who need help,” the NSW senator told The Australian Online.
“We will be engaging with the UNHCR. And as I understand this is the first time the UNHCR have engaged at a formal level with the Malaysian government, which I think is positive.”
Geez, that must have been some persuasive briefing.
For mine, that the 800 are in Malaysia is irrelevant – Australia will have sent them there, which I believe means we have some moral responsibility over their welfare – and at the very least to make damn sure the UNHCR has not only oversight of them but also better access to other detention centres in Malaysia. If we don’t at the very, very least get that, then for me the deal is pretty much without defence.
Sure 4,000 extra refugees coming here is great. But if that comes at the cost of some asylum seeker in Malaysia getting beaten, or some child being sold to gangs, do we really want any part of it? I don’t.
So the test for Bowen is to make sure that when the dotted line is signed, we ain’t just a wishin’ and a hopin’ that all will be safe for the 800.
We should be bloody sure it will be, and bloody sure that we’ll be able to find out if that is the case. And a bit more as well…
And so to the Opposition. Now the ALP has announced a policy that is so damn “tough” that Andrew Bolt sees merit in it:
Here were Bolt’s first four questions to Abbott on his show on Sunday (and no, for those interested, I didn’t watch it):
- Opposition Leader Tony Abbott now joins us. Tony, what do you think – sending 800 of our boat people to Malaysia, taking 4,000 of theirs back. Is this so crazy it might work?
- But it might work. It might just work. If you are a boat person in Indonesia you might think twice about coming if you are going to end up back in Malaysia.
- But it’s got the Nauru bit though hasn’t it, in the sense of it’s sending 800 of our boat people to Malaysia, or not Nauru to Malaysia. That bit you’d support, wouldn’t you?
- But it hardly matters whether it’s sending to Nauru or sending it to Malaysia, sending the boat people to Nauru or Malaysia does it?
So it’s tough, it has an increase in refugees (which was the LNP’s policy at the election) so Abbott’s on board?
Well, it’s a lousy deal for Australia, Andrew. I mean, it’s probably a terrific deal for Malaysia but it’s a hopeless deal for Australia. This idea that we will send them one and get five back, we’ll pay for them to take our one and we’ll pay for the costs of the five that are coming
Sending people to Malaysia means that we get five back for every one we send. Nauru doesn’t have any to send back. That’s the point. I mean, if we send them to Nauru they go there, we don’t get any automatically back. If we send 800 to Malaysia we get 4,000 back and Malaysia becomes the back door route to Australia, the open back door to Australia, and that’s why this really is a lousy deal for our country.
And this as ever is the big failure of the politics of the ALP’s plan. No matter how “tough” they go, they’ll never be tough enough for Abbott, and he’ll just keep on driving to the right, and the ALP seems desperate to catch up. Of course Abbott is going to criticise it, why wouldn’t he when The Daily Telegraph is coming out with these headlines:
Taxpayers to pay $54,000 for every refugee brought to Australia under Malaysian solution
Yep, am sure that was written to make people feel good about welcoming 4,000 “genuine” refugees to our country.
It comes nicely off the back of Scott Morrison’s first media release on the policy:
“Increasing our overall refugee intake will not only further increase costs, but add further pressure to a programme where only one person in three has a job after five years and more than 80% are on welfare.
Ah yes, refugees are welfare bludgers. Nice one Scott. Good to see no matter how low the ALP goes, you’ll always win that limbo contest. Take this effort today on Alan Jones:
JONES: We get rid of 800 and accept 4,000. How good is that for Australia? We get five refugees, they send us their worst 4000, we get five for every one asylum seeker who is sent back. How is that a good deal for Australia?
MORRISON: Well it is not a good deal for Australia and it is also not a good deal for those who are already here and have come through the front door and we are trying to settle properly now. There was a report last week which showed that after 5 years under that program refugee and humanitarian entrants, 83.5% or thereabouts are still on welfare after five years, only one in three have a job. We have got to do a better job on that and to add another 1,000 every year to that program…
That is the level of the debate – “their worst 4,000”. FOR F*CKS SAKE! These people are refugees! Have we no compassion? None? Has no one?
And today as well the Government announced it will increase the skilled migration level to 16,000. The Greens, the only party with any claim to morality over asylum seekers, reacts like this through its leader Bob Brown:
"We know more than 90 per cent of them turn out to be (refugees) and we should be integrating them into an Australian economy where we are going to see, I think in the budget tomorrow night potentially, queue jumpers being brought in, at the interest of the mining corporations," Senator Brown said.
Skilled migrants are queue jumpers.
Good God. What a horrid day for Australian politics.