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The politics of point scoring

By Bruce Haigh and Kellie Tranter - posted Tuesday, 3 July 2012


The solution to the processing of asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat is to process them in Indonesia. The legal requirement under international and Australian law is to process them on shore, but neither of the major parties have the wit nor wisdom to do that.

Asylum seekers arriving by plane are processed in accord with the above.

Processing on Indonesian soil would eliminate people smugglers putting people on boats. Asylum seekers could be processed in an orderly fashion by Australian Immigration and UNHCR officials and whilst waiting to come to Australia they might be provided with language and other training and children could begin school. Asylum seekers could be provided with basic but adequate housing and health care.

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AFP resources directed at disruption operations could be put into financing the above as well as the money now spent on Christmas Island and detention facilities in Australia.

The policy of deterence now being employed is drowning people. The above measures may lead to an increase in numbers but that is preferable to drownings.

Try as you might you can't make a politician feel compassion or empathy with the plight and distress of others, particularly, if by doing so, they fear losing their seat. Compassion is defined as the deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it. You either feel it or you don't. And if you feel no compassion, are you indifferent?

We have allowed the media and our political leaders to reduce asylum seekers to an abstraction. How can it sit comfortably with us that the pain, suffering and death of men, women and children, underpins opinion polls and sways our elections by rewarding indifference rather than compassion?

It must be blindingly obvious in Canberra's hallowed halls that the Australian public want the processing of refugees arriving by boat to be carried out without political point scoring. How many of our elected representatives have visited detention centres, or actually spoken with those who arrive by boat? Is it only those who have suffered that can truly understand suffering?

The Coalition hasn't lost its pub brawl mentality. It seems to be failing yet again to learn the lessons of a brutal and intolerant past, its recent history marked by the Howard Government's wrongful detentions, lies about children overboard, discriminatory interventions and the cunning but ill-founded linking of the threat of terrorism and border protection.

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WikiLeaks US embassy cables reveal the true agenda that lurks beneath the "stop the boats" rhetoric. For a start:

A key Liberal party strategist told us the issue was "fantastic" and "the more boats that come the better" but his research indicated only a "slight trend" towards the Coalition, contrary to a local media poll which showed a big cut to the Labor party's lead.

Or this 2009 cable:

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About the Authors

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Bruce Haigh
All articles by Kellie Tranter

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Bruce HaighBruce HaighPhoto of Kellie TranterKellie Tranter
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