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Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Sooner rather than later Scott Morrison is going to hit a brick wall. His no show and tell is already beginning to unravel, as a tool of asylum seeker policy it is unsustainable.

His claims to have slowed the boats are untrue, if Indonesian media reports are correct. Because of Morrison’s media blackout they are the only source of information for the Australian and International media, other concerned agencies and church organisations and NGO’S.

Morrison claims the media blackout is necessary in order not to provide people smugglers with information, it is a puerile excuse to protect his political hide; people smugglers have their own sources of information some of which may well be within Australian agencies and organisations.

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Morrison has implied that the government of Indonesia has lied over the number of boats they have refused to accept asylum seekers from since September. He says two, they say three. In any event his statements at his weekly press conference are discounted or given little weight. His credibility, if he had any, has been further undermined by his strange and thuggish approach to management of the Immigration portfolio.

State imposed secrecy, with respect to managing minorities, dissidents or groups judged to be antithetical to the interests of the ruling elite, leads to oppression through lack of accountability. Morrison does not want to be accountable for deaths in detention or drowning at sea. Lack of transparency is a threat to human rights and democracy, but Morrison is no democrat. He decides who of them goes where, and when. He sends back to Sri Lanka, Tamils who are given no opportunity to express their claims for asylum in Australia and who are detained on return by the Rajapaksa regime, many to be tortured and some held indefinitely.

Sending back people without a hearing, who on the face of it, may have a legitimate refugee claim, is illegal under Australian and international law. Morrison plans to send minority oppressed Hazaras back to Afghanistan. That would also be illegal.

Implementing policy under a veil of secrecy carries with it risks, big risks if there is a significant stuff up. In a situation of seriously flawed governance with which I was familiar, the white South African government, in their implementation and administration of apartheid, threw a veil of secrecy over political prisoners. When they died in detention, as their treatment was wont to cause, there was a significant domestic and international outcry. Just as there will be when asylum seekers are found to have died in Australian detention camps.

Politically, Morrison and Abbott will not be able to wear such an eventuality. Abbott and Morrison’s asylum seeker policy is high risk. Already it has badly damaged our relationship with Indonesia with little prospect for improvement. Both seem blinded by the lights, along with Bishop they appear to have nothing up their sleeve to turn around a relationship moving out of their control and all because they took the Indonesians for suckers in demanding they take our turned around boats.

Some members of the Coalition argue that the dispute with Indonesia is a storm in a tea cup which will soon blow over.

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 Julia Gillard talked of the difficulties of finding a solution to the problem of refugees arriving by boat. Thinking in those terms is part of the problem. There can be no solution to the international movement of distressed people until internal unrest and fighting ceases in all states and war between states becomes a thing of the past. The solution, the only solution, is to manage the movement and resettlement of displaced and distressed men, women and children.

Morrison claims to be a Christian; he should try to use the framework of that belief to put himself in the position of the people he is treating so badly. He should try even were he not a Christian.

Even as the relationship with Indonesia deteriorates, Australia has not sought talks around the issue that might reverse the slide. Indonesia does not want to deal with the selfishness and stupidity of Australia’s major parties; they do not want to bear the burden of Australian domestic politics. They want mutual co-operation such as the joint processing of asylum seekers.

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About the Author

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

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