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Boat people: saleable commodities to an ambitious politician

By Don Allan - posted Monday, 22 July 2013

There is nothing more admirable than to serve one’s fellow man without any thought of personal reward and nothing more despicable than to use one’s fellow man merely to satisfy your ambition.  Despite Kevin Rudd’s rhetoric suggesting the former, an examination of his deal with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea about the boat people suggests the latter.

After observing and being involved in politics for most of my life it saddens me to see Australia a country that boasts of its commitment to social freedom treating the boat people as slaves were treated in centuries past, a commodity to be traded. Yet this is what Mr Rudd is doing, trading them to PNG to avoid settling them in Australia.

Without disrespect to PNG let me ask a few questions. How will PNG settle the asylum seekers many of whom, but not all, will be Sunni Muslims from Iran? Will they have a mosque? Will the detention camps become religious battlegrounds where missionaries of various Christian sects will fight each other to convert them?


More important, because they are being incarcerated on Manus Island at the behest of Australia will they develop a slow, festering hate of Australia? If so it could create difficulties in the future between PNG and Australia. 

At the same time will PNG be able to offer them the same job opportunities they could expect in Australia? Will children also enjoy the same educational opportunities? What kind of health service will they get? Will it be free, if not how will they pay for it? Other questions also spring to mind: will they ever be entitled to vote? And, apart from language difficulties how will they cope with an environment of which they have no experience?

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The difficulties they will face crossing cultural bridges in PNG will be greater than the difficulties they would ever face in Australia. I also think many Papua New Guineans will think the deal another form of Australian colonialism. 

On the other hand, what will be of great interest to Australian voters is the as yet un-known cost to Australia of settling the asylum seekers in PNG. At the moment, Australian voters are being deluded by PM Rudd into thinking the deal with PNG is good for them. But how can they know when no details of the deal have been published? 

Clearly Mr Rudd sees the deal as a political life saver that will assuage the unwarranted fears many voters have of boat people but also boost his chances of continuing as Prime Minister after the coming election.  

However, if the cost of the deal is high to start with and clouds of uncertainty start to gather around it and if costs increase later, Mr Rudd will need a better excuse than the increased costs are the result of unintended consequences.


As I think about the deal it seems to me that New Guinea Prime Minister, Mr O’Neill, was the smarter of the two Prime Ministers. It will make no difference to him if Mr Rudd loses the election; PNG will be better off economically. And nor is it any concern to Mr O’Neill that the deal was the product of the policy promoting fear of Mr Abbott and the Liberal/National Coalition by Mr Rudd and the Labor Party.

Indeed once the initial euphoria wears off, if voters then cast aside their apathy about politics and examine the deal,perhaps they might take a different view when next they hear Mr Rudd saying they should fear Tony Abbot becoming Prime Minister. It might also helpMr Abbott if he cast negativity aside and campaign using the words Franklin D. Roosevelt used in 1932 as he campaigned against Herbert Hoover in the US presidential election: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

If voters hear these words often enough perhaps they would become more fearful of Mr Rudd who makes extravagant promises without detailing, except minimally, how his promises will be achieved.

Australia, unfortunately, has a reputation for producing successful con men many of whom have been messianic in nature. While many of them have defrauded individuals of their wealth it has never produced one like Mr Rudd who is trying to persuade people of two countries about his messianic talent. That said it seems to me also that if we believe his messianic messages we will deserve everything we get.

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About the Author

Don Allan, politically unaligned, is a teenager in the youth of old age but young in spirit and mind. A disabled age pensioner, he writes a weekly column for The Chronicle, a free community newspaper in Canberra. Don blogs at:

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