Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Australia's Gulag Archipelago
The first bi-partisan 'solution' to the stopping the arrival of asylum seekers by boat appears to have been reached through Labor agreeing to re-open the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island: Australia's Gulag Archipelago. It is a victory for fear and hatred.
Tony Abbott must be feeling quite chuffed right about now with Labor's capitulation over off-shore processing at Nauru and Manus Island. And last night Julie Bishop's crowing stooped further by using the deaths of 1,000 people at sea for political points scoring. Yet, since Rudd swept to power in 2007, the Liberals have been playing politics with the lives of asylum seekers by refusing to negotiate or compromise with the ALP in order to actually find a solution.
Just a side issue: note the grandiose claims of 'solutions' with the naming of the inhumane policies for processing of asylum seekers. Policies such as the 'Malaysia Solution' and the 'Pacific Solution' were rolled out with great hubris by both major parties. What were they solutions to? Certainly not the humane treatment of asylum seekers, more likely a solution to poor electoral polls.
Anyway, back to the issue of the day. As Howard was unceremoniously evicted as Prime Minister, his chair in the House of Reps had barely had time to cool before the Libs announced to the world that Australia was now soft on refugees and that the Labor Party would welcome the boats into the country. And the boats came. Awesome stuff, Libs! Great.
Both sides have played politics over an issue that has cost a lot of lives. The issue was exacerbated under former Prime Minister Howard who ran campaigns based on fear, hatred and lies. Remember the rubbish he told about the 'children overboard' affair, Tampa and Siev-X? And then there was the edict reminscent of the 'White Australia' policy, when Howard proudly and loudly announced, 'we'll decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come'. The 'patriotic' flag wavers leapt to their feet cheering the arrival of the Messiah who would protect us from the flood of boat people (all 10,000 or so per year ... if that). The Australian Gulags (or detention centres for the politically sensitive) were suddenly filled with people who had lost everything, risked their lives for security and had not committed a crime.
So as boat arrivals increased following the election of Rudd, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party became deadlocked on how best to deal with the issue. Nay! It wasn't a deadlock over how best to deal with the issue. It was a deadlock over how best to shore up political popularity while appearing tough on 'border security', the Orwellian euphemism used with the dexterity of a sledge hammer by John Howard to pound fear and hatred into the hearts of every red-blooded, dinki-di Aussie whenever a victim of a despotic regime dared to attempt to find security in Australia, the land of the 'fair-go'.
Sadly, the Labor Party has not had the guts to tackle these fears head on and actually try to put some truth and compassion into the processing of asylum seekers. Well, that's not quite true. Labor has introduced community detention and is sponsoring the accommodation of asylum seeker families in the community, which is a great alternative to the Gulags. However, the ALP is walking with a foot in each camp; at once trying to appear compassionate AND tough on 'border security'. This attempt to appear tough has shown their unwillingness to address the fears and hatred dominating community attitudes.
Now, following a review by an expert panel led by Angus Houston, the Labor Party is set to re-open the off-shore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, Australia's Gulag Archipelago, which had been set up as part of Howard's Pacific Solution. Under Howard, many asylum seekers suffered psychological trauma because of indefinite detention, the separation of family and lack of activities. Apparently, the operation of the Gulags under Labor will differ to that under Howard because the asylum seekers will be given meaningful activities and opportunity for greater participation.
The priority for the both major parties is to 'slow' or 'stop' the boats, whether it be the ridiculous Malaysia Solution or the callous Pacific Solution. The drownings are not the priority of the government or the opposition, other than the negative publicity they generate for the Labor Party and the political points that Abbott and his team aim to score from them. Neither party is interested in the welfare of the asylum seekers for fear of being seen as soft on border security.
Both parties are acting like petulant brats while lacking the mettle to challenge the fear and hatred behind the attitudes of many people. Australia should be taking care of the issue in our own country, not pushing these issues on to our neighbours.
Both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party should show humility and compassion to truly achieve a humane, bipartisan solution that does not use people as pawns in a pathetic game of political point-scoring.