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Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Rudd Solution: Capitulating to Australia's xenophobic miasma

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has capitulated to the miasma of racist rhetoric that has dominated Australia's media and political landscape for over a decade. Today he announced that people arriving without visas will not be allowed to settle in Australia. Instead, they will be relocated to and settled in Papua New Guinea, itself a developing nation beset with its own issues of violence and corruption.

The Rudd Solution is treating Papua New Guinea like a colony. Not unlike when Britain would ship its criminals, many of whom were merely victims of poverty, to the convict colony of Australia. Of course, asylum seekers are not criminals, they are victims. Many are genuine refugees who are fleeing persecution and war. Obtaining a visa is generally not something they can apply for while their families are being raped, imprisoned, tortured or murdered.

PNG already hosts around 9,000 refugees who've crossed the border from Indonesian West Papua. To throw thousands more into a small, developing nation could very well prove disastrous. Australia is a large country with the capacity for a larger population. We should not be exporting our 'problem' to any other nation, and in particular to one that doesn't have the capacity to cope with it.

The announcement is aimed at stopping asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. But it's for political point-scoring, not because of compassion. If it was based on compassion, Papua New Guinea wouldn't be the destination, as it is rife with crime, corruption and poverty, with many of its residents living behind security fences. Additionally, the question has to be asked if it will only facilitate smuggling through the Torres Strait to the Australian mainland. Australia's northern-most island, Boigu, is only 6km from PNG.

Australia's national anthem welcomes people who've come boat and opens its arms to the world. The lyrics of the second verse of Advance Australia Fair now ring hollow:

'Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us combine 
to Advance Australia Fair 

With this policy Australia will be renowned for all the wrong reasons. Rudd has made a mockery of Australia having boundless plains to share with those who've come across the seas. There is no courage in this policy. It is cowardly. Australia is shirking it's international and human rights obligations.

It effectively removes Australia from operating under the auspices of the Refugee Convention to which it is a signatory. It is not ethical, humane or right.

Around 90% of asylum seekers in Australia are found to be genuine refugees under the UN Convention on Refugees. The government claims that Australia takes the highest percentage per capita of asylum seekers in the world. This is misleading as it refers to those found to be genuine refugees after applying for asylum. It doesn't allow for displaced persons who have entered countries but not yet applied for asylum. In this case, Australia ranks 69th in the world. Refer to the Refugee Council of Australia's publication, 'Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Program 2012-13', Table 22,

By having Australians believe that we are the highest ranked country in refugee resettlement contributes to the misbelief that Australia is being swamped by asylum seekers and adds to the fear-mongering and xenophobic hysteria.

If this policy proceeds, then in parallel, Australia should at least increase its refugee intake significantly, and include those who are languishing in Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of Asia. Nonetheless, Rudd has abandoned Australia's commitment to human rights.

Prior to Rudd's announcement, there was speculation of Australia either withdrawing from the Refugee Convention or attempting to amend it.

Firstly, withdrawing would open a whole can of worms and would unlikely stop asylum seekers. After all, it hasn't stopped millions of refugees flooding into countries which are not signatories to the convention.

In terms of modifying the convention, well, it doesn't need it. The Convention is not the problem, the problem is persecution and war. Asylum seekers are desperate people who will do anything to live in safety and provide a life of hope, education and opportunity for their families; something that every person is entitled to.

There are over 42.5 million displaced persons worldwide. The solution has to be an international one. It isn't as simple as Abbott's inane claim of turning the boats back. It was the Howard administration, in which Abbott was a Minister, that began using asylum seekers as political footballs and demonising them as a threat to Australia. They were treated as criminals and terrorists: a disgraceful dehumanisation of a persecuted people. Unfortunately, this demonisation has continued under the Labor party during the Gillard and Rudd administrations.

Australia's approach to human rights is misanthropic, not philanthropic.

The Howard government took a hard-line based on the popularity of One Nation's white pride policies. Howard introduced the Pacific Solution, then excluded hundreds of islands from the migration zone. The Gillard government took that further, and bizarrely excluded Australia itself from its own migration zone. Now the Rudd policy.

Such unsympathetic, parochial policies of appeasement have been implemented for political popularity. Instead, humane solutions should be established in conjunction with our neighbours, particularly Indonesia, and on a global level with the UN: not to incarcerate refugees but to assist them.

Rudd claims the new policy will stop the boats, effectively saving lives. It is a tragedy whenever any asylum seeker perishes in the treacherous journey to Australia. However, banning refugees from entering Australia goes against everything that the UN Refugee Convention stands for. It goes against basic humanity.

It would be better to encourage other nations to sign up to the Refugee Convention, assisting in the proper processing and settlement of asylum seekers. Australia is setting a terrible example of how to treat people.

Asylum seekers ARE people. They are the victims of persecution. We don't need 'border security' to protect us from asylum seekers. They are not a threat to Australia. The ongoing demonisation of desperate people who have no defence, must stop and genuine, humane solutions implemented.

Rudd's latest advertising campaign.

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